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Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves ... Italian Cons

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves ... Italian Cons

Sep 10th, 2005, 04:32 AM
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Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves ... Italian Cons

We returned from a two week trip to Italy about three weeks ago now. Just now getting our breath back from visits to Rome, Venice and Florence. This is our second trip in three years, so we knew what to expect in terms of pickpockets and the like. This time, we were a bit more observant to the extent that we not only watched out for ourselves, but watched these people work. We were targetted a few times by gypsies or scammers, but never lost money. Here is a rundown of some of what we saw:

1. The Priest. You see people begging outside of every single church without exception. Ok, I'm sure one of you has gone to a church in one of these cities and not seen a beggar. That just means you didn't look hard enough. The real clever ones don't look homeless, but rather like they work at the church. We saw a few men dressed all in black, holding the door open for people and shaking a tray that looked similar to a collection plate. It looked very much like he was a priest charging admission to the church and people seemed more likely to chip in and give money, presumably under this assumption. Even my wife and I were curious after the first two (though we didn't toss in money); we got our answer though on the the third church where the guy was wearing a nice black button up shirt, with a very small logo for Budweiser on the lapel.

2. The Parking Lot Attendant. We hadn't ever seen this one before and it looked pretty good. It was over by the Nat. Museum of Rome, where apparently all the gypsies take their dinner breaks or something. There was a surface parking lot that looked to be free; very small perhaps 40 spaces right around the Rotunda. A group of three gypsy women were hanging out in the parking lot. A car pulled in and one proceeded to walk in front of the car, blocking it, until they arrived at a parking spot. She then 'directed' the car to the spot, then hit the driver up for money for the service. I suspect this would be more effective on tourists than locals; either way she didn't get any money.

3. The Taxi Assistant. We had taken the train in to Termini from Florence and needed a cab for a very short ride. We knew better than to use those folks muttering 'taxi' under their breath like they are selling weed or something and made our way right to the official taxi stand. Once there, a lady gretted my wife and asked if she needed a taxi, then took / pulled / pried my wife's bag from her and started to walk away. My wife was yelling at her, I was yelling at my wife, but the lady stopped at a cab then loaded my wife's bag. She then turned to me and went to take my bag. I pretty much brushed by her and put the bag in the trunk myself and slammed it, not knowing if the driver was in on this as well. I then got in the cab after the driver had done so and the lady proceeded to tell me that I owed her 5 euro. Unfortunately for her, all she got was a 'va via' and a car door slammed. This one was very interesting to me and the first time I'd seen it. I can see how many tourists would fall for it, since we nearly did.

4. The Tourist. This is the one we've all heard about. Three young girls approach a couple who are obviously tourists and ask for help finding their way. In the case we saw, two of the three girls opened their map to ask where the Colosseo was as we stood at the Trevi Fountain. Ok, two of the easiest to find landmarks in Rome on a map right. Anyway, as the two girls held their maps out, the third circled around bad for the kill. This is actually when my wife intervened and gave the girls a 'va via', then explained what was going on to the couple. This was in a busy street by Trevi so the lesson is, don't assume thieves are smart enough not to rip people off in front of other people. Assume people (all of us on vacation) are dumb enough to let ourselves be ripped off in busy places.

5. The Dealer. Another one we all know about. This was in Venice in a little square between San Stefano and the Giglio bus stop and is an old one: three card monty. There were all kinds of people having fun and trying to get in on the action exchanging 50 and 100 euro notes. My wife and I knew that was all a scam and then it dawned on me: we were the only ones that weren't hooting and hollaring out of the 12 or so people there. That made me nervous so we checked our bags, turned and walked away. I think the scam was not just whatever was going on with the cards, but also whatever could be pulled off while we were distracted by the cards.

6. The Commuter. This one was all me. We were on one of those mini-buses in Rome that seat 8 and has room supposedly for another 19 to stand. My wife was sitting and trying to carry on a conversation with an older woman. This concerned me because my wife doesn't speak Italian, and the woman didn't speak English. So I was trying to tell my wife to be careful, watch her bag and so on while I'm standing up squished in with everyone else. Then I look across the bus and this guy makes eye contact with me, then points too his eyes with two fingers on one hand. I look away not knowing what that means, but not real comfortable about it. Then I look back and he does it again, then points to me about mid-chest. I look down to see a short little man smiling at me, and my backpack zipper about a quarter of the way open. I know it was zipped, I'm a freak about that. So I zip it, flip the bag to my back and press up against the wall of the bus and stare at him. He jumped off at the next stop, I motioned thumbs up and mouthed thank you to the guy across the way; he nodded and smiled in reply. Man I was dumb.

7. The Public Servant. This one was actually very obvious and mostly harmless to tourists. We saw a lady get chased away by the polizia after she was fishing money out of Trevi Fountain with a stick. It was kind of funny actually.

Bottom line, there are a lot of tourists in these spots and you will see some crime. It won't be any worse or dangerious than what you would encounter in London, NY, Paris, Dallas or whatever if you go where the tourists go. Just be on the lookout at all times, protect your possessions and keep your eyes open and you'll be just fine.

mdtravel is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 05:14 AM
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since it seems the italians have given up on trying to control this form of theft why dont they promote it as sort of a tourist must see, 'the priest', 'the taxi driver', 'luggage boy' etc

they could have postcards or little plastic souvenir figurines with a guys hand in anothers back pocket or something.

how about a museum of petty crime ? to the outsider this sort of stuff has become as synomymous with italian culture just as much as spaghetti and soccer.
got1tiel is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 05:14 AM
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Congratulations on not getting ripped off. Actually, though, this does sound way worse than what I've experienced in other tourist hot spots in Europe and elsewhere. I hope the other merits of Italy compensate for it because having to be "on guard" does detract a little from one's enjoyment. Others have commented on questionable practices in restaurants and stores designed to cheat the tourists. I don't consider myself particularly gullible or naive, but it sounds like every person you run into in Italy should be viewed with distrust until proven otherwise. -Sigh-
victoria_reynolds is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 05:17 AM
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Good observations. I've seen some of this, too.
But you're probably going to get reprimanded for using the word "gypsy" as a synonym for thief.
platzman is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 05:22 AM
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You have to be careful when you travel anywhere, not just Italy. These scams are perpetrated on tourists in cities all over the world.

As for the church-donation scam, almost all legitimate donations to churches, mosques, or synagogues are accompanied by a receipt.

I am always ridiculed on this forum for my advice of not looking like a tourist whilst travelling, of dressing in a manner that will not make you an easy mark. This means no baseball caps, jeans with white trainers, backpacks, or t-shirts with giant logos.

I also never understand why more people don't use the safe in their hotel room. There is no reason for walking around a city with a backpack full of valuables. Just carry some cash and an ATM/credit card, which you can jam into the front of your pant pocket.

I also never understand why tourist carry expensive cameras/cam corders with them. A $4.99 disposable camera takes nice pictures, and you won't be distraught if it gets left behind in a cab or stolen. And do you really need that big cam-corder??? Are you ever going to sit down and look at that tape when you get home?? Maybe once.
ThinGorjus is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 07:00 AM
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I'm glad you didn't get ripped off. I must say, however, that I'd hate to spend a holiay watching out for thieves.

And just to satisfy platzman, how did you know those people were gypsies?
sheila is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 07:07 AM
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It really is unfortunate that this, of all the possible activities you undertook in Rome, is the focal point of your "report."

As a matter of fact, I've been to more than one church in Rome and not seen someone asking for help.

I've also been to more than one church in Rome and seen tourists, such as yourself, turning up their nose because they think everyone who sticks their hand out is automatically undeserving.
Intrepid1 is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 07:32 AM
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I really wish we could all put this topic to bed.

First - calling these con artists Gypsies - is high offensive - similar to the use of the N word. I don;t see how the editors can allow it to continue. (Just because some places in europe indulge in their own bigotry is no reason for us to perpetuate it.)

Second - yes - in any major tourist center you will find pickpockets and a variety of scam artists. They are obvious - or should be - to any adult who has ever seen a city before. Simply ignore them - and take reasonable precautions with your belongings.

If you have never seen a city before - I suggest you go to one in the US to see what one is like before tackling europe. (And it's not only cities - the elderly mother of a friend of mine was scammed out of $20,000 right in front of the bank in her small town in Pennsylvania.)
nytraveler is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 07:46 AM
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Actually, I interpreted mdtravel's tone to be of a subdued humor, taking the perspective to 'enjoy' the various schemes from a spectator viewpoint. And yes, there is crime even in our own hometowns, but I don't believe it is in this category. I've actually never seen, heard of, or read about any pickpocket activity in my hometown, although there were warnings during our hosting of the Superbowl. There are other scams, especially on the elderly, that are much more damaging. I think pickpocket is much more prevalent in highly-touristed areas, which my hometown is not, and it is helpful to be educated about the methods used.
Travelnut is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 08:45 AM
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Stereotyping Romanies is no different from stereotyping black people, or Jews. You wouldn't churn out filth like this in your own country (I hope). What makes you think it's acceptable here?

It's racist bigotry, and if Fodors put half as much energy into policing this bilge as they do into censoring legitimate differences of opinion, we'd all be a great deal better off.

It's depressing that so many Americans are prepared to retain - and mouth -prejudices like this when they come over here.

Fodors might tolerate bigots like you on this board. But you're not welcome on this continent.

I'm delighted to see you've gone home. Please stay away.
flanneruk is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 09:01 AM
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I think your thread may help other newbies become aware of possible scams. Also it is a good idea to learn Italian hand signals before you go.

How was the trip otherwise? Do anything interesting?
SeaUrchin is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 09:20 AM
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Wow! I really didn't anticipate such a firestorm. I must need to educate myself on what ethnicity gypsies are b/c I was under the impression that it was a fairly unoffensive term to describe street people like those I described here, have seen described elsewhere and have seen all around the world. Sorry about that folks; I'm obviously out of the loop on racial slurgs because when I use the word it is to describe, in my case, whites, blacks and middle eastern appearing people.

So anyway, for those that took offense it wasn't intended to be a generalization. For those that found some humor in it, good job...you got the point. For those that think I am saying Italy is full of crime, I'm not.

Read the last part of my post again: where ever you find huge amounts of tourists carrying cash, credit and cameras you will find crime...anywhere in the world. I've seen it in Maui for crying out loud.

What I had expected was more of a ha ha reaction, or hey I've seen something even stranger before, but not a slam of being called racist.

Do a search for the word 'gypsy' in the forum and I think you will see that a lot of folks use the word just as I did. I now know better, but will disagree that it is akin to using 'the N word.'

Perhaps I tossed out a thread that was easy fodder for the cranks out there...hope that isn't an offensive word!
mdtravel is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 09:22 AM
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Uh, in addition to being out of the loop on racial slurgs , I'm also not up on racial slurs!
mdtravel is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 09:26 AM
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Now to answer a legit question, the trip was incredible. I'm compiling notes for another post on great experiences. The people of Italy, at least in these cities, are so kind and good to be around. We aren't foodies so we don't have much beyond good places for pizza marinara. We saw some great sites, had memorable experiences and will remember them forever.

One of the most memorable: Seeing Richard Simmons in a paper shop in Venice, him giving my wife a kiss on the cheek, then buying her a calendar and having it gift wrapped.

The other memorable one was my wife helping the couple not get ripped off by the street scam artists of no particular ethnicity , then being on the lookout for the rest of the day.

Being the very first ones and only ones for five minutes to see David in Florence one morning because we knew the way to go first, then double back.

The Scavi tour at St. Peters was great again, and seeing Benedict was good also.

The list goes on...and on...and on...and on.
mdtravel is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 09:33 AM
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mdtravel, thank you for your more reasoned response.

Whilst I might not have expressed myself the way flanner did, I agree with the underlying thesis. Gypsies are a distinct ethnic group. Some steal. Some beg. Many don't

You're right that the words has been so used here before; and you'll also see it's often achieved the same reaction. I'm sure I wouldn't/don't get everything spot on correct when I'm off my beaten track either.
sheila is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 09:57 AM
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mdtravel, thanks for your explanation of the various scams. Always good to know what to keep your eyes open for. Contrary to some other posts here, these scams are NOT common in all other European cities...I have seen very little of that type of thing in nearly a dozen trips to Vienna, for example. And I never got the sense that identifying scams was the sole purpose or highlight of your trip.

As for FLUK's description of bigoted Americans, now might be a good time for him to get off his high horse (it would be a change, anyway). FWIW, most Americans who refer to these people as Gypsies learn that description from other Europeans, including Brits. I have heard them *frequently* described that way by the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Belgians, the Brits, and the Dutch (including French, Belgian and Italian police officers), among others.

BTilke is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 10:04 AM
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Further to my point, the most common reaction from Americans on seeing these groups of beggars/thieves for the first time is "who ARE these people?" only to be told by EUROPEANS that they're "gypsies." That "filth" is heard far more from Europeans than from Americans.
BTilke is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 10:44 AM
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I didn't know "gypsies" was commonly used as an ethnic slur, either. I just figured mdtravel was going for a humorous Cher song reference in his title.

Thanks for teaching me something new today, Fodorites!

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 10:57 AM
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mdtravel, thank you for your enlightening posts, I found it useful, despite what the apologists and defenders of the criminals may say and think.

Some of the comments made remind me of the head in the sand thinking that resulted in the notorious "peace in our time" statement of more than 60 years ago.
kjosker is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 11:08 AM
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and how do you know that so many Americans(your words) are prejudiced to begin with?

or are you just stereotyping? and actually showing your bigotry towards Americans?
AAFrequentFlyer is offline  

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