Italy's Train Station Scam Artists

Jul 2nd, 2004, 07:05 AM
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Italy's Train Station Scam Artists

Stories about aggressive men at Italy's train stations who disguise themselves as "official" handlers, invading private space and property and catching unsuspecting tourists by surprise, are all too common. DO NOT TOLERATE SUCH BEHAVIOR!

Unfortunately, the Italian authorities are too slow to respond to these annoying con artists and our only defense is to fight back with our wallets (or, at least, make the threat).

I strongly urge anyone who has fallen victim to any hoodlum or rip-off activity while in Italy to write a complaint to the Italian Government Tourist Board and tell them you will NOT return to Italy until you read in the press that the authorities have taken the appropriate action to protect Italy's foreign visitors. (Say this whether you mean it or not.)

Believe me, Italy wants (needs) your business. Let them know you mean business, too.

Write to:

Travel Commissioner: Mr. Eugenio Magnani
630 Fifth Avenue
Suite 1565
New York, NY 10111

...and send a carbon copy to:

Chairman: Mr. Amedeo Ottaviani
Via Marghera 2/6
00185 Roma

I promise you, your letters of complaint will make a difference.

Travel safely!
NYCFoodSnob is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 07:21 AM
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Was this suppose to be funny? I hope so! LOL! What type of "official handler" are you talking about??? The idea of "Berlusco" sitting by the pool at his leased villa in Portofino, persuing his "fan mail", coming across a letter of complaint about official handlers at the train stations, standing up and declaring," Something MUST be done about this!" has me rolling on the floor. I think someone has hijacked NYC's handle.
Calamari is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 07:32 AM
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These people will exist so long as there are tourists who look as though they have more money than sense. Everybody will be pestered in this way at some time (it's certainly happened to me), but the way to avoid problems in future is to learn from your experience. If you stand around looking lost, you are a target, whichever country you're in. Threatening to boycott Italy will achieve nothing - other tourists, including me, will still go there.
GeoffHamer is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 07:41 AM
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I'm glad a cynical funny boned got tickled but I doubt melbournetta found her situation funny:

Instead of replying to her thread entitled "Naples...," I decided to post a more specific thread. This problem occurs at practically every train station in Italy and it happened to my assistants on their way to Venice this year. The man actually dipped into (Abbey's) wallet to grab Euro bills. I haven't had time to complete that report.

Even the most experienced travelers can be caught off guard, especially if they are tired. Con artists work faster than you can think.

You can laugh all you want but laughing and complacency won't help fix any problem. Writing letters saying you will not visit and spend money in Italy will.
NYCFoodSnob is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 09:02 AM
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In general I agree that every customer should complain about things they're unhappy with. The problem is, Italy is not a corporation. It's a big, messy country with a lot of problems which, frankly, are much higher on everyone's agenda. Even if you look solely at items which affect tourists, which would you rather have the government spend money on: fruitlessly chasing scam artists around train stations, or keeping museums open longer hours?

Every tourist destination in the world has its share of scam artists, because tourists are often tired, disoriented, distracted, and in general easier prey than locals. Your best defense is yourself - be as alert and defensive as you can. On the other hand, don't be so suspicious that you make yourself and everyone you come in contact with miserable. A woman who was in Milan on business this week fretted for days about being ripped off for ten euros by a cab driver. I'm not sure he did it intentionally, but even if he did, was it worth so much fuss? People seem to get bent out of shape about these things far out of proportion to the "crime" they suffer (I am not speaking to whatever original case was mentioned on Fodor's as I have no knowledge of that and have not yet read the post).

best regards,
Deirdré Straughan
DeirdreStraughan is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 09:06 AM
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On the buses in Rome there are signs warning you about pickpockets. Why not just do something similar, either on the train, or in a obvious, clearly visible place at the train station?
Jocelyn_P is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 09:55 AM
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NYCFS, it is a good idea, but I can just picture the person who opens the mail shrugging the Italian Shrug and tossing the complaint into the scomparto dei rifiuti.

SeaUrchin is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 10:09 AM
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Italy is not a corporation? So what!

Even after the devastating downturn in tourism to Italy post 9/11 (-24.7% in Rome alone), Italy reported a whopping 28,207 million euros in tourist receipts in 2002. Anyone who thinks tourist dollars don't talk (even in bad times) never studied business. And, Rome is the leading favorite of most visited cities in Italy.

Without the enormously successful write-in(complaint) campaigns, NYC taxi cabs would still be ripping off tourists as they drive circuitous routes to get to Manhattan from all three airports. The current fixed fares are here to protect everyone.

The gypsy problem near the Colosseum has virtually disappeared in Rome. Thanks to the Jubilee Year, a beloved mayor, and all the requisite negative press and complaints regarding this problem, the Italian authorities took action.

Scam baggage handlers at Italy's main train stations are easy to catch, fine, and discard. Their crimes are blatant, exposed, and performed in front of hundreds of people, who mostly sit back and snicker and do nothing. People who do nothing most likely get nothing.
NYCFoodSnob is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 10:59 AM
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This type of enforcement in the train stations would cost nothing.
There is already a small police station and policemen patrolling the major stations.
Day in and day out esp in Naples these policemen see the same scam artists and pickpockets working the station, so they know exactly who they are.
All they have to do is their job and the problem disappears.
Regards, Walter
ParadiseLost is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 03:11 PM
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I cerntainly don't have more money than I have sense (this is more a statement about my finances than my sense ) but we just could not stop this guy at the Naples train station. First he took our ticket and wanted to tell me where my car was - I knew he didn't work for the station and I grabbed my ticket and said "Grazi" firmly but he continued to follow us. When we got on the train he GRABBEd our suitcases and put them up for us. It had nothign to do with good sense - I simply could not stop him. I didn't want a scene so I just gave him 5 euro. It was my choice not to make a scene and give him the tip.

It was disconcerting to have no choice in the matter, but it on the other hand I didn't have to lift those big suitcases over my head. Do I wish they would discouge this people? Yes. Am I going to refuse ever to go back to Italy unless I can be sure it will never happen to me again. Yarite. On the scale of 1-10 the annoyance factor was maybe a 2.

Joelleinitaly04 is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 03:15 PM
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What I take from this lesson is not to have more luggage than you can bodily hang on to at once (it would have been hard for him to snatch a backpack you were wearing or a single rollaway you were tightly grasping) and to keep tickets in a moneybelt until the last possible moment (rather than in your hand). The whole experience sounds frightening to me. I'm glad your enjoyment wasn't affected.
WillTravel is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 04:00 PM
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Before Joelle completely distorts the message here, I said,

"...tell them you will NOT return to Italy until you read in the press that the authorities have taken the appropriate action to protect Italy's foreign visitors. (Say this whether you mean it or not.)"

Maybe I should have mentioned that it was an Italian official who authorizes location permits in Rome who advised me to follow this procedure. (Of course, he admitted it will take thousands of letters to effect change.)

I've endured every scam artist in Italy the past 20 years and I still go back. And, if something criminal happens to me or to a loved one, I report it. But, then again, I love writing letters and, most often, I get a favorable response.

There simply is no reason why the Italian government can't provide legitimate porters at all their major train stations and take decisive action against the frauds.
NYCFoodSnob is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 04:12 PM
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Dear Willtravel, I didn't have any more luggage than I could hang onto at once, the man GRABBED it out of my arms while I was lifting it up. Now if you want to continute to believe that this was my fault, go ahead if it gives you some comfort and false assurance that nothing can happen to you. That's usually why people blame victims. ("That can never happen to ME because I'm smarter, stronger, moral, upright, dress modestly, watch my children better..."and other such self-deceptions.

And NYCFoodSnob, I agree that they should provide legitimate porters and shoo these scam artists away, but considering how silly people here think the threat to NOT Return was, my guess is anyone official reading that threat will dismiss it as well.

Joelleinitaly04 is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 04:15 PM
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Oh heavens, I hope you don't think I'm blaming the victim. I hate when people say that something will never happen to them because they're always alert. Good for them, but I know I'm distracted and daydreaming from time to time. Sorry, Joelle.
WillTravel is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 04:27 PM
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Joelle, dear, the one-time visitors to Italy far out-number folks like me, which is why most victims don't bother to file formal complaints. They know they will not return.

I believe any successful enterprise that scoffs at justifiable criticism and abuses paying customers can't stay successful forever. I could list thousands of examples but that wouldn't encourage you to seek the info for yourself.

Frankly, I view apathy as a life ender.
NYCFoodSnob is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 07:04 PM
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NYCFoodSnob, good point about not tolerating such behavior.

A sudden and powerful thrust of your elbow to the gut will usually keep those nasty "handlers" at bay! Passing gas also gives you an edge in close quarter combat with these low life losers.

But you being from NYC, I'm sure you have taught these punks a lesson or two about urban warfare.
degas is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2004, 07:25 PM
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I've never encountered the type of behavior at Italian train stations that Joelle did, but maybe that is because I have a brown belt in karate and a kind of "don't mess with me" look when I'm traveling and I speak pretty good Italian, or maybe I just got lucky. BUT, if I ever did encounter such behavior, I'm not sure exactly what my reaction would be - if someone actually GRABBED my bags, I'm not sure what I COULD do. But no WAY would I have given the guy a red cent.

I've traveled in a fair number of developing countries where these tactics are common, and though I am sensitive to the plight of the poor anywhere, and will gladly give offerings to small children, etc., if I don't explicitly ask for a service, I don't pay for it, no matter how much the purveyor of that service whines or begs or threatens. Period. I left a Moroccan "guide" of the self-imposed type pleading for money by the side of a mosque back in 2001 after a 2-mile trek through the souks because he just "joined" me at his own volition while I and a friend were walking through the town. Didn't ask for his help - and refused to pay for it.

I agree that writing to the Italian Tourist Board is a good idea if indeed such tactics are common. Americans throw huge amounts of money to Italy in tourist dollars every year, and it has been proven that the Italian government CAN clean up its act with regard to this problem.

I went to Marrakech in 2001 and was absolutely astounded at the lack of young boys hanging around tourists begging for dollars and pens and pencils and asking to guide you around the city, as had been my experience on a previous trip. Turns out, as a result of an enormous influx of mail from tourists, Mohammed VI, King of Morocco, has essentially banned young boys from harassing tourists. It was seriously compromising the tourist income from, primarily, Westerners. So you CAN have influence.

You can also take the situation into your own hands and just NOT accept any offers of "help" and assume any such offers to be bogus (although in Italy, as elsewhere, there ARE helpful people, so you must learn to distinguish). These are really nuanced travel matters, and I think it's safe to say that only pretty experienced travelers or the very savvy or the fluent-in-the-language can really sort them out as they are happening.
But do write to the Italian Tourist Board if something like this happens to you and it upsets you.
StCirq is online now  
Jul 3rd, 2004, 06:28 AM
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Sounds like you've been lucky, StCirq. So have I. The truth is, this porter-scam-thing is on the rise and it's quickly becoming the new way to steal a quick buck from tired and embarrassed tourists because it works.

My motivation for starting this thread came from melbournetta's story. Her experience rang true to my assistant's recent experience, traveling Eurostar, Rome to Venice.

If you have a reserved seat, the car number and the seat number are posted in small print on your ticket. This information is often difficult to discern on the ticket, especially if you don't take Italian trains often and read no Italian. Typical behavior is to stamp your ticket at the entrance of the binario (platform) and hold your ticket in your hand to cross reference the train-car numbers. (This same behavior is expected as you enter a plane and human beings are creatures of habit.) Scam porters see passengers doing this (by the hundreds) as they struggle with their luggage, seeing them as easy prey.

Before you can say "where's my car number?," a scammer has grabbed your ticket from your hand, officiously taking immediate charge, telling you where you have to go and leading the way while helping you with your luggage to get there. It happens so fast, you don't have time to think you're participating in a scam and, frankly, the passenger is relieved that someone else (who seems to know the process and looks and sounds official) is now leading the way and helping with the luggage.

If this service was legit and governed by an authorized source, nobody would mind paying for it (tipping). The porters at Grand Central Station in NYC (although, hard to find) pull in a decent day's wages with the help of gratuities. Since train travel is a way of life in Italy, why not legitimize this service? It would certainly make the train boarding experience more pleasant for foreigners and provide lucrative jobs for Italians.

After your scammer has led you to your seats and safely stored your luggage, he waits for his tip. Most reasonable people acknowledge the guy has helped. Even though you did not request his help, you didn't have your bearings together enough to demand that he let go of your luggage, give back your ticket, and leave you alone. Once the helpful action progressed, you participated because he did show you to the right car, the right seats, and he helped pull your heavy bags onto the train. Most reasonable people are willing to express gratitude for this help by tipping.

When the passenger pulls out his wallet. Things get more serious because the scammer continues trying to control the scam. He will often dictate how much money he wants, he will openly criticize you if you've been too cheap, and in Abbey's case, he assumed she didn't understand the currency (the look on her face when he asked for 20 Euro must have scared him) and had the gall to stick his hand into her wallet and help himself to her cash. It was at this point I arrived behind the scammer (from the opposite end of the car, by chance) and grabbed the money out of his hand. I caught him by surprise and put him in his place. He got 5 Euro and Abbey was furious she had been duped.

I, too, am a black belt in Martial Arts and kick-boxing is a major part of my workout routine. Is it really fair to expect everyone else to be as prepared to protect themselves? Of course not. High paying visitors to Italy deserve to be protected whether they speak Italian or not. This is a situation that requires leadership from just the right politician. I'm sure one exists and writing complaint letters can help.

Granted, we were schlepping camera equipment but the suggestion that any traveler should limit their luggage as a fair way to ward off victimhood is nothing more than a passive surrender. I prefer people who know their rights and are willing to fight for them.

ps degas, I don't share your gastro-intestinal-on-demand talents. If I did, breakwind would be my sword, for sure.
NYCFoodSnob is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2004, 09:04 AM
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Since Mr. Magnani is in NYC and presumably knows something about the web, why not send an email pointing out this thread and any others like it? That way he'd see at once that multiple people have had this problem, and are gearing up to do something about it.

best regards,
Deirdré Straughan
DeirdreStraughan is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2004, 01:46 PM
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Thank you for the posting NYCFoodSnob. First of all, I think the majority of people who weren't so nice to your posting haven't been to one of the major train stations in Italy this year. The problem is getting worse and worse. Thank you for caring and trying to elicit a change!!
weddinginitaly is offline  

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