Pick pockets and Gypsies

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Dec 31st, 2013, 12:10 PM
  #1
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Pick pockets and Gypsies

I'll be studying in Rome,Italy from February to April.

Does anyone have any advice on how to avoid being pick-pocketed and how to deal with these notorious "gypsies" of whom I keep on hearing, who will apparently do anything to get your money(including throwing their baby at you so that you catch him and someone picks your pockets while you have your hands full) ?

I really don't want to have to deal with putting a lock on my bag; i'm planning on only carrying around some money and a phone when walking around for the day.
PoissonRouge is offline  
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Dec 31st, 2013, 12:22 PM
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I've been in Rome umpteen times and walk around incessantly and have never been pickpocketed BUT I am aware of the problem - young gypsy ladies with tiny tots in town often approach me but when I see them coming I just head the other way or emphatically say NO - sometimes young kids will swarm around you too - but again you can see it coming - just, unfortunately, think that anyone coming up for any reason is perhaps up to no good.

And it's not just gypsies but impoverished refugees from Africa or the Balkans that may say have a map in hand and come up and ask you for instructions - working in teams one distracts you the other pickpockets you - some may spill a drink they are carrying on it and effusively apologize whilst wiping it up - their cohorts are pickpocketing you or unzipping a day pack, etc.

But if you know the problem and just walk away - they will not chase you down - there should be no problem and use a secure money belt that goes under you belt for all valuables like money, credit cards, etc and secure any smart phone.

This is also a problem in other places like Paris - a friend was in a McDonalds sitting with his i phone and two youngish Romany-looking girls came in - one had a piece of paper with a letter on it pleading for a hand out - but after he said no the girls left and had taken his i phone with him.


So be leery and smart and you'll have no real problems.
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Dec 31st, 2013, 12:40 PM
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I think you are reading a lot of very exaggerated reports. I too have been to Rome numerous times and have never had any problems.

Agree that if use basic street smarts you should have no problems.

And if you see a group of people that seem to be watching you move to a safer area. And if anyone throws a "baby" or anything else at you - - just let it drop on the ground.

One of the biggest disservices parents do to children is to tell them they need to be polite and friendly all the time. FALSE! In public - you don't owe strangers anything. Just watch out for yourself (except when with people you know or a closed social situation).
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Dec 31st, 2013, 12:56 PM
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Over the ten years or so we have spent nearly a month in Rome with no problems. But we do take some reasonable precautions. What you have heard is a little over the top. If they throw a baby at you it is a doll. Don't catch it.

PROPERLY use a money belt if traveling.

Always be aware of your surroundings. Don't go walking along wired to an ipod, or face buried in your cell phone, etc.

....I really don't want to have to deal with putting a lock on my bag.... Now that is dumb. Of course, you are going to lock your bag or have nothing in the bag of any value. Your choice.

Don't wear clothing or act in a way that draws attention to yourself. When the pickpocket is looking for his next target, you want him to think that you have nothing to offer.

Carry nothing in an exterior pocket that is of any value. And a front pocket is not safe.

It is just matter of having some street smarts and min opportunity.
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Dec 31st, 2013, 01:53 PM
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As the guys say, keep serious money deep in your clothes.

Keep low level cash in an easy to get to pocket.

Control your eye contact, it's yours to give and you do not have to give it away.

Don't out your self in tight situations. The Underground can also be a danger, the same gangs can do a small amount of "steaming" so enter carriages and ensure you can get to two exits easily.

Know where you are going before you start out. Nothing says victim like a confused looking person looking at their iphone trying to ask people the way.

Two other tools
1) If traveling in a group have a crisis word, I use "ahoy" to stimulate greater care.
2) Have a fake language, when asked something, speak nonsense, it confuses the hell out people.
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Dec 31st, 2013, 02:03 PM
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There were some interesting videos on YouTube showing pickpockets working the crowd at the Trevi Fountain. You are much more likely to have issues at big tourist sites like that or the Spanish Steps than riding the tram out near the University. Those pickpockets were blondes, by the way.
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Dec 31st, 2013, 02:29 PM
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That last sentence makes a great point! Get over your preconceived notion of what a "pickpocket" looks like. Could be dressed in a suit like a businessman, etc.
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Dec 31st, 2013, 02:30 PM
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Have a fake language, when asked something, speak nonsense, it confuses the hell out people.>

excellent advice - I sometimes say "I no speak English" in a horrible accent -surprisingly these urchins speak some English, at times more than typical Italian does!

Yes English is the universal tongue for all kinds of business!
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Dec 31st, 2013, 04:40 PM
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A lot of pickpockets are illegal immigrants from eastern Europe, not necessarily gypsies. They're very skillful, and if they target you, they're very likely to succeed. I've never heard of north Africans picking pockets, although they may be a bit aggressive with the peddling.

Your first defense should be not to look like a worthwhile target. I deliberately try not to look as though I have anything worth stealing when I travel: no designer luggage, no expensive jewelry, no high fashion clothing or accessories. When going from one place to another, make sure you're always alert and aware of what's going on around you. Don't allow yourself to be distracted, and don't engage with people who come up to you in the street.

When you're on a bus or metro, don't stand near the door. The vast majority of theft happens near the doors, when the bus is coming to a stop, so the thief can jump off and get away. When entering or exiting a bus or metro, stand back a little and let all the pushers and shovers go first. Shoving or blocking the doors is an old tactic to distract you while someone else lifts your wallet.

If you buy a ticket at a metro station, buy it with small change that you keep in a pocket rather than pulling out your wallet. Often lookouts stand near a ticket window and when you put your wallet away, they signal an accomplice to indicate the location of the wallet (or they just follow you and take it themselves). Better yet, buy all your tickets at a tobacco shop, but be cautious even there.

In any crowded place, keep your valuables well under your control.

I have been traveling in Italy for the past twenty years, and live here for the last fifteen years. I have never had anything stolen here, although I've experienced multiple thefts in the US, and one in Ireland. I visit Rome frequently. I never use any special type of purse or bag, but I do make sure that my purse has a secure zipper closing. My favorite travel purse has a flap that covers the zipper and is held down by velcro; it makes a fair amount of noise to lift the flap. In crowded places, I hold it to the front, with my arm clamped over it.

One of my daughters studied in Rome for six months, and she also never had anything stolen, nor did any of her classmates. However, an American friend who came to visit in Rome did lose her purse, credit cards, and plane tickets on her way to the airport. She was the victim of an old trick, found in other cities all over the world. One person squirts ketchup or something disgusting on you; a "sympathetic" bystander approaches to help you clean up the mess. In the meantime, a third person, or even the squirter, makes off with your bag. In this specific case, the first person threw a handful of excrement at the young woman heading to the airport. When the helpful bystander approached, indignant about what had happened to her, she put her bag down to try to remove her soiled jacket. The bag disappeared in an instant. Moral: if anything untoward happens when you're on the street, don't accept help from a stranger. It's always possible that the stranger really is a helpful citizen, but it's safest to say, "No thanks, I can manage this myself."

A few years ago, I had a problem with a ticket machine in a metro station in Rome. I had used a 20-euro note, and there's a fairly low maximum amount of change it will give. There was no sign explaining this, and I tried a couple of times to buy the ticket, without success. A Roman woman came up to help me; I was a bit suspicious, and she immediately apologized and backed away, but she did tell me I needed to use a smaller banknote. I then realized that I was mistaken to suspect her, and I felt sorry, but I did thank her for her help, and I'm sure she understood my diffidence.
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Dec 31st, 2013, 04:40 PM
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Looking and acting alert is a skill worth developing. So is BEING alert. Pickpockets are looking for people who are distracted, mindlessly casual, or who just seem oblivious to their surroundings. That and a moneybelt.

Goofy, casual, affable, and unencumbered is a style that works great on American college campuses, but if you want to develop another technique (read: sharp, aware, quick, and determined), sit at a sidewalk cafe and study the moves and attitudes of young attractive Italian women. They know how to present themselves, how to stay in command, and how to stay predator-free.
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Dec 31st, 2013, 06:14 PM
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Can't imagine that goofy works anywhere except at Disney. Why would a college student want to appear stupid?

And IMHO sharp, aware and determined are something everyone should be in all public situations - just not in their own backyard, where it's OK to be as casual and off-guard as you want.
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Dec 31st, 2013, 08:09 PM
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We traveled through Italy this past spring (with our college aged children),traveled on the trains. We locked our bags when riding the trains. When out in public, we carried very little cash and usually one card. In Rome,near one of the big
tourist sites,my DD had her pocket book strap cut and didn't even know it. She happened to have her hand on it and then started to walk away and it fell to the ground. So, she didn't lose anything, but had to dump the busted purse. She was carrying her snack in the bag. No money.

I would say use common sense and don't carry alot with you. If you must, lock your bag and always act like you know where you are going even if you don't. We didn't see any gypsies in Italy believe it or not. We did see them near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Don't worry too much, but also be careful when you are out at night having fun with your fellow students. Always be aware of your surroundings. We called it being on schnitzel alert.(we also traveled through switzerland! LOL)But most of all, enjoy your experience.
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Dec 31st, 2013, 09:14 PM
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I thought the warnings were a bit exaggerated and paranoid until it happened to me in Rome at the Trastevere flea market. Luckily, we’d been warned, and my partner and I took what I thought were the extreme measures of keeping our cash in secure money belts beneath our clothing. We kept small amounts of money in our shirt pockets—which were safety pinned shut from the inside.

In a split second, we were encircled by five or six Romany children whose hands deftly plunged into our pockets while their mothers surrounded us, holding up newspapers. We screamed and shoved them away, but they were very aggressive. Locals and merchants ignored what was happening. It was obviously a common occurrence. There were police nearby, but they turned a blind eye, as well.

Because of our precautions we lost nothing, but we were really shaken up and felt violated. No amount of vigilance, common sense, or any other activity on our parts would have altered what happened. The only thing that saved us from being robbed was the “extreme” measures we’d taken.

A close friend had a purse stolen by very shrewd, skilled thieves in the Rome airport. In Paris, DP and I were both approached with a scam we’d read about. Luckily, we knew to firmly say, “NO,” and walk away.

Very sad that this occurs in such magnificent cities. From my experience, I’d say a money belt beneath your clothing is your only protection.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 02:38 AM
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I was in Rome in March. I didn't see any beggars or gangs f pickpockets
I twice had somebody asking me if I spoke English. The first got "fatti i fatti tuoi!" The other got "I don't speak English, in probably inaccurate Welsh". That was in the queue for St. Peter's.
I heard an English person behind me, "What did she say?" "it sounded like bugger off in an unknown language".
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Jan 1st, 2014, 03:20 AM
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How very Wilde of you, Miss Prism.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 09:28 AM
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The only times we've been approached by Gypsies and their small children was in Granada and Barcelona. We didn't let them get a hold of our belongings but you always need to be alert when traveling in cities, walk confidently.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 10:19 AM
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I never lock anything I travel with. I'm sure I'd either lose the key or forget the combination. I seriously thing my best defense is to look as though it would be more profitable to rob that well-dressed woman next to me.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 10:28 AM
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It's not ONLY Romani - the PC corect word for gypsies - that are a problem - they stand out perhaps but to signal them out only is just not fair - plenty of scammers around that are not 'gypsies'.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 10:32 AM
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Perhaps gypsies, as used here, is a sort of generic word and not meant to be racist,politically incorrect and/or unfair!! Point well taken however!!
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Jan 1st, 2014, 11:04 AM
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We did see gypsies (no offense intended) on the Rome metro twice on back to back days. As others describe, 2 "moms" and a number of smaller children who swarm a target and mostly count on your desire not to be rude or make a scene to get close.

If you carry a bag, I did this to make it hard to be pickpocketed. Use a safety pin through the hole in the zipper tab and then fasten the safety through the zipper or purse fabric. It's difficult to undo a safety pin to unzip the bag. I use a very flat 3 zipper bag that is easy to keep close to me and hard to tell where my money would be. My husband carries his cash (not much) in a front pants pocket closed with safety pins. Nothing in a shirt pocket and nothing in the back pockets. I know of some who carry an obvious "decoy" wallet full of monopoly money, for thieves to steal, while the good stuff is tucked away some where safe.

Pay attention, don't leave your phone out on the table while dining, hold your bag (don't place on a chair, table or hang it by the strap from your chair). Don't carry all your money with you or in one place and always act like you know what you are doing....you will be OK!

I don't stop for anyone, no petition signing, no "did you drop this", and especially those offering unsolicited help (especially in train stations). We did encounter kids offering help at Termini. Unfortunately, you can't be afraid of being rude when approached. I assume anyone coming near my personal space is up to no good, especially at the busy tourist sites.
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