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Watch Out for These 10 Common Scams When You’re in Italy This Summer

Because nothing sours the milk in your cappuccino faster than fear of getting scammed.

Italy is a relatively safe country in terms of violent crime, but times are tough, people are shrewd, and there are a few common (yet frustratingly ingenious) tourist scams to be aware of. Some may even go so far as to call it a game: scam the foreigner–except no one tells you when it’s in session.

Be on alert in the major tourist trap cities and attractions as well as in the smaller towns where tourists are a rarity. Regardless of where you visit in Italy, with a little preparation and know-how, you’ll spot a scam a mile away.

1 OF 10

The Foreigner Tax

Have you heard of this tax? Right, because there isn’t one. And yet, foreign visitors may find themselves overcharged at restaurants, cafés or transit ticket stands. Note that the “foreigner tax” is different from the coperto or serviziomany restaurants will have a cover or service charge ranging from one to a few euros. Many also charge for the pane (bread). But check for items added to the bill, and higher prices than listed on the menu. It never hurts to make sure you’ve seen the official menu or prices on the transit ticket purchasing apps before you exchange money so you can refer to it clearly if you think you’re being overcharged.

2 OF 10

Taxi Drivers

You know better than not to accept a ride from a rando at a train station or airport, right? But do you know how to protect yourself from shady taxi drivers who may see a non-Italian speaking, travel-weary tourist as a mark? Uber isn’t widely available in Italy, so a taxi is often your only private vehicle transport option. Always make sure to take only official taxis and agree on the fare before even getting in. Check Google Maps for an estimate of how long the trip should take. If the meter isn’t running, insist that it be turned on. The driver may tell you they accept only cash—that’s untrue, as taxis drivers in Italy are now required to also accept card payments.

3 OF 10

Pompeii’s “Tourist Office”

If you’re arriving to Pompeii by train, you’ll find a “tourist office” right outside the station packed with guidebooks, tour offers, and malfunctioning audio guides with outdated maps. You may also encounter touts at the station and archaeological site entrances who bombard you with false information about tours and shuttles to Vesuvius (commonly telling you that you’ve just missed the last bus, the bus is out of order, and all manner of creative bunk). Save yourself the rage and download the free MyPompeii app, which has excellent information and tour routes. Or book tours and shuttles through the Pompeii website or official tour agencies. There are public buses that will take you to Vesuvius, too–download the Unico Campania app to find public transit information in real time.

4 OF 10

To Tip… or Not to Tip?

In a word: No. Italians don’t have an obligatory tipping culture, but they know that Americans do. This isn’t a scam so much as it is a ploy to take advantage of your unfamiliarity with Italian tipping culture, so you might feel pressured by your waiter or cab driver to leave a tip via a wink, a nod, a jab at the bill. Unless it’s the best service you’ve ever had in your life, stay firm. When Italians actually do decide to tip it’s, at most, only an extra euro or two.

5 OF 10

Street Markets

Street markets are a way of life in Italy–some, like the famous Mercato di Pignasecca in Naples, have been in operation for hundreds of years. You can find just about anything at Italian mercati, from fresh fish to batteries to beach gear. And sometimes, you can find counterfeit cosmetics and electronics–the old “brick in a cell phone box” gambit. If it seems like too good a deal to be true, it is.

6 OF 10

Transport “Helpers”

No, you don’t need help using a ticket machine, and you don’t need any help carrying your bags through the airports and train stations, either. If someone approaches you to ask and they won’t take no for an answer, they’re likely hoping to distract you so they can rob you. The same goes for people hovering around you at ATMs. While we’re on the subject of mass transit, always keep your valuables hidden and an eye on your bags–particularly on the 64 bus in Rome and the metro in Naples and Milan.

7 OF 10

Tourist Trap Restaurants

Again, not a premeditated scam per se, but if you ask me, it’s still an offense punishable by law. Too dramatic? I think not–in a land renowned for its insanely delicious food culture, you can often find restaurants geared towards tourists that knowingly serve subpar food at inflated prices. If they have an English-language menu, it’s a good bet it’s a rip-off. And if someone is standing at the door hustling to get you into the restaurant, it’s probably no good. So do your restaurant research and know the tell-tale signs.

8 OF 10

“Genuine Italian” Souvenirs

What a beautiful €20 real Tuscan leather bag! Hooray–real Italian limoncello in a lemon-shaped bottle! Nana will love this real Italian risotto kit–it even comes with a real Italian wooden spoon! Everyone loves the idea of artisanal “Made in Italy” goods, but do you know them when you see them? Here’s a hint: you won’t see hundreds of the same object in a hundred different shades every few feet, and it won’t have English writing on it. Please don’t waste your money on cheesy, fake Italian tourist souvenirs. Unless you like them! You do you.

9 OF 10

Skip-the-line Tickets and Tours Offered on the Street

You’ll find these folks near the biggest tourist attractions, trying to charm you away from the legitimate ticket lines with promises of skip-the-line tickets and special tours. These are phony, illegal guides; legit tour guides in Italy must have completed extensive training for their license and are required to carry their badge at all times. They will own their own agency or work for one, and you won’t find these guys calling out to you on the street. Book your certified tours in advance (you can often book your tickets to museums and other attractions online these days now, too).

10 OF 10

Art Today, Gone Tomorrow

This is a rather new scam being run in Florence, where some particularly dubious individuals have taken to purposely leaving their oil paintings on the footpath where they can be trampled on, and then demanding that the unwitting perpetrator pay damages. In this case–and in any case where you feel you’re being scammed–stand your ground. Real artists don’t leave their work on the sidewalk, honest restauranteurs don’t change their prices on a whim, legit tour guides don’t need to harass you in line for the Vatican. And they know it.

2 Comments
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waynephillips3301 April 22, 2023

Problem with booking tours in advance is they can cancel them just before you go.  Booked a tour around Paris and a few days before we were to go on it, they canceled it.  Problem is, they sent the cancelation to our email and we didn't have internet for a week so hadn't checked it.  We didn't know.  Then in Rome they canceled the Night at the Colosseum tour a few days before we were to go on it.  We couldn't book with another tour in short notice so we had to take one of those tours set up just outside the Colosseum.  We thought we had booked with legitimate, quite large tour companies but they let us down.

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Ivor April 21, 2023

 "knowingly serve subpar food at inflated prices."

Isn't that just true for all restaurants, serving dull Italian grub, in Italy?...