33 Most Common Tourist Scams in Italy

Safety at Rome, Bologna, Florence, Genoa, Milan, Naples, Pisa, Turin, Venice, Amalfi Coast, Capri, Cinque Terre, Italian Alps, Pompeii, Taormina, Lake Como, Vesuvius, Lake Garda
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Burano, Italy

Burano, Italy

 

Besides being home to the most number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites globally, Italy also offers delicious cuisine, trendy fashion, jaw dropping coasts, lakes, mountains and many more!

A tourist mecca in Europe it is indeed, and one that every tourist must visit in one’s lifetime.

Unfortunately, tourists attract scammers and thieves, and there is a whole bunch of them in the country who target tourists for their valuables.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself in this beautiful country!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Street pickpockets

 

How it works:

Crowded streets, markets, shopping malls, tourist attractions, hotels, night spots or anywhere tourists hang out at are pickpockets’ favourite spots.

A non-exhaustive list includes:

  • Milan: Piazza del Duomo, Castello Sforzesco, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
  • Rome: Colosseum, Parthenon, Via dei Fori Imperiali (between the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia), Piazza di Spagna, area around St. Peter’s Basilica, (Trionfale, Via Emo, Prati, Piazza Cavour), Trevi Fountain, Trastevere (night spot)
  • Florence: Ponte Vecchio, Uffizi museum, Basilica of San Lorenzo, Pitti Palace, Battistero off San Giovanni, Market in Piazza di San Lorenzo
  • Venice: Ponte Rialto, Piazza di San Marco, Academia Museum, the Rialto Bridge, and smaller crowded bridges
  • Naples: Spanish Quarter, Piazza Garibaldi, internet cafes, Forcella (mobster neighbourhood)
  • Verona: Portoni della Bra, the City Gate, which is the entrance to Centro Storico of Verona
  • Bologna: Via Zamboni, Via dell’Indipendenza, Via Farini, Galleria Cavour, Piazza Maggiore
  • Pisa: in the area around the Leaning Tower
  • Public transportation: discussed in the next section

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelry / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround you and work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another blocks, pushes or distracts you (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Keep your wallet in the front pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch.
  • Store large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

2. Spilled liquid / stain scam

Street in Taormina, Sicily

Street in Taormina, Sicily

 

How it works:

This is a standard theft tactic that you will find everywhere around the world.

As you are walking along the streets, you may suddenly find white liquid spilled onto you that looks like bird poo.

Instantly, someone runs up to help you clean up.

What he is trying to do, is to steal any valuables he can get his hands on, or cause even distraction for his accomplice to steal from you.

 

What to do:

If someone spills something on you or if they point out a stain on your clothes, reject any help and quickly move to a safe spot.

While moving, check that your valuables are still secure with you.

Ideally, arm yourself with a money belt or hidden pouch and an anti-theft bag to conceal your valuables securely.

 

3. Unofficial tour guides

Vatican City St Peters Basilica

Vatican City St Peters Basilica

 

How it works:

Another common scam around the world (e.g. China, Sri Lanka), you will find unofficial tour guide touts at tourist spots.

In Italy, you will see them at places with long queues such as at the Vatican.

They approach you, ask if you speak English and then offer a tour that is about to start. They claim this can help you avoid the queue, which is nonsense.

There are two ways you can get scammed:

  • You might have agree / paid a fee upfront, only to be asked for more money halfway through the tour.
  • Or it can simply be a low quality tour with your guide not being particularly knowledgeable about the place.

 

What to do:

Decline firmly.

You can engage a licensed, reputable tour operator online via:

 

 

  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operators: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

Offline, to determine if an operator is legitimate, ask these questions:

  • Is the operator licensed and is there a professional website, physical office, business email and working telephone number?
  • Are there online reviews? Do they sound legitimate?
  • Is the price too low to be true? What does it cover (vehicles, guides, safety, insurance, hidden fees, etc)?

When paying:

  • Avoid paying in full upfront unless through a reputable platform / operator.
  • If using an online platform, do not make payment off the platform.

 

4. Pigeon scam

 

How it works:

This is a common scam across Italy especially in large spaces such as squares (e.g. Piazza del Duomo in MilanPiazza San Marco in Venice).

A random stranger grabs your hand, places some grain or corn in it and then whistles.

The pigeons fly over magically and the stranger will offer to take a picture for you.

Should you do so, he will hold your phone or camera hostage until you give him a tip.

 

What to do:

Decline firmly and do not let anyone put anything in your hand.

 

5. Rome gladiators 

Gladiator photo scam in Rome

Gladiator photo scam in Rome. Source: telegraph.co.uk

 

How it works:

Despite bans in 2015 and 2017 and a new law in 2017 where anyone dressed as a historical figure for photos and video will face a fine of up to 400 euros, you will still find these charlatans around.

These scammers dress in gladiator costumes and can be found outside the Colosseum.

Should you take a photo with them or of them, an outrageous payment will be demanded.

If you do not pay, they will get aggressive and simply snatch your valuables from you.

 

What to do:

Avoid, unless you wouldn’t mind paying and have agree a fee upfront.

 

6. Dancing cartoon cutouts scam 

 

How it works:

You will most likely encounter this scam in Rome, Florence and at other tourist attractions.

This scam has been done to death and perpetrated by street touts for years but it just never gets old.

As seen in the video, these paper cartoon characters will dance when the music is played from a cassette player just beside.

These touts with their PhDs in bullshitting, will explain that the big speaker magnets will reverse the polarity of the magnets in the feet and the back of the characters as the music plays 🙂

The truth is that these characters are attached by practically invisible strings (e.g. mono-filament fishing line) which is attached to the cassette player of the speakers.

So as long as the cassette tape is played, the characters will move. The magnets do not do anything, except to secure the string to the characters.

 

What to do:

Avoid, unless you don’t mind paying 5 Euros for two pieces of paper!

 

7. The string / bracelet scam

 

How it works:

This is not as common as in France, but still found at a number of tourist areas such as the Spanish Steps in Rome.

There are a couple of variations:

1. Standard set-up

  • They ask if you want a “friendship bracelet” or “friendship ring”.
  • If you say yes, they tie it so tightly around your wrist / finger that makes it impossible to remove.
  • They then demand money from you, or gather their accomplices to bring you to the nearest ATM.

2. Magic trick

  • They ask if you want to see a magic trick.
  • If you say yes, they tie a band around your wrist or fingers.

3. Targeting couples

  • They approach couples and offer the band to the lady for free.
  • Should the lady accept, another will pop out to offer the man.
  • Since it is assumed to be free, the man generally accepts. But once you do, they will hound you for payment.

4. Distract and steal

  • One will tie the friendship band and engage you, while another will steal from behind.

 

What to do:

When they approach, say no and walk away. Keep your hands well hidden in your jacket or somewhere.

For females travelling alone, watch out as they tend to target this group of travellers.

 

8. Fashion guru asking for petrol money

 

How it works:

There have been many reported cases of this scam, where a well-dressed man who speaks English approaches you while in his car.

It could be for any reason, such as asking for directions or making a random comment.

He will also ask where you are from and surprise, he has a friend / relative / family member there as well! This is a standard tactic to build rapport and gain trust.

Next, he lets you in on his big secret. Actually he is a manager at Giorgio Armani / Versace / Calvin Klein or what have you!

He shows you some of the latest designs of the season, and proceeds to hand you a coat or even a bag as a gift for telling him the directions.

However, he claims that his car is running out of petrol and asks if you could spare him some money. It can be a preposterous amount from €50 to €200, yet many victims still fall for it!

You can find this scam in other countries as well, but in different variations (e.g. USA, Netherlands).

 

What to do:

If someone tries to offer you a suit or something that sounds too good to be true on the streets, it is.

 

9. Gypsy stunts

Gypsies in Italy

Gypsies in Italy. Source: italylogue.com

 

How it works:

These gypsy groups tend to hang out around popular tourist spots, and they beg, distract and steal, so do be wary.

They used to be a common sight around the Colosseum in Rome, though that has improved with the clamping down by the authorities.

Also, they tend to be women or kids as tourists are likelier to let their guard down when facing them. However they do have adult / male accomplices lurking nearby.

Some of the tricks they use to distract and then steal:

  • Gypsy pizza: Gypsy girls present a pizza box (or map, survey or anything) under your nose. This blocks your vision below and their accomplices will swoop in for your wallet.
  • Unusual things: such as breastfeeding a baby in an exposed way to catch your attention.
  • The baby toss: As the name suggests, a doll resembling a baby, wrapped up in a blanket is thrown at the victim.

 

What to do:

Stay far away.

Arm yourself with a money belt or hidden pouch and an anti-theft bag to conceal your valuables securely.

 

10. Fake luxury products

Streetside stall in Italy selling fake luxury products

Streetside stall in Italy selling fake luxury products. Source: girlinflorence.com

 

How it works:

Fake designer products aren’t unique to Italy, but what is unique is that if you are caught with one, you can be charged with a €10,000 fine!

 

What to do:

Fakes are usually found on the streets and with prices that are too good to be true.

Learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff, or only visit licensed and reputable dealers.

You can find these by doing some online research or by asking your hotel / hostel staff.

If you do not want to go through the hassle of researching, other options available include:

 

 

 

11. The rose scam

 

How it works:

This same scam is common in France, where ladies with their husbands / boyfriends are usually targeted.

What happens is that the scammer will compliment your looks and then pass you a rose.

Should you take it, he will hound your husband / boyfriend for money.

It works as only a small amount of money is asked for and your husband / boyfriend is made to look like a jerk if he forces you to pass the rose back.

 

What to do:

Never accept anything from a stranger on the streets. It is never free.

 

12. Gold ring scam

 

How it works:

A gypsy will coincidentally find a gold ring on the floor, point at the “18k” hallmark on the ring and offer it to you (it is actually worthless polished brass).

There ARE people who take it. It can be very convincing and goes something like this:

Scammer: “Sir, did you drop this ring?”
You: “No, I did not”
Scammer: “Well, you can give it to your wife, why not? It will make her happy. They might also insist that their religion prevents them from keeping the ring.

If you accept, the gypsy will demand money in return. She will simply say:

Scammer: “Sir, I am hungry, could you give me some money / change for a croissant?”

When you give, they will ask for more.

Sometimes, the scammer might walk away and reappear 5 minutes later to demand your money. Whatever it is, they will stop at nothing to get money from you.

The most scheming ones will have an accomplice pickpocket you while you are protesting.

 

What to do:

Don’t engage. If it is not yours, don’t take it.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Public transportation pickpockets

 

How it works:

Crowded transportation hubs with confused tourists and crowded trains / buses to and from the airport and tourist attractions are pickpockets’ favourite spots.

A non-exhaustive list includes:

  • Milan: Milan–Malpensa Airport, Stazione Centrale, Stazione Cadorna, Duomo station, Cairoli station, Lanza station.
  • Rome: Termini central railway station metro to any tourist destination from here, bus 64 (shuttles back and forth to St. Peter’s Square, also known as the pickpockets’ express), trains to and from Fiumicino (the international airport).
  • Venice: vaporettos / boat transport.
  • Cinque Terre: the Cinque Terre train across the 6 stops.
  • Florence: Santa Maria Novella main station, buses 7 (to Fiesole), 10 (to Settignano) and 12 / 13 (to Piazza Michelangelo).
  • Naples: Napoli Centrale train station.
  • Bologna: bus 20 from Porto san donato to Piazza Maggiore.
  • Livorno: trains to Florence (due to cruise ships passengers disembarking in Livorno for a day trip).
  • Pisa: on the train to and from airport.

They have a few ways of stealing from you:

  • One blocks you at the door (pretend to tie shoe laces / drop something), the other steals from behind and slips to a third who escapes, and one to block others from viewing the act.
  • Some are able to time it perfectly such that they can snatch your stuff and jump out when the doors are just about to close.
  • Other times, especially at escalators, they might trip you or bump into you. Next moment, your valuables are gone.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Keep your wallet in the front pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch.
  • Store large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

2. Airport baggage handler theft

 

How it works:

Not a unique problem around the world (e.g. Argentina, South Africa), you may encounter corrupt baggage handler at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

Besides Rome, airports in Bari, Bologna, Milan, PalermoVerona and Calabria have seen such cases as well.

What these corrupted baggage handlers do, is to either steal entire suitcases, or to break into and damage your luggage for specific valuables in it.

Night flights with inter-continental connections seem to be the favoured target, as these thieves will have the maximum amount of time to hide their loot before the thefts are discovered.

 

What to do:

There are four key steps to protecting your luggage:

 

3. Overcharging water buses / vaporetti

Vaporetti in Venice

Vaporetti in Venice

 

How it works:

Happens in Venice, where taking the water bus is a must do experience for any tourist.

You may find street touts reselling tickets for an inflated price.

Another hot spot is at the Tronchetto parking terminal. There you may get surrounded by scammers who ask where you are headed.

If you mention the public Vaporetto dock, they will lead you instead to the private taxi boats which is much more expensive.

 

What to do:

Do not buy from street touts or unofficial sellers.

Only buy a ticket through these sources:

  • Direct from company / official counters.
  • Licensed retailers.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided.
  • Day tour platforms like GetYourGuide – you can get a waterbus or public bus as well as a shared or private water taxi:
 

 

 

4. Overcharging taxis

Taxis in Italy

Taxis in Italy. Source: walksofitaly.com

 

How it works:

Many of these can be found in Rome and Naples, though do be careful in other Italian cities as well.

Always ensure that the meter is on, unless you know how much a certain distance or journey should cost.

Also monitor the meter to gauge if it is running according to the KM / minute rates posted in the cab.

Travelling to the airport is an exception however as a flat rate is charged.

Do not be surprised however, should you face certain charges, such as:

  • Zone 1: historic centre; Zone 2: outside Rome’s beltway
  • Starting fare: €2.80 (7am-10pm weekdays); €4.00 (weekends, holidays); €5.80 (10pm-7am)
  • Surcharge from Termini: €2.00
  • Bag in trunk: €1.00
  • >5 passengers: €1.00

 

What to do:

Ensure that the meter is tuned in to the right zone and right starting fare! If not, get out or take down their details (can be found on the inside rear door).

Make sure you have small charge as well, as the driver can simply insist that he does not have small notes / coins and not give back change.

Also, if you travel alone, only deposit your bag when the driver is out of the cab, to prevent him from driving off with your belongings.

Alternatively, you can put your luggage beside you in the cab.

Else, you can also consider private transport or shuttle buses. Day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (best in Europe) has 370+ such options.

 

 

5. Unofficial taxis

 

How it works:

These are cabs operating without license and are usually rip offs.

They may claim to offer a cheaper flat fare at the start, but halfway through, they will demand a higher fare.

If you do not pay, they will simply stop and leave you stranded on a highway or at some secluded spot.

 

What to do:

Never take an unofficial taxi.

Do also note that it is illegal to flag a taxi off the streets. Instead, you get one at an official taxi station or you call to make a booking.

However, do note, that the meter starts running once the booking is confirmed.

 

6. Horse drawn carriages

Horse drawn carriage

Horse drawn carriage. Source: marianneperry.ca

 

How it works:

Just like the tuk tuks in Thailand and Vietnam, nothing shouts SCAM more than this.

Be prepared for a €100 bill should you wish to take this mode of transport.

 

What to do:

Avoid.

 

7. Ticket helper

 

How it works:

At popular train stations such as the Termini station, there are unofficial “ticket helpers” roaming about helping tourists buy tickets.

They help you and will ask for a tip.

However, the nastier ones will simply grab your change.

The even more ruthless ones will have their pickpocket accomplices steal your valuables or luggage in the process.

 

What to do:

Never accept help from an overly friendly stranger when it is unsolicited.

If you need help, ask a fellow commuter / tourist or check with the official staff.

Ideally, use an anti-theft bag or a money belt / hidden pouch to prevent these thieves from ever stealing from you.

 

8. Bag helpers

 

How it works:

Never let anyone help you with your bag.

It could be a friendly stranger who steals your wallet from your bag.

Or it could be an “official” looking employee who shows you to your seat, stows your seat and then demands a tip of €5.

It might even be someone who runs off with your bag once he gets hold of it.

 

What to do:

Firmly decline any help.

 

9. Car break-ins

Carpark at Pisa

Carpark at Pisa. Source: athomeintuscany.org

 

How it works:

In Italy, car parks at Pisa (e.g. Parcheggio via Peitrasantina) have a particular infamous reputation with regards to the high numbers of car break-ins.

Rental cars / tourists are targeted, and one way they do so is to pretend to help at the ticket machines so they can mark you out.

They steal not just any exposed valuables, but your luggage or anything kept in the boot as well.

Sometimes, it’s not just your valuables that will be stolen, but the entire car may be pinched.

 

What to do:

Note that car break-ins do not just happen at Pisa, but really anywhere in Italy.

Ideally, park your car in a paid lot that has security cameras instead of in open car parks.

Also, back your car into the parking lot to make opening the trunk difficult.

Do not leave any valuables / items indicating that you are a tourist exposed in the car:

 

10. Tour group bus break-ins

Tour group bus that was broken into

Tour group bus that was broken into. Source: sina.com.cn

 

How it works:

Very similar to the car break-ins, even private buses used for tour groups may not be safe.

In 2013, a group of 26 Singaporeans had $50,000 worth of belonging stolen from their bus in Rome as they were having dinner.

In 2017, another group of Chinese tourists had all their luggage stolen from the bus after they were picked up at the airport and were doing a tour in Rome.

For the Singaporeans, it happened on the last day of their holiday.

For the Chinese however, it happened on their first day in Italy, and just like that, their whole holiday was destroyed.

 

What to do:

Do not leave your valuables in your luggage on a tour bus if you are taking one.

Instead, store them securely in a money belt or hidden pouch (smaller valuables) and an anti-theft bag (larger valuables).

 

11. Car rental accusations

Road in Rome

Road in Rome

 

How it works:

Just like in Mexico, you might find yourself charged for damages on a car you rented which were not incurred during your usage.

Some tricks of the trade:

  • Damages: the company notice certain light scratches / damages and demand that you pay a fee for it.
  • Chipped windshield: Again, similar to the one on damages.
  • Spare tire / other item swap: While returning the car, an employee might come out when you are distracted and swap the spare tire for a spoilt one. Other items in your car can be swapped as well. You will then be asked to pay to repair the items.

 

What to do:

Ask a local or your hotel / hostel to recommend reputable shops to rent from.

Also, take photos of the car and inspect it thoroughly for dents or scratches and sound out before signing any forms.

 

12. Flat tire scam

Autostrada

Autostrada

 

How it works:

There have been reports of the flat tire scam along the rest stops or services along the autostrada between Naples to Salerno and also at Milan.

However, as along as you drive, you should be careful of this scam.

One variation of this scam is that as you are driving, a motorist / car asks you to pull over. They then tell you that you have a flat tire (or some damage to your car).

Should you come out of your car, the accomplice will head to the other side of your car to snatch any valuables he can find.

Another variation is for the scammer to slash the tires of your parked car. He informs you of it, and offers to bring you to a garage (which is basically a secluded place for them to rob you).

Else, if you prefer to work on fixing the tire on the spot, the scammer’s accomplices will simply steal from your car while you are distracted.

 

What to do:

Do not stop if asked to pull over by strangers but if you choose to, only stop at places with lights and in full view of oncoming traffic.

Should there be any damage, drive to a garage to fix it, rather than allowing the “good Samaritan” to help you.

Ensure that your car doors are locked and windows are up.

Do not leave any valuables exposed in the car:

 

13. Fake car crash

Driving in Sicily

Driving in Sicily. Source: wondersofsicily.com

 

How it works:

This is a scam that that has been reported in Sicily, Naples and in the Tuscany region.

There are drivers of old vehicles who intentionally bang into / pretend to bang into your vehicle so as to claim damages.

 

What to do:

Nothing much you can do, besides to stay alert on the roads and make sure you have a functioning in-car camera.

Also, get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers accidents.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Snatch theft

 

How it works:

Snatch theft is a big problem especially in the Southern parts of Italy, specifically PalermoCatania and Naples.

Generally, there are two versions of snatch thefts – strike and run, or distract and grab, in many possible contexts:

  • Bikes / mopeds riding past, with a pillion rider doing the snatch.
  • Snatching from behind you, then running into a getaway car to escape.
  • At restaurants, stealing unattended bags / valuables on the chair or table.
  • Hotels airports, where distracted / tired tourists carry all their valuables out.
  • The beach where tourists are relaxed, or when they head to the water.
  • Nightclubs, where “prostitutes” pretend to proposition tourists by grabbing them but are really trying to steal your valuables.
  • Seats beside a train’s doors where a thief gets out just before the doors close.
  • Stealing of bags on overnight trains / buses.
  • Valuables snatched through a car / bus window.
  • Thefts around ATMs.

 

What to do:

When seated / not moving:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Avoid carrying valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.

Other measures:

  • Leave valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

2. Holiday apartment scam

Mountain house on the Italian Alps

Mountain house on the Italian Alps

 

How it works:

With the rising popularity of apartment rental sites like AirBnB which makes once exclusive private villas at Lake Como accessible to the masses, unfortunately the number of fraudulent listings have increased as well.

This is because it is really easy for scammers to pull off, very lucrative and difficult for authorities to catch.

Some warning signs to watch out for:

  • Prices that are too good to be true.
  • Illogical descriptions because they copy and paste without any edits.
  • Dodgy sounding reviews.
  • Difference in photos provided and pictures seen with Google Street View.
  • Payment only by bank transfer off the booking platform (note: they will use names that include the original booking platform to make it seem like you are still dealing with the platform).
  • Or payment to a foreign bank account or via Western Union / MoneyGram (sure sign of scam as transfers are irreversible).
  • Owner is overseas, insists on only using English in emails and emails are worded in poor English.
  • If the “owner” refuses to provide more details or to allow for a tour of the place.

 

What to do:

Only book via legitimate accommodation platforms such as:

  • Booking.com: Frommer’s tests have found the site to offer the best selection and rates amongst competing sites most of the time.
  • Homestay: if you are up for gaining genuine insights of Italy by staying with a local host!

Next, some due diligence to be done on individual listings:

  • Search online reviews and Google the names of the owner.
  • Call the phone number provided on the listing.
  • Grill the “landlord” by asking specific questions, such as room dimensions or something unique as seen in the photos.
  • You can even pretend something exists in the online photos and test if the “landlord” can call your bluff.
  • Search if the property has another online presence or contact number and engage that to see if they are consistent.
  • Test the owner by requesting for a visit from a local friend before booking – it doesn’t have to happen, you just want to test the owner’s receptiveness.

Finally, avoid paying in full upfront or making payment off the platform.

 

3. Currency switcheroo

Differences between Euro and Lira coins

Differences between Euro and Lira coins. Source: italyexplained.com

 

How it works:

The Lira is the old Italian currency that was in use till 2001 / 2, and the Lira 500 coin looks awfully like the €2 coin.

Hence, there are scammers who pass off the Lira 500 coin as a €2 coin when returning your change.

Also, in shops / money changers, there are scammers who drop your payment / change and then switch a big note into a small note.

 

What to do:

Always double check your change.

For big ticket items, always ensure you get receipts as proof in case anything goes awry.

The law requires stores have to issue receipts so do not worry about requesting for one.

 

4. The Guardia di Finanza (Tax Police) fake police

Guardia di Finanza

Guardia di Finanza. Source: batmagazine.it

 

How it works:

The Tax Police’s job is to ensure that shops in Italy give out receipts which serve as a record for tax collection.

How they go about checking is to ask you, the customer to produce a receipt when you exit from a restaurant or any shop.

The problem is that these police may sometimes be in plainclothes and not uniform. As such there are scammers who exploit this and pose as fake police.

Upon seeing your receipt, they claim that you have committed a crime and have to pay a fine.

 

What to do:

If you have not obviously broken the law, be very skeptical when a “police officer” approaches you.

Three steps you can use to shake them off:

  • Verify badges and identification. Threaten to call the police hotline (end of this article).
  • Never give your passport if asked. Show only a photocopy of it.
  • If they want to fine you or check your bags, insist to only do so at a police station (use your GPS to find it or check with a local) with a lawyer or someone from your embassy.

Next, you should have hidden your valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This way, the scammers may simply let you go since you do not seem to have much cash.

 

5. Overcharging restaurants

Roadside cafe at Amalfi Coast

Roadside cafe at Amalfi Coast

 

How it works:

Always ask for a menu and check the prices. You do not want to pay €30-50 for simple pasta or pizza dishes.

Post meal, there have also been reports of extra surcharges, unordered items and shortchanging.

However, note that pane e coperto (bread and cover) is not a scam. Servizio (service charge) is perfectly legitimate as well.

There have also been reports (compiled by Codacons, the Italian consumer watchdog association), where different prices were charged to locals and tourists.

Something of note is that ordering fish which sells by grams is particularly risky.

Be careful of restaurants around the San Marco area in Venice as they have been to known to charge hundreds of euros for simple lobster / fish dishes.

 

What to do:

Avoid restaurants promoted by aggressive touts.

Do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff on recommended places locals go to eat at.

Otherwise, you can also consider joining a food tour for an authentic, local food experience!

 

 

  • BonAppetour: join locals over a meal for an authentic dining experience!
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operators: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

Check the menu carefully before, do not eat what you did not order, and check your bill carefully after.

 

6. Naples’ phone scam

Spaccanapoli street, Naples

Spaccanapoli street, Naples

 

How it works:

You may find touts offering a brand new phone at a low price on the streets, especially in Naples.

This happens in other European countries as well, such as in Hungary and Poland.

Should you accept the offer, the seller and / or his accomplice will distract you and swap the phone / box the phone is in with a fake one.

Then, there are others who simply hawk a fake phone on the streets.

 

What to do:

Do not buy anything from street touts. These are most likely fake, low quality items with an inflated price tag.

 

7. ATM skimmers and thieves

Signs of a rigged ATM

Signs of a rigged ATM

 

How it works:

This scam happens everywhere in the world (e.g. Brazil, Canada).

ATMs can be rigged in two ways generally:

First, the card skimmer and pinhole camera / keypad overlay set up:

  • A card skimmer is installed over the card slot to capture your card details.
  • The pinhole camera / keypad overlay is used to capture your PIN.

Second, the card trap:

  • The card slot can be rigged with cheap tools to trap your card.
  • When your card is stuck, someone will come over and tell you that if you retype your PIN, your card will be unblocked.
  • Obviously, your card will still be stuck, but the scammer will now have seen your PIN.
  • Should you head into the bank / somewhere to seek help, the scammer will unblock your card and escape.

There have also been reports where a scammer can distract you by tapping you as are withdrawing money to claim that you have dropped a $10 note behind you.

Most people would turn, and at this point, an accomplice will appear out of nowhere to steal your card or grab your cash.

 

What to do:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas. Use only at controlled environments such as in banks.

Scan the area for suspicious looking characters and cover your PIN when typing it in.

Also, although not directly relevant, consider using a RFID blocking wallet.

That will prevent your cards’ details from being skimmed by thieves with a mobile RFID reader / scanner.

 

8. Club 84 / sleaze

Italy nightlife

Italy nightlife. Source: livinginitalian.wordpress.com

 

How it works:

If you find a street tout offering you a free ticket to Club 84, do not go unless you are feeling generous on the day, as simple drinks will net you a €1,000 bill easily.

This goes for other sleazy clubs as well.

Another way touts of these free tickets approach you is to first ask for directions. Then as the conversation flows and rapport is built, drinks are suggested.

This scam is also found in other European countries, such as Greece and Turkey.

 

What to do:

Never accept an offer for drinks from a random stranger on the streets.

But if you do want to make new local friends, some questions to ponder:

  • Does the restaurant / bar seem legitimate? Are there customers?
  • Is the stranger reading from a script? Evasive about things?
  • Is he / she only bringing you to a particular restaurant or bar?

Some other tricks you can use:

  • Pretend that you have company by suggesting to go another place where you have a few friends at.
  • Ask for prices before ordering. Only drink what your waiter or you have poured.
  • Take a photo together.

If you fell into the trap:

  • Pay with a credit card but call the bank to dispute your charges immediately after leaving.

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

This is not a fear mongering exercise, as most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise some common sense.

However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Information below has been compiled from:

                                                     

1. Violent crime, hazards, hotspots, terrorism, civil unrest

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Italy

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Italy. Source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: rare. Watch out for petty crime and scams instead.
  • Hazards: migrant camps potentially (e.g. Cara di Mineo in Sicily).
  • Hotspots: southeast – Sicily, Calabria, Campania Apulia – sees higher levels of violent crime due to the drug trade and gang feuds.
  • Terrorism: risk of attacks.
  • Civil unrest: politically motivated violence by extreme left-wing and secessionist groups against official Italian targets. Transport strikes can be common.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, travelling alone at night, and don’t look like an easy victim (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

Monitor local media in case of any terrorist threats, and avoid participating in demonstrations.

 

2. Medical care

Rome American Hospital. Source: whererome.com

 

How it works:

Good medical care is available in urban cities but limited outside.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, West Nile virus.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, hepatitis.
  • Animal borne diseases: rabies, measles.
  • Human borne diseases: HIV.

 

What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads – our review), you can’t afford to travel, as:

  • Emergency health services can cost a bomb.
  • Insurance providers can make complex logistical arrangements to get you the best medical treatment fast.

Vaccinations to consider:

  • All travellers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, rabies (outdoor activities, activities involving animals).

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing.
  • Insect repellents.
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets.
  • Plug-in insecticides.
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass.

Food safety:

  • Practise safe hygiene such as washing hands with soap.
  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, ice cubes, uncooked and undercooked food.

 

3. Natural disasters

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Earthquakes: happens as Italy lies on an active seismic line, so several can occur and also trigger landslides and avalanches.
  • Volcanoes: a few active volcanoes such as Mt Etna at Sicily, Mt Stromboli on Stromboli, Mt Vesuvius near Naples and several other dormant ones.
  • Forest fires: June to August, particularly on Sardinia and Sicily.
  • Rainy season: September to November, flooding and mudslides can occur in Veneto region (north), and Calabria and Sicily regions (south).

 

What to do:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) that covers natural disasters.

Check the latest media reportsweather forecasts and sources such as:

Reacting to one:

  • Earthquakes: drop (to hands and knees), cover (head and neck with arms), hold on (to sturdy furniture); expect aftershocks.
  • Volcanic eruption: avoid areas downwind and river valleys downstream of the volcano, do not drive in heavy ash fall, seek shelter (if no need to evacuate) or high ground if no shelter (crouch down away from volcano, cover head with arms).
  • Forest fires: make yourself seen (e.g. spread out something large and bright), find shelter with little vegetation, stay low to avoid smoke.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Driving conditions can vary across the country, a couple of factors to watch out for:

  • Narrow and winding roads, both in cities and in mountainous areas.
  • Aggressive driving, speeding, not adhering to traffic rules.
  • Unclear or missing signage, traffic lights, road markings.
  • Weather conditions can make roads impassable.
  • Potential for fog to reduce visibility in the north during winter.

 

What to do:

Before going out, check the latest media reports and weather forecast.

When on the road, stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Police in Italy

Police in Italy. Source: Wikimedia – Adrian Pingstone

 

  • Emergency number in Europe: 112
  • Police: 113
  • Fire engine: 115
  • Ambulance: 118

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