How to Avoid Being Pickpocketed in Rome

How to avoid pickpockets in Rome
Crime in Rome is very low, especially violent crime (which includes mugging). And pickpocketing? It’s not something you have to be paranoid about. Really.

That said, it does happen—just as it does in Barcelona, or Paris, or Istanbul. And there’s no quicker way to ruin a vacation than to reach into your pocket and discover that your wallet’s been lifted.

Just remember that some pickpockets are very talented. Once they’ve picked you as their target, you can kiss that wallet goodbye. The key is to not get picked as their target to begin with.

Here’s how.

Forget trying to “not look like a tourist”

Dressing like an Italian

Even if you dressed like this girl, something else would still give you away

Unless you’re a gifted style chameleon and already have a wardrobe of Italy-bought items, you won’t look like an Italian. And even if you are wearing something lifted from an Italian fashion blog, something else will give you away—your hand gestures, your haircut, even your smile. That’s before you open your mouth and start speaking English, or Italian with a foreign accent.

So while it feels nice to blend in as much as possible, know that you probably won’t be able to “pass.” Not to mention that people who regularly encounter tourists—from waiters to tour guides to, yes, pickpockets—will be especially attuned to being able to tell if you’re a tourist or not.

It’s not a bad thing. It’s just a fact.

But do try not look like a clueless tourist…

Some items of clothing will mark you as not just a tourist, but one who hasn’t traveled much. And that can make you a particular target. I’m talking about the classics here. The big white sneakers. Fanny packs. Sweatsuits and sweatpants. T-shirts printed with “I LOVE ROME”.

Fairly or not, these items aren’t just interpreted as “I’m a tourist”; they’re interpreted as “I’m a tourist, and I’m on my first trip abroad ever!”.

Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.

Or to act like one

How to avoid being pickpocketed

When you’re focusing on your photo op, keep your wits about you

Put simply, you should always be aware of what’s going on around you, especially if you’re in a very crowded area or a very quiet, dark one. For example, here are some things not to do:

  • when getting that perfect photo, don’t focus on your camera so much that you wouldn’t notice someone coming up behind you
  • at an outdoor restaurant or cafe, don’t leave your purse dangling off the back of your chair, or sitting on the ground next to you
  • don’t get so engrossed in a conversation with a friend on the bus that neither of you notice the person taking the opportunity to lift a wallet out of your purse

I’ve seen all three of these situations happen. Every time, they could have been avoided.

Know the classic tricks

If you’re in a crowd and you’re suddenly, inexplicably shoved, that’s a red flag. As you catch your balance, your hands go up (away from your purse or pockets), you stop paying attention for a split second… and it’s the perfect moment to lift your wallet.

Or, if you’re on a metro or bus that’s packed to the gills and someone forces their way on—despite there being clearly no room at all on the bus—that could be a trick, too. Of course, lots of people try to shove on. But if you see someone squeeze on and then continue to work their way through the bus, despite the crowd, that’s a sign of something fishy.

Another classic pickpocketing trick: Boarding the metro right before the doors close, grabbing a wallet (perhaps with the shove-and-surprise move), and then exiting just as the doors are closing.

Finally, be aware when you see a group of several people (usually, unfortunately, Roma), begging on a street or along a crowd. There will be a child or two, or a cardboard sign, or sometimes both. Stop to read the sign, and a child gets you from your back pocket. Turn to the child, and someone’s pickpocketing you while using the sign as cover.

Clearly, you can’t know every trick in the book. And—since it isn’t likely you’ll encounter these scenarios on one or two trips to Rome—you don’t have to.

But if something strikes you as “off,” like someone jamming their way into a bus or knocking into you, trust that instinct.

Choose a purse or moneybelt that makes a pickpocket’s life hard

Look: I don’t think it’s necessary to have a moneybelt in Rome. It always strikes me as a little paranoid, as well as inconvenient—every time you buy a gelato or a museum ticket, you have to reach down under your shirt or pants and take out cash? (Without making the people around you think you’re about to expose yourself to them?). And if you’re in a high-risk situation, what’s to stop someone from pickpocketing you at that moment?

Still, we’re talking about the best ways to deter pickpockets here. And wearing a moneybelt can be one of them.

As long as it’s the right kind of moneybelt. One that goes over your clothes is useless. It’s really useless if it’s back-facing, like a fannypack. Front-facing, it’s still not much better than having a wallet in your front pocket or a purse over your shoulder. The most secure kind goes under your clothes (but then that inconvenience factor comes into play).

Otherwise, a purse or wallet can be fine. Wallets should always be carried in a front pocket, not a back pocket. In certain (crowded) situations, be sure to keep your hand on the pocket with the wallet in it.

Purses should have a zip top; no outside pockets (at least that you put anything important in); ideally a separate, zipped compartment inside for your wallet; and should still be carried at the front of your body, with your arm over the top, when in a potentially “high-risk” situation (see below). (I’d much rather you had someone like my guy Armando Rioda make you a purse like this here in Italy, but if that’s not in the cards, something like this cheap leather tote or this cute red Coach purse would work great).

As an aside, my wallet’s been lifted from my purse once in Rome. It was five years ago, when I was visiting before I moved here. And I’d made every mistake in the book: I had a big purse with my wallet lying right on top of everything else, everything was unzipped and open, and my purse was on my back, and I wasn’t paying any attention.

Don’t carry ridiculous amounts of cash

I just read a moneybelt review saying the traveler safely carried around €800 in cash on their trip. I guess that speaks highly of the moneybelt… because that’s an absurd thing to do!

I get it: You want to minimize the amount of ATM fees by taking out a lot of money at once. And you’re worried you won’t find an ATM when you do need cash. But you’re in a city. There are lots of ATMs everywhere.And I’d rather spend $5 or even $10 extra per transaction to not have to worry that, if something happened, I’d be out €800.

At the very least, don’t carry that much on you because, when you’re going into your moneybelt to take a bill out of that thick wad of cash, people (and potential pickpockets) will see that you’re Mr. Moneybags.

Perhaps the most important tip: Remember that context is key

Porta Portese market in Rome

At crowded markets like Porta Portese, be especially aware

You could make all of these mistakes while sitting on a bench in quiet Piazza Farnese, or looking at a mosaic in the Palazzo Massimo, or while sightseeing on the Palatine Hill, and—most likely—you’d still leave with your belongings intact. That’s because, although you should always be aware of your surroundings, these types of situations—where you’re in an uncrowded area, especially one where you have to pay to be there—are ones where you can generally let your guard down.

When you have to be careful is when you’re 1) in the tourist crowds and 2) it’s easy to access you (and your pockets) and leave, all without 3) much monetary investment on the pickpocket’s part.

So while you can relax a bit in the Sistine Chapel (seriously, what pickpocket wants to pay €15 and, if he’s caught, be stuck in an enclosed space?), do be especially aware at the Termini train station, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Porta Portese market, and Colosseum. Also be highly cautious on crowded buses and subway trains.

Finally, relax

Is it more likely you’d be pickpocketed in Rome than in a tiny town in Vermont or Utah? Yep. Is it still really unlikely anything bad will happen to you? Definitely. In the three years I’ve lived here, I’ve never had a problem, despite taking public transportation constantly and often being in crowds.

So be aware, but relax. Pickpocketing isn’t the only way to ruin a vacation—pickpocketing paranoia can, too!

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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13 comments

  1. Good piece of advice. I travelled to Rome alone and I was always aware of the dangers of pickpockets.

    I had been forewarned about the poor-looking kids running around in packs, Oliver Twist style but thought it was an exaggeration. It really isn’t, especially near the market places.

    Luckily, because I went in December it was a little chilly and wet, and I had to wear my jacket all the time which meant I could keep my valuables in my inside breast pocket. They were hard enough for me to get to, let alone someone else.

    I did do some stupid things too. The day I flew in I was incredibly hungover and was so desperate to get to my hostel that I got into an unmarked taxi and showed the driver the contents of my wallet (over 400 euros)when he asked for fare. Was very lucky I didn’t get robbed.

  2. For me, not getting pickpocketed is about not looking like an easy target. I know that a talented pickpocket will get my stuff, just like a talented thief will get past my security system at home.

    I’m the designated family camel on trips. Therefore, I’m always carring a backpack for rain jackets, water bottles, etc. One trick that I use is a combination-type luggage lock to lock the zippers closed on my backpack. Mildly inconvienient to get into when I want to get something out/put something in, but very secure. I’ll carry a few small bills in my pockets for gelato, etc. An alternative is to use D-rings (like climbers use for their ropes). Not as secure, but more convenient.

    Again, my whole strategy is for a pickpocket to look at me and the tourist next to me and decide that he’s the easier target. Sorry if you’re the guy next to me on my next trip!

  3. I have visited Rome 5 times in the last 6 years, even living there for a month last year to attend Italian school and never had a problem however I just returned last week from Italy and I left from Rome where I was pick pocketed. I always take precautions by not having all my money in one spot and carrying a bag that has several compartments but unfortunately that is just how good they are. I was going onto the metro at the colosseum with 3 other people and the only spot they could have got me was when I stopped to put my ticket through the machine. I always have my bag zipped and have my hand on it but obviously they are so skilled. I probably stood out because we were in training gear as we were going to train with the Rome Touch team. This is a great article but my advice is they are everywhere so keep money seperate and keep your wits about you.

  4. Account of a failed pickpocket attempt
    Date: 10 Sep. 2016
    Time: 1:45pm
    Place: Rome Termini Underground Station, Vatican line
    As I was boarding the underground car there was a woman in front of me hindering me from advancing inside the car, as I was frustrated fornot being able to occupy a spot, I addressed her saying: “excuse me” she turned around and faced me shrugging her shoulders and turning her face left and right as if she doesn’t understand. She was Caucasian about 165 cm tall, white pale complexion, chestnut long hair covering her forehead just above the eyebrows from the back an intertwined ponytail reaching between the shoulders on her back, her eyes narrow (brown or olive color) slightly with a squint outwards, wearing a long dress reaching her feet and a shirt or jacket covering all her upper body and arms. Her nose fine and slightly lifted upwards, her face more of a round shape but with a sharp chin and more of a raised cheekbones.
    As she was stalling to prevent me from advancing inside the car, I felt as if my wallet was hovering inside my front pocket (which had a tilted opening from the side) and as I finally realized I am being robbed I put my hand inside my pocket and couldn’t find the wallet, so I shouted in Arabic: “ my wallet, I have been robbed” at that time a friend who was standing right beside me looked down and found it on the floor and told me he heard something falling down.
    I picked it up and found nothing missing inside but the woman in front of me vanished and the train has already moved.
    The technique used obviously depends on pressing/sliding the wallet from the pocket upwards until it falls and before the doors close picking it up or pitching it outside the train.
    I hope this information is beneficial to travelers.
    I never got to see the pickpocket(er) but my friend told me of another woman that entered the train with us and looked suspicious as if she was scanning the commuters. She probably had similar features as the woman described above.
    Regards,

  5. Hi

    I have my bag stolen with camera and credit card was also gone. A man distracted me in MacDonald near Spanish step for a moment and that was all. I had a hard time finding the police station and to my surprise when I reached the guy tried to avoid me by saying that this place is not police station at all. Thankfully another guy from police helped me lodge a report but of no use.
    I met a lot of good people in Rome but you can have a really hard time because of thieves

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that, Parveen. If there are any other tips you think I should add to this post to help other people avoid the situation, I’d be happy to do it. I hope it did not completely ruin your time in Rome!

  6. For guys…don’t carry a wallet. Take a credit car/ bank card, ID and some cash. Spread these in several locations, but never your rear pocket or vest or coat pockets. Finally, carry a few bills and an id in your shoes, just in case.

  7. A group of young girls got in the bus as we were getting down despite being shouted At. Soon after we got down , I found my backpack opened but it was an unsuccessful attempt . However , they managed to take my mom’s wallet n zip back her handbag this happened at the Trevi Mountain bus stop. Be careful , and wary when they appear out of a sudden and try to block your way on public transport .

  8. I also had my purse taken on the metro. I am always careful not to advertise what I have and wear a cross body bag. l always shut it and hold onto it. As I was getting onto the metro a young lad of about 20 blocked my way and wouldn’t move. As he didn’t seem to understand Italian or English I used my hands to gesture for him to move aside. He then moved out the way and I sat down with my family. My handbag was still shut. It was only when I got to the Coliseum and I needed some money that I noticed my purse had gone and the penny dropped. My daughter was upset as she saw a woman behind me as I was trying to get on the metro who was holding as large handbag across her chest. My daughter thought she was being careful but obviously she was hiding my purse behind it.
    I followed all the advice but still got my purse stolen. It’s easy to blame the victim but these thieves are experts at what they do. I never felt anyone go in my bag and just thought the boy was a bit odd. The only advice I’d give is don’t take too much money around with you. I lost some money, my bank card and my credit card, both of which I cancelled straight away. I was more upset about losing my purse as my daughters had bought me it as as birthday present. When I went to report the theft at the police station there was a parade of people coming in to report thefts and all of them had different kinds of bags,but some of them had lost passports and travel documents. So limit what you take, but don’t feel bad if it happens to you -you were just unlucky. Don’t let them spoil your holiday!

  9. Just arrived in Rome and myself and two friends all got pick pocketed on the Meto from main terminal, just went one stop! It was crowded and we got pushed inside just before the doors closed. We all had zipper purses but the managed to take each ones wallet! 1000 euros taken, all long with credit cards, bank cards and drivers licence! I’m to pick up a rental car tomorrow and now have no licence! These crimals have caused great inconvenience and makes me so mad!! Are there police in the Metro stations looking out for them, do they ever get arrested?

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