State attenti: Pickpockets in Rome!

Update: I wrote this post while living in Rome last year, but it is still quite valid. Please use caution on Rome’s public transportation system. Pickpockets are always about in Rome so use caution. Taking simple precautions can prevent you from becoming a victim and make your trip that much more fun!

The newspapers in Rome have been reporting a steady rise in pickpocketing, especially on Rome’s public transport.  A policewoman was attacked by a group of women pickpocketers when she warned unsuspecting passengers that pickpockets were working the platform. It is important to be vigilant of your belongings!

The Italian word for pickpocket is borseggiatore or borseggiatrice, for men and women respectively.  You might hear the word shouted on the metro platform or on the bus so try to take not of the word.  If you need to hear a pronunciation, go here!

It is a common misconception that pickpockets tend to work the major bus routes in the city frequented by tourists or that pickpockets are only gypsies or Roma. Pickpockets are just as likely to be Italians, too.  The pickpockets work linea A of the city’s metro because this is the line most frequently used by tourists to get to the Vatican, Termini, Spanish Steps and other important sites in the city.  You also need to be careful in the piazzas, especially the Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Navona, the open spaces around the Roman Forum and Colosseum and the piazzas outside Termini as well as inside the station.  Always be vigilant!  Pickpockets also work the square at St. Peter’s, too!

Here are some tips for protecting yourself:

  • Try to avoid leaving things in your pockets.  If you have to, keep your cell phone and wallet in your front pocket.  Take only what you need for the day and leave the rest of your things in the hotel safe. The less you bring with you on your trip the better. Pack only what you absolutely need.
  • If you carry around a bag, leave your valuables in your hotel room safe if you can.  Keep the bag close by and avoid getting too close to strangers.  This can be hard on a crowded bus or during rush hour on the metro.  Keep your bag in front of you and watch it at all times.  Avoid distractions like checking your cell phone or reading a map:  this makes you an easy mark. The less you can carry, the better you will be!
  • Try to dress as inconspicuously as possible.  Avoid expensive jewelry and flashy items that might make you a more attractive target to thieves.
  • Be sure to keep a copy of your passport in a different spot from your original. You might consider making a color scan of it and emailing it to yourself so that you have an electronic copy stored temporarily while you are traveling. Having a copy will make getting a replacement much much easier.
  • When you are waiting on the platform for a train or the metro, do not be so eager to be the first person to get on the train.  Allow the train to arrive, the doors to open and allow the other passengers to get off before you alight.  Try to keep your back to the wall if you can.  Being the first on the train might get you a seat, but you also leave yourself open as a potential target for pickpockets working the platforms.
  • When you arrive on the platform, proceed to the ends of the platform and avoid the crowds that tend to build at the mouth of the entrance of each platform.  Fewer people tend to wait at the ends of the platform, and those cars tend to be less crowded.
  • Try to know where you are going before you get on the train or the bus.  If you are lost, you might find yourself too distracted to notice items being lifted out of your pockets, purse or backpack. Have a paper map with you if you can and try not to rely solely on your smartphone.
  • If you find yourself a victim, you will need to go to a police station to file a report for insurance purposes.  This is required should you find your passport has been stolen. Police stations can be found all over Rome – if you have an incident, seek assistance from staff at your hotel/bed & breakfast, etc.