Street Scams in Rome

 By Rick Steves

As I walked the giant black cobbles from the Forum to the Colosseum, an American woman recognized me from my public television travel show. After chatting for a minute she said, "My purse was stolen on the bus."

I asked, "And your moneybelt?"

She said, "It was in my purse."

I asked, "Bus 64?"

She said, "How did you know?"

Bus 64 is notorious. It laces together the most visited sights and is filled with rich and vulnerable tourists — probably the most crowded bus line in Rome. I ride it, pockets empty, for the entertainment: to watch pickpockets at work. While tourists are on guard against street-urchin-type thieves, they don't expect prosperous-looking businessmen. The thieves on bus 64 are distinguished gentlemen, well dressed...with a suit jacket folded over their arm to cover their roving hand.

I wrote my anti-theft tips into the script of our Rome TV show. Filming this bit right here in front of the towering Colosseum, I said, "In Europe thieves target American tourists, not because they're mean, but because they're smart. Be on guard. Thieves will target you when you are distracted." While I continued, saying, "A mother changing a diaper is an obvious target..." a thief made off with our camera bag, complete with a wide-angle lens, battery, and film. To this day, I wonder where our $400 lens is doing time as an ashtray.

Now, especially while in Rome, I'm on guard. I don't sit at the corner table of an outdoor cafe. Unobserved, a thief can sneak up and grab a wallet or bag.

And I have a great respect for Roma (Gypsies) pleading on the streets. For many years they've approached me with newspapers and babies in shawls to distract. I recently met a tourist who was victim of a new trick: A Roma mother threw her baby into his arms. While he could only hold the little child, the mother grabbed his wallet. Then, making a commotion as if the tourist was taking her child, she grabbed her baby and fled.