10 Common Scams in Rome

Known Scams in Rome and How to Avoid Them

    These common scams in Rome can make your trip to the so-called 'Eternal City' eternally memorable... and not in a good way. Rome is one of the most visited cities on the entire planet. It’s only natural that it also attracts a few fraudulent folks performing petty crimes for a fast buck.

    With a bit of insight, you can avoid falling victim to most of these known shady practices. Most are carried out in broad daylight and can sometimes turn into a battle of wits. The more aware you are of how these scammers play their game, the higher your chances of winning. It's best to acquaint yourself with these known scams in Rome, and how to avoid them altogether.

    1

    Bus 64: The Pickpocket Express

    Despite servicing one of the most useful routes within the city centre, many wallets have disappeared from visitors’ pockets on this bus ride. It shuttles regularly between St. Peter's Square and Termini Station, with frequent stops in between. Throngs get on at each stop, and it’s easy to lose sight and sense of your belongings in a cramped-up situation. Getting off is the tricky part. Scuffling helps disguise any swift acts of thievery faster than you can say, “Arrivederci!”

    How to avoid: Wear a money belt instead and carry less loose belongings with you. The tourist-friendly hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses are a safer, but more expensive, alternative. 

    2

    Fake calls

    If you realise your wallet (or credit card, passport, etc.) is missing, immediately report to your bank and cancel your credit card. Thieves might try to trick you out of your personal information. They might call you, posing as your bank, to “assist” while phishing your card details. Random scammers might even call your hotel room acting as the front desk, to “confirm” your credit card details. 

    How to avoid: Never give out personal info, including credit card details over the phone. 

    3

    Friendly but "lost” drivers asking for petrol money

    This classic scenario usually begins with you crossing paths with a dapper gentleman who looks slightly confused, saying he’s from out of town and figuring out where he is. If you get acquainted, he’ll claim to be working for a big brand Italian designer house, and show you some of the samples in his car. He’ll then hand you a watch, suede jacket or bag as a gift, because you’ve just become “friends”. Next: his fuel gauge is “near-empty” and he ran out of cash – asking if you could spare some in return, more than the real value of those knock-off items. 

    How to avoid: Meeting locals and making friends is great, but don't forget your common sense.

    4

    Fake charity petitions

    When walking down a bustling Roman street near a famous site, you might be approached by a “deaf and mute” person with a seemingly legit charity petition to sign. He or she then asks for a “generous” donation. In worst cases, they work together with their pickpocketing friends in crowded places.

    How to avoid: Hold on to your precious euros. A stern “no” usually works. 

    5

    Fake polizia

    These fraudsters sometimes pose as plainclothes police officers, most of the time in uniform. They also usually work in pairs for that extra effect when they come up to you for an impromptu “security check”. They’ll ask you to open your bag and ultimately your passport and wallet, either for personal info or just a few of your euro bills. 

    How to avoid: Never hand over your belongings in public. Ask to be checked at the nearest police station. 

    6

    'Friendly' local drinking buddies

    A few shady bars and some clubs in Rome target tourists and add extra charges to the bill – up to €1,000 or more in the worst cases. Thankfully, these places are rare. Touts operate around Rome’s popular spots, giving away such things as “free tickets” to clubs and advertising live shows targeted towards guys. Others do the “local friend” approach, along the lines of, “Hey, I know this cool place.” It’s probably not that cool.

    How to avoid: Don’t get too acquainted. Tell them you have other fixed plans. You can also try asking for a different spot you probably know – see how adamant they can be of their chosen “cool place”.

    7

    Hakuna matata and friendship bracelets

    Fun and chatty with a thick African accent, a guy says "hi" and either places a colourful thread on your shoulder or forces a small souvenir of some sort in your hand, insisting that it’s a gift. If you don’t assertively refuse after a few attempts, more friendly chatter ensues while swiftly showing you how a friendship bracelet is made, right on your wrist. They then claim to be out of cash and ask you for a generous price in return for the gift. It’s a slight hassle to take off. Sometimes, it’s also another form of distraction for accomplices targeting your back pockets. 

    How to avoid: Simply refuse, say “no thanks” up front and don’t let them hand you anything. Shrug off anything placed on your shoulder. 

    8

    Taxi scams

    Taxi fares are normally clearly shown on the side of taxis, inclusive of luggage and all extra charges. But unscrupulous drivers – especially at airports and train stations – may try to milk out more euros from travel-worn passengers whenever they can. Tricks range from giving back the wrong amount of change, to meters switched to pricier weekend rates for weekday rides.

    How to avoid: Have small cash ready for the fare. Only take the official white Roma Capitale taxis. Rather than flagging one down, find a taxi stand available at most of the popular sites such as near the Trevi Fountain or the Colosseum, one of the points of greatest interest and with a very particular hotel offering. Also, ask about the different meter readings if they confuse you. 

    9

    Tour package touts

    You’ll come across plenty of touts around the Vatican offering tour packages. They’re usually more expensive than the normal price, and feature good packaged deals ranging from skipping the lines to having tea with the Pope. Some even offer “guided” tours, only to have you entering the site like regular visitors – after several hours of waiting in line. Inside, some spots might as well be off limits to what you were sold. 

    How to avoid: Try to pre-book your visits or just avoid these people in the normal queues (some days it might not be that long). 

    10

    Overpriced, under-flavoured touristy restaurants

    Like in any part of the world, almost every restaurant or café near Rome’s major tourist sites are… touristy with a tendency of being overpriced. Walk a slight distance away and you’ll find humble and homey (sometimes unnamed) local spots with cheaper and well-seasoned menu items. In any case, your bill should be itemized, and in the event of suspicious overcharging or showing items that you never ordered, you can politely ask them to fix it.

    How to avoid: Touristy restaurants in Rome usually have waiting staff near the entrance to usher you in, or flaunting their clearly named “Tourist Menu” with items in English.

    Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveller

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