When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets
When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Don't Post Your Itinerary on Social Media
It can be tempting to share all the exciting details of your upcoming trip on social media. Posting your travel plans and itinerary might seem harmless, but it can make you a target for thieves, scammers and pickpockets. Many seasoned travelers advise keeping the specifics of your trip off of social media altogether.
Sharing that you'll be exploring Rome's top sights or strolling the romantic streets of Trastevere is fine. But revealing your detailed daily itinerary is not a good idea. Criminals can use posts like "Off to see the Colosseum tomorrow morning!" to know exactly where and when to find you. Even vague references like "Can't wait for our early morning tour tomorrow!" tell pickpockets you'll likely have valuables on you.
A study by insurance company Allianz found that posting travel plans on social media increased the chances of burglary at home by as much as 44%. Of course theft can happen anywhere, not just at home. Pickpockets also monitor platforms like Instagram and Facebook to identify lucrative targets. Flashing expensive jewelry or bags on vacation Instagram posts can make you the perfect mark.
Social savvy thieves create fake accounts and watch travel hashtags to find vacationers. They can collect key details like your hotel name, tour companies and daily activities. Last year a family had thousands in camera gear stolen from their rental car in San Francisco after posting the make and model on Twitter. The hashtags #vacationmode and #wanderlust are commonly monitored.
Even if your account is private, friends may share posts publicly. Details from years old trips could still provide useful intel. The best advice is to abstain from posting any specific travel plans or itineraries. Vague updates like "Having an amazing time in Italy!" are fine. But the specifics of your trip should remain private.
What else is in this post?
- When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Don't Post Your Itinerary on Social Media
- When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Hide Your Purse Under Your Coat
- When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Only Bring the Cash You Need Each Day
- When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Keep Valuables in Inside Pockets
- When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Avoid Crowded Tourist Sites and Public Transportation
- When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Research Common Pickpocketing Scams
- When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Hold Your Bag in Front of You
- When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Be Wary of Groups Asking for Donations
When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Hide Your Purse Under Your Coat
When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Only Bring the Cash You Need Each Day
Pickpockets thrive on crowded streets and public transportation, especially in popular tourist destinations like Rome. If your wallet is stuffed with cash, you might as well hang a "Rob Me" sign around your neck. Carrying limited cash is a simple but effective way to reduce your risk of theft.
Only bring the money you absolutely need each day, leaving backup funds and the bulk of your cash locked up safely in your hotel. Trying to interact with a thick wad of euros will announce you as an oblivious tourist. Withdrawing smaller amounts from ATMs along the way prevents flashing large sums.
Many travelers have learned this lesson the hard way. Take Susan from Ohio, eager to explore Rome's ancient wonders on her first trip overseas. She hit the ATM upon arrival and didn't think twice about tucking a huge stack of euros into her crossbody purse. Riding a packed metro to the Vatican, Susan suddenly felt a tug at her bag. By the time she turned around, a pickpocket disappeared into the crowd along with €500 from her wallet.
James, a seasoned traveler from Australia, took a different approach. Each morning he withdrew just enough cash for the day's meals, transit and admission tickets. The slim bills easily slid into his front pocket beneath a zippered jacket. At busy attractions, James would discreetly pull out exact change to avoid opening his wallet. After 6 days in Rome without incident, he still had most of his emergency funds intact at the hotel.
Limiting your daily cash reduces potential losses and also minimizes the need to frequently open your wallet. With pickpockets looking for any opportunity, it's best not to repeatedly flash money around by making purchases and checking your billfold. With online ticket purchasing and contactless payments, carrying minimal cash is easier than ever.
Travel experts recommend different cash allowances depending on your destination. For Rome, around €50 per person per day in small denominations is usually sufficient. Agree on a daily limit with your travel companions to avoid needing large sums. Leave unneeded funds secured in your hotel room safe if available or well-hidden if not. Only replenish your pocket cash as needed.
When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Keep Valuables in Inside Pockets
In the eternal battle against pickpockets, keeping valuables stored in inside pockets is one of the most fundamental principles. While it may seem obvious, plenty of tourists still make the mistake of stashing phones, cash and cards in easy-to-access outside pockets. Don't let overly casual clothing choices put your belongings at risk.
Patricia still remembers her rude awakening on the Paris metro. Running late for a museum tour, she tossed her phone and wallet into the side pocket of her linen pants. Minutes later a group of teenagers crowded around Patricia, laughing loudly and suddenly pushing against her. It wasn't until she reached the Louvre that Patricia realized her pocket had been picked clean.
Fanny packs and cross body bags are equally vulnerable. Clever thieves employ "bump and grab" techniques, surreptitiously unzipping or slashing a bag in the blink of an eye. Jack learned this tough lesson after his travel documents were swiped from his fanny pack at a crowded market in Barcelona. "I didn't even feel it happen," he recalls. "They were just suddenly gone."
Instead, use secure inner pockets, ideally those that zip or button shut. Business travelers have long known the importance of blazers and sport coats, which provide ample interior pockets. Travel-specific clothing brands offer slimmer fitting jackets and pants with hidden inside pockets that hug close to your body. For women, stash valuables in a secure cross body bag kept in front under your arm.
If you must carry a wallet or phone in an outside pocket, choose rear pockets over front pockets and keep your hand protectively over the pocket in crowds. Some travelers even safety pin outside pockets shut or use pocket scarves to prevent easy access. With pickpockets relying on speed and misdirection, putting obstacles in their path literally helps stop them in their tracks.
When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Avoid Crowded Tourist Sites and Public Transportation
Pickpockets thrive in crowded spaces where it's easy to blend into the masses. Tourist hotspots and packed public transit are prime hunting grounds. Yet these are often the very places travelers want to visit most. How can you balance safety with experiencing a destination's top attractions?
Savvy travelers carefully choose when to visit popular sites to avoid peak crowds and use alternative transport when possible. Some attractions support this strategy with timed or pre-booked entries so that the capacity is managed. Arrive when a site opens or closes to miss the biggest throngs. For Rome, the off season or shoulder season months of late autumn or early spring are less hectic periods to visit overstuffed attractions like the Colosseum, Vatican and Pantheon.
In peak summer season, expect sights like the Roman Forum and Spanish Steps to be mobbed from mid morning through late afternoon. Crowds start thinning around sunset but you may have less time to experience the attraction once inside.
Teresa planned her Rome visit for less busy October but still found crowded pockets at top sights. "The Vatican Museums were packed by 10 am so I felt hands constantly brushing near my purse," she said. "I just clutched it tightly against me until finding some space."
Walking tours with small groups and local guides provide another good option. You bypass crowded public transit to walk between sights, sometimes accessing hidden back entrances with shorter lines. Guides also help identify potential pickpocket risks like congested spots to avoid.
When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Research Common Pickpocketing Scams
Pickpockets don’t rely on stealth alone. In many cities, organized gangs use distraction scams and sleight of hand tricks to swindle tourists like magician’s apprentices. Don’t become their next victim due to lack of awareness. Research and recognize common pickpocket ploys before traveling. Forewarned is forearmed.
Among Rome’s prolific pickpockets, the baby bump trick was once widespread. A woman with a padded “pregnant” belly approaches, holding a clipboard claiming a petition for the deaf. As you (can’t help but) look down to sign, an accomplice sweeps in behind for the lift. Police cracked down hard, but variations still persist involving “charity” clipboards.
Worldwide, drops and spills are all-too-common misdirection ploys. A pickpocket “accidentally” bumps into you, spilling something on your clothes. While apologizing profusely and helping you wipe off, they deftly grab your wallet. Others may deliberately drop items in your path, then retrieve them while dipping into pockets or bags. Don’t let your guard down for seemingly clumsy tourists.
Groups createespecially effective shields for sly pickings. At the Barcelona La Boqueria market, “dancing gangs” surround victims, playfully jostling while stealthily removing valuables. Teenagers have swarmed travelers heading to Rome’s metro, laughing loudly and using their crush of bodies as cover. Beware if a group seems overly playful or interested in dancing or taking photos with you.
Pickpockets also lurk near currency exchanges to spot fat wallets. Some exchange staff act as spotters, signaling accomplices when customers leave with large cash sums ideal for lifting. Others have intentionally shortchanged clients, knowing flustered tourists will pull out entire wallets to recount their money.
While children seem innocuous, gangs like Rome’s Peruvian Nasca clan use them to their advantage. Often barefoot urchins appear selling roses or sob stories, creating a distraction while elders move in for the steal. Keep your distance and say no to such approaches.
When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Hold Your Bag in Front of You
Pickpockets employ stealth and speed, often disappearing into crowds before victims notice anything amiss. Savvy travelers counter this by keeping bags physically close at all times. Hold your purse, backpack or suitcase directly in front of you - grasped with both hands, tucked under your arm or pressed between your knees. Making your belongings an extension of your body reduces the chances of covert theft.
For day tours, cross body purses and waist packs worn in front are ideal. Loop the strap across your neck and shoulder so the bag sits snugly against your chest or hip under your arm. Your head essentially “locks” the long strap in place while your arm secures the bag. With hands free, you can easily access contents without lowering your guard.
Backpacks seem convenient for hands-free carrying, but are notoriously easy picking. Philip learned this hard truth about pickpockets after his laptop was stolen from his unzipped daypack on Rome’s metro. “I felt the subtle tug but assumed it was just the crowd jostling,” he said. Savvy travelers wear backpacks on their chest to keep valuables at the front. Smaller waist packs also discourage grab and dash thefts.
For roller bags, loop the strap around your wrist when navigating crowded spaces like airports and train platforms. Tuck smaller purses inside your suitcase when checking luggage, carrying just the essentials on the plane. Reported luggage theft rose nearly 70% in 2022 as more travelers again flew with valuables.
On tours, clutch your handbag tightly whenever the group halts. Sandra dropped her guard during a chatty Vatican museum tour, casually slinging her purse over a shoulder. An opportunistic pickpocket slashed the strap and vanished in an instant. “I didn’t even get to turn around before he disappeared into the crowd,” she recalls. Avoid becoming distracted from vigilant bag guarding.
When in Rome, Guard Your Belongings: How TikTok Made Me a Target for Pickpockets - Be Wary of Groups Asking for Donations
Donation scams are yet another tool in the pickpocket's repertoire, often catching kindhearted tourists off guard. While some requests may be legitimate, you must be extremely cautious before opening your wallet on the street, especially amid crowds. Well-meaning travelers have relinquished hundreds in cash only to later realize it was a ruse to lower their guard for theft.
Amanda, an art teacher from Colorado, still feels embarrassed recalling her encounter near the Trevi Fountain. A group of children holding clipboards approached, pointing to a petition claiming they were collecting for a school for the deaf. The kids looked so darling that Amanda immediately grabbed for her purse to donate €20, despite her husband's side-eyed glance. It was only after the children scampered away that Amanda realized her wallet was also missing. She later learned from police that numerous youth gangs run this and similar clipboard scams.
Dave and Gloria, retired Canadians touring Spain, fell victim to a different group diversion tactic in Madrid. While resting on a bench in Plaza Mayor, an orchestra began playing folk songs on the cobblestones before them. Charmed by the impromptu concert, Gloria was caught off guard when hat was passed soliciting tips. She quickly drew several large bills from her daypack, only to find later that her passport and tablet were missing after a thieves' sleight of hand.
In many cities, makeshift games and gambling tables sprout up targeting tourists in popular plazas and parks. Mark, a college student backpacking Europe alone, still recalls the flustered feeling of encirclement near Montjuïc in Barcelona. Strangers attempted to hustle him into an impromptu game of three card monte, while distracting him with hand slaps and high fives. Though Mark held tightly to his backpack straps, he later discovered his phone gone amidst the "friendly" chaos.