In obvious "foreigner hangouts" like the airport and train stations, be wary of anyone who approaches you. Thieves often work in pairs. A recent tactic is to ask for directions, distracting your attention while the partner swiftly grabs one of your bags. We've even heard of cases where travelers were bumped into, had coffee or some other messy substance spilled on them, and then were "wiped clean" by one criminal partner while the other partner "wiped them out." Of course, there's no need to be paranoid. Just be wary and keep your eyes open. When you sit in a cafe or restaurant, don't leave your bags, etc. on the ground. Pile them up on an empty chair in front of you.
Another real nuisance in the vicinity of tourist sites is groups of marauding young children. They approach you in a swarm and literally pick you down to the bone (although, again, their aim is not to hurt you). If you see a group of kids clearly heading your way, especially if they are carrying pieces of cardboard held in front of their bodies as shields, do not hesitate to shout at them loudly, "Go away!" "Leave me alone!" and so on. The first thing that will happen is that any Italian adults in the area will come to your aid. You'll also throw the kids off guard: they expect foreigners to have a soft spot towards children. If they still approach, wave your arms and run.
The third thing to watch out for is pairs of young men on motorbikes. They'll swoop up behind you and grab the purse off your arm. If you're unlucky, they'll pull you off your feet and drag you, almost always causing injury. If you have a fur coat, wear it. Don't ever drape it over your shoulders. When you walk down those picturesque narrow streets, carry your bags on the side of your body that faces away from the traffic. And it's astounding how many parents walk with their kids on the "traffic" side. Put yourself between those youngsters and the racing cars!
You can also be robbed while inside your car. Here's what happened to one reader of ours:
I've been meaning to email you about our robbery. It was a nonviolent kind of thing--stupidly (and coincidentally) our car doors were unlocked for a scant few minutes during heavy traffic in Catania, and the hoods targeted us, one guy on a moped pulled sharply in front of us so we stopped, and a bunch of guys ran up and yanked open the doors and grabbed whatever they could. The scary part for me was that one guy grabbed my jacket right off of my lap--containing all of my money and credit cards, driving licence, etc. Another terrible coincidence-I hadn't carried my wallet in my jacket once during the trip until that morning. But they didn't get our tickets or Matt's wallet or our passports, so it could have been worse. My plucky (read: insane) boyfriend chased the mopeds and caught up to them a few blocks away, where he surprised them, and they dropped some of the stuff they had taken. Unfortunately, not my jacket.
Another reader writes:
This might be of interest to your readers..just one week ago we were travelling by car on the autostraud outside of Verona and pulled over to go to a restaurant just off the road. We were only inside ten minutes and then resumed our trip. Within 5 min. our right rear tire blew out and we pulled over to one of the SOS pullouts. Immediately a car pulled in about 100 yards ahead of us, the man got out but did not approach us just yet. After observing my husband changing the tire , He backed his car up to about 50 yards in front of us, got out and came over to my husband to ask him if he needed help. My husband firmly said no thanks, but he kept asking. By this time, worried for my husband I got out of the car . He very quickly left and 5 minutes later when we were on our way again I realized my purse had been stolen. After I had just put my chest wallet in it because we were in the car and didnt expect to get out again for some time. Passport, drivers liscence, 2 credit cards gone in a flash. #1...if you have any trouble on the autostraud call SOS immediately they are very friendly and well trained. Don't get out and fix things yourself, you are a target. #2 Call police immediately as you need a formal police report to present when replacing passport. Our tire had actually been cut/slashed at the restaurant according to the police so we feel very fortunate all we lost were papers. They believed it was a pair of men, the second one hiding in the car and actually stealing the purse while we were distracted by the first "good samaritan". The policemen and woman were wonderful, very professional and friendly. We just hadnt expected to meet so many of them!!
Lastly, if you are traveling in overnight trains, especally across the Swiss and French borders, be aware that there are gangs that have keys to the compartments. They enter and use chemicals to knock you out while they rob you blind. There's not much you can do to stop that, except place all the luggage you can find in front of the door so it makes an infernal racket when it's opened (but you'll find this is not practical if you're in a couchette with strangers who use the toilets often....). One trick we've tried successfully is to place our money and jewelry in our socks and wear them. You can slip your passport under the rear side of the mattress - but don't forget it in the morning!
Remember, if you keep all this in mind, you are bound to have a most wonderful experience and return happily to Italy time after time after time.