Pickpockets on the Cinque Terre - a warning

06/26/2009 - 03:20

Yesterday we visited the Cinque Terre with some friends who are staying with us. We had a lovely day but is was nearly ruined at the end by an incident on the train back to La Spezia. As we boarded the train at Vernazza, a group of 5 young women two of whom had babies in harnesses strapped to their fronts were a little agressive trying to push passed us. My wife who was behind the rest of us, noticed one of the women with a baby used the baby as cover to unzip a ladies handbag. She told the lady to check her bag and we all checked ours. I discovered that my small leather bag that I carry had the wallet missing from it. I immediately got up and went to look for these young women as the train had left so they could not have got off. I found them in an adjecent carriage and challenged them. They gave me my wallet back all in tact - as I do not think they had time to do anything with it. It was of course another of the young women who had the wallet by then. I reported the incident to the railway police at La Spezia station though I doubt whether anything will be done The way they work is very clever - push the baby into where they want to be and then of course that both distracts you and covers what they are doing with their hands. The next Italian I shall be learning is about pickpockets and thieves - just in case.



 Thank you, Coppicer, and sorry to hear about your bad experience. I have seen those groups of women with babies and children or small groups of children operating around railway stations and on the train that goes from Lucca to Florence. They are "Roma Gypsies" to be found all over Europe and, traditionally, they have been highly skilled in these tricks. It is hard to blame them, they are, in turn, victims of a society which has tried to segregate them from the mainstream and for them it is a way of earning a living. This is a very interesting article on the topic, it deals with children; however, a group of women with several babies and toddlers is not uncommon:www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1030636/Caught-act-The-gipsy-child-thieves-teach-Fagin-trick-two.htmlThere is not much that can be done except for being vigilant, avoid these groups and carry our valuables in a small security pouch covered by our clothes.On the other hand, I had my handbag stolen while I was at a very posh cafeteria with some friends. I did not suspect a thing. The damage was big, as the handbag was an expensive one, plus I had my Australian passport in it and to have it replaced I had to make a special trip to the Consulate in the capital.Consequently, I am very careful nowadays.At least you managed to get your wallet back. I'm glad for that.

The 'Zingari' that prey on people on trains and in crowded areas are a real danger, and they operate using their small children often as a distraction. Some years ago in Rome I was guiding a party of English visitors around the centre. We were approached by a group of these Zingari from both front and back. The children were behind; mother with slung on baby at the front. The trick used was to rustle something inside a newspaper to distract the tourist, whilst the children attempted to 'dip' handbags from behind. If you are in open  areas, and have someone large and physical, get them to point the camera quickly and look like you're taking their picture. They soon scarper. Don't try this in a confined space however. In trains they are a particular hazard as they get on the train without paying the ticket, are happy to be kicked off the train at the next stop.Recently in Civitella del Tronto we were visiting the ancient fort. A beggar asked for money. We refused. He shrugged his shoulders and that was it. We then went to the car park, we saw him get into a reasonably modern pick up truck, full of various scrap etc, and drive off. Probably didn't want to be late for lunch.Also good to remind people that in the more prestigious cities; Rome; Venice; Florence; Verona; Milan etc the pickpockets are not always appear as vagabonds. For many years very well dressed people - almost aristocratic in their bearing - have been arrested after being found to be very well prepared and affluent pick-pockets.

 Yes, it's important to be very vigilant for pick pockets everywhere where there are crowds!  Anytime someone tries to distract you, stay attentive and try to see where their hands are going. It can save you a bundle of trouble.   One other trick -- when you go to pick up a rental car at the airport. Beware of someone coming up to the rental car you are about to get into and telling you you have a flat tire. When you exit to see, your bags can be stolen out of the back seat. This has happen to guests of ours at Malpensa, and we spent the next three days trying to straighten out the mess, get credit cards registered, etc. Italy is as safe a country as any other in Europe, and you have to be careful everywhere!