The gypsies are the biggest scam artists in Europe. On average, each gypsy scams 300-400 Euros a day from unsuspecting tourists. Most of that money goes back to the gypsy gang leader in Romania. Generally a gypsy gang leader will have 12-15 underlings working various tourist areas in Europe. We have run into many different scams over the years.
My Credit Cards Don’t Work Scam
My credit card doesn’t work’ is a common scam run by the gypsies in Rome and in Italy. The gypsy will stop their car and ask you directions. They will attempt to give you a gift then will pressure you for money to buy gas as their credit cards are not accepted by the fuel stations.
Pathetic Person Scam
On our very first trip to Rome with the kids we were eating in Piazza Navona looking like a family of North American tourists. With our different hairstyles, glasses and clothing we stood out like a bunch of sore thumbs.
This really old and shrivelled lady hobbled down the Plaza. I watched her hobbling and then she stopped right in front of our table and gave us the look. It was the most pathetic look you could imagine. You will never see a more pathetic person in your entire life. All dressed in a loose flowing black dress. She stood there going on 5 minutes. We looked at her. We ignored her. We looked at her.
The waiter came over and shooed her away. She hobbled down to the next outdoor restaurant and put her performance on there for the next tourist. I saw a hand with a Euro bill come out from the table and the old pathetic creature took it and shoved it away, blessing the person as she walked away.
If you hang around long enough over a number of days like we do, you will see that same old pathetic creature with other gypsies. In our case she was a totally different person. She looked much younger with bright eyes and laughing when we saw her again the next day. A few days later we saw her holding a baby on the corner looking all pathetic.
Women with Babies Scam
We saw that same baby a number of times with different women in different locations over that week.The women with the babies put on a show and beg to unsuspecting tourists that come along. They engage you and pull on their heart strings.
When you stop to put some money in their container, they push the baby into your arms. It happens so fast and you are holding the baby with 2 or 3 of them are all around you. They are distracting you as they pick your pockets. And they are good. You may not even feel anything. The whole episode takes less than a minute. They have the baby back, you are walking away, and they are moving down the street with the things that they stole from you.
Women tourists are targets for a gipsy swarming. A group of gypsy women will come up to you and the leader will ask if you want to buy a scarf. They have a variety of them and they look nice. If you show any interest, they are in your face showing you the scarfs. The group of them surround you showing you their scarves and as you are distracted the others are stealing things from you and hiding the stolen objects in their long flowing dresses that have specially made compartments to hide things that they steal. Again, you may not feel anything.
Loie had seen many scams. Once she looked at a group of gipsy women approaching her and said, “No,” quite loudly. (You get good at saying, “no”, loudly to gypsies.) They began swarming her and she had to physically push her way through them. Now, she does not even let them come close. She heads in another direction when she sees them.
One time we were in Livorno on the north coast of Italy. Loie was just walking along the pedestrian mall and a gypsy woman approached her. Loie yelled at her, “No,” but she kept coming and got in really close. Loie yelled out, “Ow, you are hurting me. Stop, it, you are pinching me!”
Several shopkeepers ran out and grabbed the gypsy woman and held her as she struggled. They asked Loie if she was alright and if anything was stolen from her. She quickly checked that she had all of her stuff. The shopkeepers released the gypsy woman and put the run on her.
Friendship Bracelets Scam
Be aware of the Friendship bracelets scam. I have seen gypsies approach obvious tourists at the Spanish Steps and they begin chatting with them. As soon as there was an interest, the gypsy will quickly loop a string around the person’s wrist and begin tying the bracelet while he and continues to talk, asking the victim all kinds of questions about them like they are interested in getting to know them.
I saw a young teen about 14-15 looped like that one day. The gypsy boy was all chummy and was winning the teen over. To braid the Friendship bracelet takes a few minutes and by now the boy was hooked with the gypsy boy’s banter. When the gypsy asked for some money for the bracelet, the young boy did not know what to give him plus he was an American using Euros and it was easy to see that he had no idea of the value of the various Euro notes. He just held out his wallet with all his cash in the billfold and the gypsy picked a 50 Euro note out of his wallet and quickly moved away. The teen happily showed his parents his new bracelet. Mom didn’t look too happy when her son told her what it cost.
The survey scam is usually done by younger college aged gypsy kids. They have official looking picture id and are presentable carrying a clipboard. They do a complete survey with you. They develop a relationship with their questions and then ask you at the end for a donation. They usually want a larger donation. Preferably more than 20 Euros but will take a 2 Euro coin. I was toying with one of the phoney surveyors one day to fill my time while I was waiting outside a shop for Loie. At the end I told him that I didn’t have much on me. I gave him the couple of coins that I had in my pocket that were less than 10 cents in value. He looked at them and threw them down in disgust as he stormed away.
Gold Ring Scam
The gold ring is a scam carried out in a crowded place. I have seen it many times in the plazas of Rome. A person by you picks up a gold ring off the ground and asks you if it is yours. You of course say no and then the person offers to sell it to you. They will ask 50 Euros then go to 20 Euros. The ring is not worth 2 Euros. You see people pulling out money from time to time as they participate in this oxymoron. Happy to get a good deal from a gypsy.
Another scam is carried out at the train station. As we were; waiting to board the train with our bags on the ground, the people began boarding. The train porters in their uniforms quickly came up and asked us where we were sitting. As I told them, they grabbed our bags and told us to follow them. They boarded the train carrying our bags and took us to our seat. They stowed our luggage in the overhead bins and stood there waiting for a tip. We gave them a 5 Euro note. They looked and asked for more. We told them that is all we were going to tip them and they left.
We looked down at the people sitting in our seats. We double checked our tickets and saw that we were not even in the right car. Our car was 2 cars towards the engine. We realized then that we had been scammed. Embarrassed I pulled our suitcases out of the overhead bin and we did the walk of shame to the correct car.
Subway Begging Scam
In the city you will see a lot of gypsies riding the subways. They buy a day pass then ride the cars all day pickpocketing unaware foreign tourists. I saw two young people begging along the car for money for food. They were telling the people that they were so hungry and hadn’t eaten since yesterday. I saw one tourist couple give them their bagged lunch and they hustled on to the next car. As I walked through the next car shortly after, I saw them laughing and fooling around with a number of other young scammers as they threw the lunch in the garbage bin.
They will also try to block you and isolate you. One day in the subway, two gypsies got into the subway car ahead of me. One had a bike. As we moved along the line they saw me using my iPhone and putting it back in my jacket pocket. They manoeuvred themselves to block me in and when we got to our stop they kept me there and I had to push through them before the doors closed. Just as I was stepping out of the car onto the platform, one of them darted their hand into my jacket pocket and stole my iPhone right as I was watching him. I made a grab for it, but the doors closed and off went the thief. I could see him smiling and holding my iPhone up through the glass of the door as the train pulled away from the platform.
I immediately went to an Internet cafe and burned my phone data then I approached one of the police on the platform to find out where the nearest police station could be found. There was a station right on the platform. I found out later that the thieves do not care about the data on the phone. They just erase it and restore the phone apps and sell the iPhone for $50.
I reported the theft at the police station in the subway. There was a large lineup of people that had also been pickpocketed and were reporting their thefts. While standing there, I saw three groups of 3 young people with backpacks enter the station and go through the desk area to the back of the station. They were undercover subway police. So, even though the subways have visible police presence and undercover police the gypsies still ply their trade right in front of them.
Protecting Yourself from Scams
If you do any travelling in Europe you will more than likely experience one of the gypsy scams. After a while you get a 6th sense about the scams. You will begin to see them taking place all over. Always be aware, stay out of tight crowds, use a hidden money belt and pin it to your clothes. Do not carry your passport – carry a photocopy of it. If you are in a place for awhile, do not carry all of your credit cards and cash on your person. I usually carry one credit card, picture id, cash for the day, a copy of my passport and the name of the place I am staying along with the address and phone number – if it is a hotel, carry the hotel business card.