Pickpockets in Pisa

I have some experience with pickpockets.  I once caught a child thief unzipping my fanny pack on a crowded metro in Paris.  Yes, I know, nothing screams tourist like a fanny pack, so what did I expect?  I think (I hope) I look a little cooler today.  My husband, Jim, had his clip-on sunglasses lifted from the backpack in Barcelona.  I warn my adult children about the latest scams and danger areas whenever we travel together.  They just roll their eyes.  Suffice it to say, wherever there are tourists ripe for the picking, there are pickpockets ready to employ their skills and Pisa, Italy is loaded with opportunity.  Here’s what happened.

Walking from our hotel with our bags in tow, we had some difficulty finding the small, regional train station at San Rossore.  When we finally spotted it, the train station was across the tracks from us and signs announce it’s illegal to cross.  You have to take the passageway under the tracks to the station and then return to the platform where the train will arrive.

Pisa Train Station across the tracks

Pisa San Rossore Train Station across the tracks

As we discussed the situation, a group of tourists approached to validate their tickets at the yellow box nearby.  We thought maybe we could buy tickets there but the tour guide explained that we had to go to the station to purchase tickets, then return to validate them before boarding the train at the platform on this side of the tracks.  We were short of time and the next train would be hours later if we missed this one.  I asked the tour guide, “You don’t happen to have any extra tickets, do you?”  She said, “As a matter of fact, two people didn’t join us this morning so I do have two extra tickets.”  What luck!  Needless to say we bought them on the spot.  A word of caution is in order here.  Had someone appeared trying to sell us tickets, this may not be advisable.  This, however, was undoubtedly a tour group and the guide had an Australian accent so I felt certain we weren’t going to be ripped off.

The train arrived soon thereafter and we waited for passengers to disembark before pressing forward in a group to board.  As we boarded, a woman with a baby strapped to the front of her pushed through the crowd at the last minute to get off the train.  In the crush of people, confusion ensued.  Once the train got underway, one of the tour group realized someone had opened her fanny pack.  Luckily, only her glasses which were on top, had been taken.  Another in the group announced he’d lost his glasses as well.  The pick pocket clearly used the “baby” as a cover to get into the two bags on her way through the throng.  The tour guide used this as a teachable moment with her group as she pointed out that fortunately no one lost money or credit cards.  The victims felt violated by the experience, nevertheless.  We discussed and debriefed this upsetting episode during the 13 mile ride to Lucca.

5 simple travel tips to avoid being victimized:

  1. Keep in mind that popular tourist areas are inherently higher risk.

  2. Be particularly alert whenever you are in a crowd and keep your hand on your purse or backpack zipper as you move through a crowd.

  3. Be wary of people approaching with offers of help.  I hesitate to even mention this one because I have encountered many friendly people who have given us directions or even led us to places but caution is still advisable.

  4.  A commotion is often used to divert your attention so move away and guard your valuables.

  5.  Google the latest travel scams for an area before you visit.  You’ll be amazed by what you learn.

Enjoy your travels and stay safe.


Based on events in October, 2013

Categories: Italy, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Pickpockets in Pisa

  1. Great tips!!! We rented a car on our trip through Italy and got rear ended in Pisa by an old man in a teeny tiny Fiat. Sigh. Suffice it to say things were difficult with the language barrier —–it was an experience for the books, let me tell you. Nice post today! Thanks for sharing!!

    • Oh, wow. I’ll file that under “reasons not to rent a car.” Even without a language barrier, the thought of dealing with damage to a rental car is daunting. Thanks for sharing your experience, Beth.

      • 🙂 Add to it that the driver was obviously a little drunk (in the midday) and even though the police were supposedly called several times they never showed up……we might do it differently next time. 🙂 But it was a great story.

  2. Sheryl

    Good information Laura! I was pickpocketted by Romanian travelling thieves in Galway a few years ago. The group pretended to be drunk, as a distraction, and while the “drunk one” attempted to engage us in conversation his buddies walked behind us and stole my wallet from my purse (which was under my arm on my side between Mike and I). I felt so stupid after I realized what happened as I had my passport, driver’s license, money and credit cards all in one wallet. This is a mistake that I usually don’t make. Regardless, there are a couple of tips that are important if that ever does happen to you. Report the theft to the police immediately as you will need that documentation when you go to the embassy to get an emergency passport (this also helps local law enforcement), then, go online and schedule an apt with the U.S. Embassy (I was lucky in that our travelling plans meant that we were going to Dublin anyway and that is where the embassy is in Ireland), contact your credit card companies (if you don’t have the credit card numbers it doesn’t matter they will cancel your cards with just a phone call or email) and finally, have someone at home email you copies of documentation that you may need to assist in getting a new passport. I learned so much from this experience that I am actually ok with the fact that it happened. Until this event I used to be so paranoid that I would lose my passport that it almost inhibited my enjoyment to a certain extent. I now realize even if the worst happens it is not a big deal in the scheme of things. A couple of things I always do when I travel is to have an email address for a personal banker (which came in handy to notify the bank that I had lost my debit card) and to keep a copy of my documents with someone in the states (my daughter usually) so that they can assist me if needed. Now, when we travel, we email ourselves digital copies of our passport and travel documents so we can access that electronically. To get a new passport when travelling you will need to get new photos and have a government issued ID (so keep your driver’s license in a seperate location from your passport) or be with someone who has known you for at least five years. I had to tell my story multiple times during the rest of the trip everytime I showed my passport. I kept repeating “I feel so stupid” and the common response I received was “YOU shouldn’t feel stupid, it is the thief that should feel stupid that he would do this”. I thought that was very sweet, and much appreciated.

    • I’m SO glad this post gave you the opportunity to share your story, Sheryl. This is great information for any traveller. We always keep copies of our documents, too, but I think the electronic version is one I shall employ. Thanks!

  3. ellen

    I was not a victim but in the Rome airport and train station, I was very grateful that I had been warned of the ‘gypsy’ thieves who use infants in their work. I later learned that the babies are often drugged so they look consistently adorable, Even with the warnings, I found myself having difficulty focusing on the tasks of figuring out my ticket purchases.

    • I hadn’t heard about drugged infants, Ellen, but I’ve read about throwing the baby at a tourist who gets robbed while trying to catch it. The baby turns out to be just a bunch of blankets or a doll.

  4. In 6 months of travelling Pisa was the only place I was robbed. I still don’t know how it happened, they were so smooth. They got nothing though really as I kept things all over my person! So in my purse was only €20, a lipgloss and one card which I immediately cancelled. It doesn’t stop you feeling let down and upset with people though. And totally tainted my memory of the town.

    • I know what you mean. It does have an effect on how you feel about a place. We got our debit card skimmed in Mexico this January and they took almost $800 from our checking account. Thankfully, the credit union replaced it. Next year we’ll be wary and careful!
      Happy Travels!

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