It’s important to be aware of the tourist scams in Italy.

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Enterprising thieves can easily target tourists, who are often less familiar with their surroundings. While Italy does not seem to have as many tourist scams than other countries, there are still some to be aware.

These are the top tourist scams in Italy. We also have some photos to help you. Please let me know if this is something you have experienced, or if there are any other scams that you would like to share.

Scammer of “Lira”

creative commons photos by Nicholas Frisardi (





Although the Euro has been used in Italy since 2001, you might still see this one. To the untrained eye the old 500-lira currency looks very similar to the new 2-euro coin. The 500-lira currency is worthless. Take a look at any 2-euro coins you receive from a vendor when counting change. Make sure the “EURO” is clearly written on them.

Tax Police

A law requires that all vendors must provide a receipt for each sale. There are also actual tax police (Guardia di Finanza), who can stop you in the street and ask you if you have a receipt. There are tax police impersonators out there, and they will ask you to pay your fine if you don’t have a receipt. If you encounter a suspicious-looking tax officer, always ask for a receipt.

Knock-Off Designer Brand Vendors

Many people sell knockoffs of designer brands in Italian cities. The goods are often displayed on cardboard tables or sheets that can be used as quick getaways. Although you might be happy to purchase a knockoff at a discount, it is illegal in Italy to do so. You could face a fine of up to EUR10,000 if you buy the fakes.

The Bracelet Guys

These men are known to be armed with a lot of bracelets made from what appears to be braided embroidery floss and hang around major tourist attractions. They will try to tie a bracelet on your wrist if you are too close. Although they may ask nicely at first, if you walk away with the bracelet on your wrist and don’t pay for it, they will get very mean.

Scammer of the “Gold Ring”

A woman will approach you with a plain-gold ring and say she found it in your back as you were walking away. Then, they’ll ask you if it is yours. You will say no because it isn’t. You’ll say no, but she will walk off and come back seconds later to tell you that you should take it anyway. If you don’t acquiesce she will start asking for money. It can escalate to a nasty situation, just like the bracelet men.

“Gypsy” Beggars

This was once more common in Italy. It’s not as common nowadays, but you might still see it (or variations thereof). You may see “gypsy” groups of beggars, usually a group of women holding a baby and surrounded by children. They approach you asking for money. It’s impossible to keep track of each child’s movements. Another version of this scenario is the one where the woman pushes the “baby”, while the children blatantly rob you. (You later discover that the “baby”, in fact, is a doll); and the children pushing a newspaper or pizza box towards you, blocking your view of your pockets.

Scams with Taxi Drivers

Although most taxi drivers in Italy are good citizens, there is always someone who will make a mockery of the entire industry. Take a taxi in Italy. Always make sure that the meter is working before you enter the cab. If the driver says it’s not working, you can get another cab. Never take unmarked taxis. They are illegal and do not follow any rules. It’s also a good idea knowing the fixed rates for trips to and from airports.

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6 Responses to “Travel Safety in Italy – Tourist Scams to Avoid”

  • Jim Eyres:

    All true. These are just a few of the many things that have happened to us. My wife and me act together as a team. One person can be stopped for something unusual. The other option is to move away, with your back towards a wall, if possible, and begin taking photos. At least one approach has been broken up. Amused by the slogan on the shirt of the bracelet seller, seen in the photo above: “Io non voglio it faccia” which translates to “I don’t like your facial features.”

  • bonnie melielo says:

    The gypsies who have attacked metro and train stations were not included. They may be dressed in traditional long skirts (typically Metro), but more often they are wearing regular, modern clothes. They may try to help you buy your ticket at the machines, then ask for money for the “service”, or grab your change and run away with it. One of them may be a pickpocket, the other possibly taking your bag with them. It is easy to spot the women as they carry a small purse on their shoulders but no luggage. They are becoming more aggressive. They are no longer able to be sent on their way by a simple “vai via”. Urgh!! !

    • Jess has the following:

      That’s a great one. It was not me who had it happen, but years ago. The post will need to be updated! We are grateful!

  • stephen

    I have an honest question: If one of these people becomes pushy, or if one these kids actually tries to do this, is it okay to hit them? What are the laws in Italy regarding self-defense?

    • Jess has the following:

      Stephen, I’m not sure what laws apply to this scam, but I have never seen one get out of control. You may have to say no more than once, but most scammers don’t want to create a situation that could attract law enforcement. It’s unlikely that they will push you if you are firm in your refusal and walk away. They will just try to find another victim.

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