13 BIG scams to avoid in Italy

Last updated on April 14th, 2024.

You’ve just finished planning your dream trip to Italy.

The flights and hotels are booked and you’ve planned both your itinerary and your budget.

All that’s left to do is go there and enjoy your trip, right?

Wrong.

Italy is a land of many things and travel bucket list royalty for many. Incredible architecture, the best food culture, perfect weather and a travel landscape that you’ll always remember.

But, Italy isn’t exempt from scams, of which tourists are typically the unlucky targets.

It might sound like I’m trying to scare you off from visiting, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Instead, I’m writing this travel guide to make you aware of some of the most common tourist traps in the country. From minor incidences to criminal activity, these are 13 big scams to avoid in Italy.

Disclaimer

The majority of the information provided in this post is based on actual incidents and news reports. It’s in no way meant to ostracize or highlight one group/s of people. I ask you to consider this while reading. Thank you.

Have I been scammed in Italy?

Of all the years I’ve spent traveling — and living — in Italy, I’ve never (touch wood) fallen victim to a scam. I think there are several reasons behind this:

1. I speak the language. It goes without saying that if you speak Italian, you’ve a slight advantage. Scammers may be less likely to target you if they think you’re a local. However, I could still be targeted given that I don’t typically look Italian.

Women of color in Italy - Piazza dei Signori - Vicenza
Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza

2. I’m travel savvy. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to many countries, some of which are known to scam tourists. From arguing with a dodgy tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok to confronting an overcharging taxi driver in Seville, I’ve seen plenty. Luckily, I’ve never fell victim to anything more serious.

3. I’m astute. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s 100% a duck. I’ll never forget one of my first trips abroad at 19 years old with a former boyfriend. He decided to play the notorious ‘cup game’ with a group of men in Las Ramblas, Barcelona. Despite our hotel’s warnings, and me advising against it in his ear, he went ahead. We left that night, his pocket €50 lighter and the evening ruined.

You’ll likely recognize that some of the scams on the list happen not only in Italy, but across the globe. The most intelligent thing you can do is to stay alert, keep your belongings close and read this advice.

13 big scams to avoid in Italy

Scam coffee drinks in Italy

I don’t need to tell you that coffee, and cafe, culture is big in Italy. Our local pasticceria (patisserie), or bar, is where we usually sit down to a traditional Italian breakfast.

But, not all bars and cafes operate on the ‘honesty is the best policy’ rule in Italy, more so in larger cities. If you want to avoid being scammed in Rome, be aware of cafes around major tourist landmarks.

Cornetto and cappuccino - Breakfast food in Italy
Order a normal cappuccino in Italy — scams to avoid in Italy

I first covered this point in ‘25 mistakes to avoid in Italy’, but it bears repeating.

In 2019, a group of tourists paid €81 ($88.58/£66.93) for their meal in a cafe near St. Peter’s Basilica. On the surface, their meal of 2 hamburgers, 2 double Americanos and 2 double cappuccinos didn’t seem that unusual.

But, when a photo of the receipt was published online, many Italians spotted ‘2 cappucin doppio’. The real scam here wasn’t the price; it was that ‘double cappuccinos’ don’t exist — bar this area of Rome.

Bogus tours in Rome

I can’t tell you the number of people that tried selling us tickets to enter the Vatican Museum. Even though we were just passing by, these touts were extremely persistent. After refusing the fifth person in the space of 3 minutes, our patience began to wane.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t buy any tours or packages from these ticket touts in Rome.

Not only do they cost more, but they also throw in wild claims, such as having tea with the Pope! In truth, you’ll probably find yourself waiting with everyone else in line, and with people who paid less than you.

St Peter's Basilica - - Best UNESCO world heritage sites
Buy your tickets from a reputable source

The best way to avoid these touts in Rome is to buy your ticket online. It’s straightforward and you’ve someone to complain to if anything goes wrong.

You can also book tours the right — and legit — way. Here are some of my favorite tours for visiting Rome and the Vatican.

  1. Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel tour
  2. Early entry to the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel & St Peter’s Basilica
  3. Rome: Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill priority tickets
  4. Rome: Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel Official Guided Tour

Another good tip is to speak to the reception staff in your hotel. They almost always have connections with legit tour companies and they’ll also arrange for hotel transfers and pickup.

Choose a hotel in a central area, for example, by the Colosseum, as they’ll more likely have good contacts.

Tourist-menu restaurants

This one applies not only to scams to avoid in Italy but also across the globe. Because of this, I still think it’s worth mentioning. Why? Because you can eat so well in Italy that it won’t take long to find a decent place.

You’ll find restaurants with sub-standard quality and overpriced tourist menus across cities like Rome, Florence and Venice. We didn’t see many signs of them in the center of Milan but we’re sure they were there.

Well-presented waiters typically stand outside inviting you to dine at their venue. They may try speaking to you to in English or show you their menu available in different languages.

While not all of these restaurants are necessarily poor quality, make sure to thoroughly check the prices before entering. Don’t forget to check the small print like cover, and any service charge for larger groups.

Venice in winter - radicchio Treviso
One of my favorite winter ingredients, radicchio tardivo di Treviso

The last thing I’d say about these tourist-menu restaurants is that the menu is less likely to include seasonal produce.

Take the radicchio tardivo from Treviso. One of my all-time favorite ingredients, but it’s only available from November until the end of March. Because of this, you’re likely to find the ingredient in many dishes served in good trattorias.

The same can’t be said at a tourist restaurant. Instead, you’ll most likely see standard Italian dishes on the menu, like spaghetti Bolognese.

‘Friendship’ bracelets

One of the many reported scams to avoid in Italy, that I’ve seen for myself, is the ‘friendship’ bracelets trick. Several incidences have been reported in Rome so be on your guard when visiting.

A person (usually a man) comes up to you and begins to engage in friendly banter. They then tell you that they want to give you a small souvenir. If you don’t firmly refuse, they’ll show you this souvenir — a friendship bracelet — and will tie it around your wrist.

Friendship bracelets - how to avoid being scammed in Rome
Say no to the ‘friendship bracelet’ scam in Rome

Once it’s firmly secured, they will then say they’ve no money and will ask for payment in exchange. At this point, one of two things can happen:

  • you feel obliged to pay since you can’t easily take it off on the spot
  • it’s a trick to distract you while an accomplice tries to pickpocket your valuables

You can avoid this scam in Rome by being firm from the get go. Don’t worry about offending anyone, say ‘no’ and go.

I saw the friendship bracelet scam happening with my own eyes in Venice. It was frustrating to watch as an American couple tried finding some money to give to the guy. The scammer had tied the bracelet around the man’s wrist and wouldn’t leave them alone till they’d ‘paid’ him.

Oil prints scam in Florence

Florence is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful cities to visit in Italy. Its famous landmarks, including its Duomo and Michelangelo’s David attract visitors in their droves, whether in winter or summer.

But, Florence has also become known for something a little more unsavory: the oil prints scam. In my opinion it’s one of the worst, and definite top 3 scams to avoid in Italy.

During our 2 days in Florence, I remember these sellers well. They were located in touristic areas of the city like Piazza Duomo and in the vicinity of the Uffizi Gallery. From our observation, they appeared to be of North African or Middle Eastern descent.

Florence oil painting - scams to avoid in Italy
Don’t fall victim to the oil prints scam in Florence

How it works

The scam goes a little something like this. Sellers spread out large oil prints (usually of Florence) on the ground. But, what seems innocent on the surface is anything but. They place the prints in certain points to make tourists ‘accidentally’ step on them.

If this doesn’t happen, the sellers take the scam to the next level by staining the prints themselves. Unsuspecting tourists, too distracted by the architecture or too busy taking photos, have no idea what has happened.

What comes next are the consequences of these ‘damages’. Sellers requests can range from €25 ($27.34/£20.66) to €300 ($328/£248), with some reports of tourists having physically been threatened for payment. Japanese and Chinese tourists have unfortunately been the prime target of the oil prints scam.

Please keep your wits about you when visiting Florence. As I said, I clearly remember these sellers and remember thinking at the time, how inconvenient their locations were.

Map of Italy

‘Mime artists’ in Florence

Something we didn’t really notice in Florence were the number of ‘mime artists’ walking through the city. Women dressed in white — their faces painted the same color — walk between Piazza della Signoria and Piazza della Repubblica.

In reality, these ‘mime artists’ are gypsy women that walk around in pairs, approaching families with small children.

Florence landscape - where to go in Italy
Look out for the ‘mime artists’ in Florence — scams to avoid in Italy

They’ve different strategies, which include ‘putting on a show’ for children, or trying to shake hands with the adults. Their main objective is to get money in exchange for the show or to try and steal your valuables.

Working in pairs, one may try to distract you while the other takes your things. You have been warned.

Watch: 4 scams to avoid in Italy

Pickpocket gangs on buses

One of the busiest bus lines in Rome is line 64. It runs between St. Peter’s Square and Termini Station and is popular with tourists visiting the city. Because of this, it’s also rife for pick-pocketing.

It’s not unheard of to hear stories about gangs that target tourists on public transport in Rome. It happened to an old colleague and her boyfriend as they took the bus back to Rome Fiumicimo airport.

64 bus in Rome
The popular 64 bus in Rome

Target made

Though she didn’t know it at the time, a gang had targeted them with different members brushing closely by. They only realized at the airport that some of their belongings, namely her passport and his wallet, were missing.

What followed next were several appointments to their consulate and an extended stay in Rome.

While it’s easy to get distracted on public transport, act like you would at home. Keep your bag in the front, and be aware when someone’s standing too close. To avoid using line 64, or any other public transport in Rome, the hop-on hop-off bus is a good alternative.

Club or bar touts

This scam, involving club or bar touts, can work in different ways and it isn’t exclusive to Italy.

You may be approached by someone working for a local bar/club on the street. This could be a young, beautiful woman if you’re a lone male. They tell you that this bar/club is the hottest spot in town and they can get you free tickets.

However, once inside, you realize that not only are the claims inflated but so too are the prices.

Wine bar - how do I avoid being scammed in Rome
Avoid hefty drinks bills — scams to avoid in Italy

A hefty bill arrives, and beneath the gaze of the intimidating bouncers, you’ve no other choice than to pay.

I can see how lone travelers, especially younger ones, could fall victim to this scam. However, if you’re traveling solo, there are other (free) ways to meet people.

Check sites like Couchsurfing or Meetup for any events happening. You’re more likely to meet other travelers and like-minded people, and less likely to end your night completely broke.

The ‘paper move’ scam

This one started as a legitimate way for deaf people to ask for assistance in Italy. Unfortunately, since its inception, it’s been taken and turned by scammers into something more deceptive.

A scam that’s been reported around the bars and restaurants of Milan is ‘La ‘mossa del foglietto‘ (‘the paper move’).

Milan Cathedral from outside — plan a trip to Italy
The ‘paper move’ is a common scam in Milan

It usually involves fake ‘deaf’ beggars, targeting unsuspecting, and kindhearted, clients. They’ll walk into a bar/restaurant and leave a gadget (like a keyring) on the table. Alongside will be a note requesting a small contribution.

When they return to collect the gadget and note, they’ll check to see if the patron has left any money. If not, they may use this opportunity to try to take any valuables on the table.

They’ll distract them with their request for help, before stealing the valuable item beneath the note. The most common items that are taken are mobile phones.

This ‘paper move’ is likely to be more common in tourist areas around the Milan Duomo. Be vigilant and don’t get lost in the moment.

Fake police officers

This scam would frighten the savviest of travelers because it involves the police — or does it?

After our negative experience of dealing with Moroccan police, we’re a little more cautious with anyone that calls themselves police officers.

In the larger cities across Italy, there have been reports of skilled scammers dressed in police-style uniforms. Posing as ‘tourist police’, they go around in pairs, stopping people to carry out a ‘security check’.

Italy police officers
Know the real, from the fake, police officers in Italy

What’s worrying is that some have fake badges to show, which instantly gains the trust of the unsuspecting person/s. Stories have circulated of these ‘police officers’ checking bags and wallets for ‘counterfeit’ or ‘drug money.’ Many don’t even realize that their money’s missing until long after.

It’s hard to advise on how to avoid this scam in Italy as it’s related to ‘the law’. Personally, I’d ask the ‘officer’ if they could do the security check at the police station than on the streets. You never know, it might just deter them from continuing the interrogation.

Unscrupulous taxi drivers

I’m sure many of you have a horror story to tell about an unscrupulous taxi driver from your travels.

And, sadly, Italy is no exception. Typically hanging around at airports and train stations are ‘fake’ taxi drivers waiting to rip-off tired tourists.

Ride-sharing services like Uber aren’t available in Italy (except for Rome and Milan) so taxis are the only ‘car’ option. I outline this topic in greater detail in my guide on taking taxis in Italy.

A row of taxis in Rome — what not to do in Italy
Get your taxi from a trusted rank

Some less than honest drivers may charge more for the ride or give the wrong change (and even currency). Other tactics include not starting the meter or increasing the fare price on the weekend.

To avoid getting scammed in Italy, only use those that are parked in trusted areas. In Rome, there are taxi ranks located near the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and other major landmarks.

Even when getting inside a legitimate taxi, check to see if the driver’s turned on their meter.

The overly helpful local

There’s such a thing as being too helpful, especially when its coming from a stranger. And across big cities in Italy, there have been accounts of thieves posing as good Samaritans.

ATM Rome - Italy scams to avoid
Turn down any help at the ATM

Some may warn you to keep your wallet safe — before proceeding to steal it. Others might offer help for buying tickets for the metro, only to rob you of your money and cards.

As always, stay vigilant, alert and firmly say ‘no’ to their offer.

The holiday home scam

Many of the scams that happen in Italy stem from tourists renting a holiday home.

You see an advert for a beautiful villa on Airbnb and email the owner. They ask to continue the conversation off the site by e-mail or via Whatsapp.

Villa Italy - scams to avoid in Italy
Be careful when booking holiday homes in Italy that look too good to be true…

As you continue to converse, the owner informs you that they’ve removed the original advert due to a technical issue. Instead, they say that the advert’s live on another site — very similar to Airbnb — and sends you the link.

It’s at this point where you’re duped into paying a deposit to secure the property. The scammer takes the money leaving you with nothing but a lesson learned.

Against the terms of service

If you ever find yourself in the same position and are asked to send a deposit, end the conversation immediately. It goes against Airbnb’s terms of service and all you should conduct all payments through the site.

Last word

I hope you’ve found this article helpful when you visit Italy. Scams will continue to happen at home and abroad, and it’s up to us to stay vigilant.

Let me know what you think of these scams to avoid in Italy by leaving a comment below.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I’ve recommended. Thank you for your support.

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Milan - Scams to avoid in Italy

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Lisa Rivera outside tent door at IUTA Glamping & Farm

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Welcome to my site. I'm Lisa, an Italy-based travel and lifestyle blogger behind Following the Rivera. Find out more about me and my story.

What are the most common scams to avoid in Italy?
Florence oil painting - scams to avoid in Italy

1. scam coffee drinks
2. bogus tours
3. tourist restaurants
4. friendship bracelet scam
5. oil prints scam
6. ‘paper move’ scam

108 thoughts on “13 BIG scams to avoid in Italy

  1. Jane Frith says:

    Really useful post, Lisa. I am heading over to Florence on 15th of this month and really excited, but I’ll certainly keep my wits about me having read this. Our Italian friends who live near Milan are travelling down to see us for a couple of days so hopefully they will set us right too!

    • Lisa says:

      Aw you’re welcome Jane! I didn’t see the oil paintings on our last trip to Florence so maybe they have since been moved. Enjoy you time here!

  2. Angel says:

    Thanks for sharing this informative post! As a frequent traveler to Italy, I can attest to the prevalence of scams in the country. The tip about being cautious when having your photo taken is particularly useful, as I’ve had my wallet stolen while having my picture taken with a street performer before. I’ll definitely be more vigilant in the future. 😬

    • Lisa says:

      I’m so happy you enjoyed this post. I’m sorry to hear about your experience here. It happens more often than visitors recognise

  3. Renata says:

    Very interesting. Although I visit Italy on a regular basis I’ve never been scammed – or the scammer was so good that I didn’t realize it 😀 But it’s like you say: When you travel a lot you quickly recognize if someone is up to no good. Obviously, some young man wanted to ‘help’ me buy a ticket in Rome. But I didn’t let him. Yes, I do get asked to sign papers against drug abuse. But I don’t do it. I actually don’t find it too difficult not to fall for all those obvious tricks. But maybe we are kind of trained since we are used to being foreign. And yes, speaking the language – even just a bit – helps a lot since the scammer normally doesn’t know how much – or little – you actually speak and understand 😉

    • Lisa says:

      Well said Renata. We had the same situation in Florence recently and I’m 100% sure it was real. However, we walked away even though we live here. You just never know 🙂

  4. Michiel says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for your warnings! We usually always check reviews of restaurants on Google Maps before we go anywhere, but today at the last night of our Italy trip, we were tired and hungry, and via the children we got invited into a restaurant close to the Duomo in Milan, where we were terribly treated and scammed. So, you can add the center of Milan to the list as well… it turns out their place is not traceable by Google Maps (apparently, that’s possible!): Via Dogana 2 is not recognized as a restaurant there!

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Michiel, thank you for your comment. I’m so sorry to hear about your experience. I will definitely be adding it to the list thank you!

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