Scams & Tourist Traps

Rome welcomes upwards of 10 million tourists every year, so there will be some things to watch out for. Scams and tourist traps are prominent in every major city as they have a large audience of scammers. I want to give you a list of some common traps that might give you a poor impression of the beautiful city of Rome.

Putting aside the romanticism for a moment, it is important to educate oneself on the possible tourist traps that are common in a big city and those that are authentic to Rome itself.

1. Friendship Bracelets and Roses as Gifts

Although friendship is in the title, if you’re given a rose or a bracelet as a gift from a stranger in the streets of Rome, most likely it is not friendship they’re after.

What Is The Scam:

  • A popular scam in Rome is the people who approach you, start a friendly conversation, then give you a bracelet or rose and tell you it’s a gift. The catch is that then they ask for money in return.
  • The idea is that you feel some obligation to return the favour. It is a play on people’s kindness. You get a “gift”, and they get money.
  • Sometimes the bracelet is tied on your wrist and impossible to take off, leaving the receiver of the “gift” feeling forced to pay.

Where It Happens:

  • Monuments
  • Historic centre

Be Aware: 

Occasionally these “sellers” can also get a little passive-aggressive when someone doesn’t repay their “kindness” with a few euros.


  • As strange as it feels, I recommend smiling, shaking your head no, and turning your back or walking away.
  • If it is easily removable, return it to them or place it nearby.
  • Remember you are not obligated to pay, but you can give some coins if you’d like.

2. Gelato

I didn’t mean to scare you with that title. During your time in Rome, eat gelato. And lots of it. But make sure you’re getting the best of the best.

What Is The Scam:

  • Gelato that is bright in all shades.
  • Gelato is mountainous in the containers.
  • Gelato looks too shiny.

Where It Happens:

  • Historic centre
  • Monuments

Be Aware:

Just because there is a line doesn’t mean that it is the best. Check if it has what I mentioned above before waiting under the hot Italian sun for only a mediocre gelato.


  • Look for deep/dull colours.

Bright and eye-catching colours most likely means unnecessarily added dyes.

  • Stay away from gelato that is very shiny.

Too shiny means there is a probability that it has an excess of added sugars and is on the older side.

  • Look for a gelateria that covers over their gelato. You’ll see just the silver lids

If they do not cover their gelato, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Check for the other factors. Personally, I always prefer the gelaterias that keep it covered.

  • If the gelato is stacked up high in a little mountain behind the glass, keep walking until you hit the next gelateria.

3. The Tourist Menu

In Rome, you’ll see many restaurants. While you might be able to get some good food at most of them, there are some things you can look for to guarantee you’re getting delicious and fresh food in Rome.

What Is The Scam:

  • Large menus that offer every Italian dish you can think of.
  • Out-of-season food.
  • Overpriced, simple dishes.

Where It Happens:

  • Monuments
  • Historic centre

Be Aware: 

Remember that in Rome, especially in the historic centre, kitchens are small. So the chances are, if you see a menu advertising every Italian dish you’ve ever heard of, some, if not most, of the ingredients will be frozen and then warmed up for you.


  • Try to stick to menus that are not too expansive.
  • Go to restaurants based on the food you’re looking for. If you want pizza, look for a pizzeria.
  • Listen to locals about where to eat, they always know the best.

 4. Street Artists

Italy is well known for its artisans. But in a city like Rome, there are bound to be a few “fakers” trying to make some money off of tourists.

What Is The Scam:

  • People who present themselves as artists in the streets of Rome showcasing many finished and beautiful art pieces that are not theirs and/or just printed and copied art.
  • They often have some open paint and a half-finished painting nearby but never seem to get very far on a new piece.

Where It Happens:

  • Monuments
  • Historic centre

Be Aware:

Some of these “artists” can be convincing. Watch for a little bit to see if they really do some work on a current piece.


  • Look for art that is unique, not art that looks the same as what you’ve seen all over Rome and other Italian cities.
  • Ask the artist if they have an Instagram page, and see if there is a legitimate way to purchase their art that is not on the streets.

5. Pickpockets In Rome

Something that almost everyone has been warned about before heading to any high tourism destination is pickpockets.

What Is The Scam:

  • People stealing belongings: wallets, phones, purses, backpacks, etc.
  • Pickpockets prey mostly on tourists. Tourists might have their guard down and be distracted. 

This could make it easier for pickpockets to sneak things out of your bags and pockets without being detected.

Where It Happens:

Be Aware:

Pickpockets in different cities and different locations in the same city might use different techniques. Generally, pickpockets will work in groups, and they target busy areas of the city.


  • Always keep your guard up in areas that are very busy.
  • Try to wear crossbody purses on the front of your person.
  • Don’t put valuable items in your back pockets or in easy-to-reach places in your bag.
  • With a backpack, my mom’s best trick is getting carabiners to lock the zippers together, making your bag a bad and slow choice to pick at.

6. Overcharging

When you finally arrive in Rome for your holiday, the last thing you want is to see a big sum of the hard-earned money you saved gone all in one go. I want to tell you about how some places will overcharge and how you can avoid this situation.

What Is The Scam:

  • Restaurants, bars, shops, etc., overcharging customers.
  • They often get away with this by not having pieces listed.

Where It Happens:

  • Monuments
  • Historic Centre

Be Aware:

If you happen to find yourself in this “scammy” situation, the person who is trying to scam you might give you an attitude or get passive-aggressive when you ask to see a menu with prices or for a bill. Don’t worry. In the end, you won’t see them again after that interaction. And, if they are not scamming you, they’ll have no problem providing what you asked for.


  • Get a general idea of what common things should cost in your area. 

For example, ask your hotel/host what a pasta dish/pizza/coffee should generally cost. This way, you’ll have an idea in mind, and when the price seems far too high, you’ll know you might be getting scammed.

  • If you are given a menu, always make sure prices are listed. Don’t be scared to ask for a menu with prices.
  • You must get a receipt after every purchase. No matter what you’re buying and whether you pay cash or card, you should be receiving a receipt. If you are not given one, please ask.
    It is actually illegal not to be given a receipt after a purchase in Italy.
  • If you are getting scammed and the scammer is refusing to show prices, continues to insist you pay a very high amount, or even if you did pay an amount that is too high, Italy has something called the Guardia di Finanza. The Guardia di Finanza is who you need to call whenever a financial crime is happening. 

If you need it, their number is 117.

7. The “Helpful Local”

I call this tourist trap the “helpful local” because these scammers normally target the tourists who really are in need of help. Even though a scammer may be close by to help you out, I’ll tell you what you should do instead.

What Is The Scam:

  • This tourist trap often happens around ticket vending machines. The scammer is standing nearby, and when they see a tourist a little puzzled or struggling with the machine for whatever reason, they jump in and offer to help.
  • The thing is, after they help you, they’ll ask for money. 
  • Another potential outcome of this scam is that while they’re helping you, they have a friend close by who pickpockets you while you’re distracted.

Where It Happens:

  • Train stations
  • Metro stations
  • Transport hubs
  • Anywhere where there are ticket vending machines

Be Aware:

Sometimes these people can be very well disguised, and they can make it very difficult to reject their help.


  • Generally, if you’re at a ticket vending machine, no one who does not want to scam you will help you unless you directly ask for help. If someone approaches you first, most likely, they are looking to make some money from you.
  • If you need help, ask someone who works wherever you are. 

In most metro stops and stations, there are booths near where you purchase tickets. Inside those booths or nearby, there should be people in uniform.

  • If there are no workers around, ask a local. 
  • When purchasing tickets, keep an eye on your purse/backpack/bags. As many people leave their bags open to take out and then put back their wallets, it leaves a good opportunity for pickpockets.

8. The Fake Taxi

You’ve been walking all day, you just want to be back at your hotel, and a taxi is the quickest way. Nothing wrong with that. Just make sure that you are using an official taxi and not a fake one.

What Is The Scam:

  • People who offer a taxi service but are not an official taxi. Because of this, they often create their own prices and scam tourists by charging a lot.
  • Or, not as common as official taxis that use their meter incorrectly as a way to get more money from customers. They might forget to turn it on until much later or not at all and then decide on a fee that is much higher than what your ride should have cost you.

Where It Happens:

  • Airports
  • Train stations
  • Historic Centre

Be Aware:

To note, a taxi driver is not going to approach you inside the airport, they wait for you to go to the taxi line outside. It has happened to me many times that I arrive in Rome and I am greeted by “taxi” drivers trying to guide me to their “taxi”. Don’t go with them, it’s fake.


  • There are many ways to get into the centre of Rome from the airports. If a taxi is the way you choose to take, go to the taxi line outside. Don’t go with the eager driver who greets you inside the airport.
  • If you are taking a taxi from one of Rome’s two airports, it is a fixed rate. Make sure you check the rate beforehand.
  • One of Rome’s airports is in Fiumicino. When taking a taxi, make sure you are taking a taxi that is registered in Rome. This is because Fiumicino taxis can use their meter to give you a much higher price at the end of your ride. Whereas Rome taxis have a legally set fee, they charge to go from the airport to the city centre.
  • Make sure your driver turns on their meter right away. 
  • Get your luggage out of the taxi before you pay.

My best advice is always to stay aware.

What to Avoid When Visiting Rome

1. The Wrong Time of Year to Travel

When planning your trip, it is wise to strategically choose what time of year to travel. June and July are the high peak months due to being the most convenient.

However, it is also a time when crowds are at their height, and a morning tour of the Vatican can easily turn into a full-day affair, where most of your precious time is wasted in a sluggish-paced, sweat-induced queue.

When considering particular time periods, especially the month of July, bear in mind that the temperature can be extremely hot and humid, as well as very crowdy. This will possibly make the overall experience of travelling and sightseeing an uncomfortable one, so try to avoid this period if possible.

2. Compromising Your Safety With Your Money

Like any big city, the level of safety and security is indeed an opportunity cost. One problem is the incidence of pickpocketing that exists. It is particularly prevalent in crowded metros and in popular tourist domains.

Therefore it is necessary to always keep an eye on your bag. Some people feel more at ease by wearing safely concealed money belts. In any case, it is wise not to carry a large amount of money or credit cards on you.

Many of these pickpocketers are gypsies who are illegal immigrants that reside on the outskirts of the city. They may lull you into a false sense of security by often being women and children. Thus, don’t be fooled by age or gender. A gypsy child handing you a rose may melt your heart, but once you take that rose, an adult will suddenly appear demanding payment.

There is a notorious bus link, n.64, which is infamous for being frequently targeted by pickpocketers and purse-snatchers. Avoid this bus at all costs.

Lastly, avoid Termini station late at night, as it will be occupied by undesirables, and its level of safety will be low. During the day, Termini station is filled with commuters and is relatively safe.

Many of the locals are extremely canny in dealing with a ‘novice’ of their culture.

A foreigner is often easy to detect, and the reality is your monetary contribution will often derive unwanted interest. Be aware of your surroundings at all times and be prepared to encounter and handle situations where illicit dealings may take place in the Termini area.

3. Changing Money From Unknown Money Changers On The Street

When changing money, the best idea is to shop around if possible. Many money changers, especially those in stations and airports, can charge a commission in excess of 10%. This commission is also often not evident to the public.

If in doubt of any extra charges, don’t hesitate to ask. If someone approaches you on the street offering excellent exchange rates (specifically for you), keep walking. Ethical money changers tend not to be in the habit of scouting for clientele.

4. Unofficial Tour Guides

Around monumental sites, especially Vatican City, you may be approached by unofficial tour guides. You are not obligated to pay them anything other than a tip, as they are often only scouting tourists to practice their knowledge and expertise. Regardless of their intention, ask outright if payment is involved to avoid any potential confusion.

5. Costumed Gladiators

The costumed gladiators outside the Colosseum are definitely a sight worth seeing. However, before you have your photograph taken with them, know that a ‘customary fee’ is part of the equation. Many tourists have found themselves in a modern-day battle to the tune of five Euros and up.

In order to avoid unleashing any pent-up medieval aggression, don’t take any pictures with the gladiators unless you’re prepared to hand over the funds.

6. Wearing Inappropriate Footwear

Walking in Rome is indeed the best way to see all the sights and follow the tourist trail. Rome is often congested with traffic, which makes the exercise of walking an easier option.

Most of what you see and do in Rome will be experienced on foot; thus, it is wise to invest in shoes that are comfortable.

Rome also has a lot of cobbled streets and uneven territory, especially around the Roman ruins, so heels and precarious footwear are not advisable.

As much as you may envision yourself strolling down the Spanish Quarter in heels that capture the elegance of Audrey Hepburn in A Roman Holiday, your feet will be cursing your narcissism.

7. Buying Water From Street Carts or Restaurants

It is always a good idea to take a water bottle along with you, as you will need to replenish it to avoid possible dehydration. Purchasing water from snack carts and restaurants can prove to be a costly exercise.

A good option is to purchase water from a supermarket. If you carry an empty bottle on you, though, there are plenty of places in Rome where you can always fill up. Like at the many drinking fountains around Rome, usually found in the squares.

Generally speaking, public watering places are very safe in Rome. If you are unsure, look out for the term Non-Potabile, which means non-drinkable water.

One Thing You Won’t Be Able To Avoid…Falling in Love With Rome

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and seeing and experiencing all its enticements and offerings is no minor feat. Thus if you find yourself falling in love with the city, make sure you throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain… this will ensure that you will return again.