When in Rome…Keep an Eye on Your Purse

If someone mentions Rome, a lot of things come to mind. You might think of museums, fountains, narrow streets, the pope, the history….the petty thieves. A recent post by Elizabeth Rosenthal on IHT’s Globespotters blog relates how Rome, while a great city and popular tourist destination, is not the idyllic spot some might expect. Pickpockets and bag snatching artists are out in full force in even the nicest of neighborhoods.

Rosenthal relates a story of a cell phone being plucked from a cafe table when the owner averted his eyes for mere seconds, and another about how she had her wallet taken out of her backpack…on two occasions…along the same street.

I recently posted about Cambodia seeing a rise in bag snatching. While the same kind of “wild west atmosphere” that some people think characterizes Phnom Penh is nowhere to be found in Rome, it does seem ironic that two cities with totally opposite images suffer from the same problem.

Invasion of the Bag Snatchers in Phnom Penh

If you’ve been to a backpacker ghetto anywhere in the world, you’ve seen them. For fear of having their belongings snatched, they guard their bags carefully. Perhaps wearing their rucksacks in the front and wrapping an arm around it for extra security. That might seem like overdoing it. After all, who is going to rob a backpack with a bunch of smelly clothes and out of date edition of Lonely Planet?

But the ease with which a practiced thief can snatch a bag is surprising. All two thieves on a motorcycle, perhaps with a razor blade, need to do is slice a strap or grab a purse or camera and pull hard. Then it’s bye-bye dirty clothes (or camera or passport or cash).

Bag snatching is on the rise in southeast Asian cities like Phnom Penh. It has always been a problem, but things are especially bad now that inflation has put the economy into a downward spin. Some thieves have completely abandoned the timeless art of bag snatching, and instead simply knock their victims off their motorbikes and make off with the loot before the unfortunate rider(s) can recover. Looks like it might take more than wearing your pack in the front to avoid a nasty situation these days. But that’s all part of the fun of travel, isn’t it?