The crime in Rome is not always done by the obvious criminals. The Antica Romas Gelateria (ice cream shop) at 26 Via di Propaganda, near the top of the Spanish Steps, charged some British tourists the equivalent of $84 for four ice cream cones.
This kind of overcharging is common. When they detect you’re a tourist (which is incredibly easy for them), the menus at the restaruant will suddenly be in English and have a different set of prices. The street markets that are close to tourist areas (and military bases) often have no prices posted. They assess you when you walk up and adjust their price upward based on their perception of you. In fact, there’s a saying in Italian often used in negotiations that translates to “What? Do I look like an American?”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not picking on the Italians (although Rome provides numerous examples). This kind of thing happens all over the world. The lesson learned is to be smart about how and where you shop.
Naturally, you will probably take a credit card with you on the trip. There are some things to think about…
Street vendors or temporary markets are never a safe place to use a credit card, especially those that don’t have any sort of automated payment machine. The smaller merchants overseas, such as small shops and temporary vendors, have a significantly higher percentage of credit card fraud. Many of these transactions end up being written off by the banks because it’s very difficult to locate the merchants, especially from temporary or weekend local markets.
Well-established businesses such as hotels are less of a problem. When using electronic credit card machines, select “credit” instead of “debit” on purchases with cards. Credit card charge fraud can be handled quickly whereas it may take weeks to fix debit card damage and you may never get your money back. Any fraudulent activity will render your card useless until it can be replaced. Another thing to consider is debit cards also often put a “hold” on the full amount of the projected transaction. That one transaction might tie up your funds for a long time while you sort it out.
The old carbon copy credit card machines are still out there in some places. If you allow a merchant to use one of those machines, you have just allowed them to have a durable copy of your credit card number and your signature. Don’t do it!
For more than 23 years, Steve was an intelligence community professional who traveled and lived throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central America. He now uses his experiences and formal training to help people overcome their reluctance to travel by giving them the solid, reliable information they can use to plan effectively, reduce risk, react to danger, and return home safe.