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  • Writer's pictureKirk

My First Scam - Rome, Italy

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

If you've read my posts until now, you know my deep disdain for scams. As with everything, there is a root cause to all this. Mine was in Rome, Italy.

It was my first morning in Rome when I encountered this fellow out walking the streets. It was still early and there were few people walking, so he approached. I thought, how cool! The city sends out these tourist mascots to enhance the visitor experience! Now this is one forward thinking tourist planning board!

He came up to me and we started goofing around. He was obviously quite experienced at this and knew how to interact to amuse the tourist. He was very friendly and engaging and made you feel like we were old friends.

Having never experienced these character actors on the street before I didn't know they did this for a living, or a side hustle perhaps. As I said, I thought it was something put together by the ministry of tourism or something like that.

We interacted for about 3-4 minutes with picture taking. At the end of the session I offered him a $5 tip for his time. I thought since he worked for the government (he did not), that $5 was plenty for a few minutes interaction. Now this was probably 12 years ago when $5 was worth more than today's money.

He looked at it and shook his head. He didn't speak English, but instead pulled out a $20 bill to show me. Really $20 for a few minutes of fun interactions? Again, this was years ago so much more in today's money.

Well, I was quite surprised and embarrassed, but being a foreigner in his land I was a intimidated. I was apologetic even for only offering $5. I gave him what he instructed and we parted ways.

It was later that it started to annoy me. I mean this guy is making $100's of dollars per hour with this scam. He never even mentioned there was a charge beforehand, and after the fact he extorts (strong word, I know) $20 for what appeared to be a simple favor?

That is when I learned about scams. They take all forms but at the root of it is the taking advantage of the foreign travelers in expectation they will not fight back. I'm sure they are right 99% of the time and they get away with it. But I've learned it's important to fight back. Even if it's only a couple dollars, don't acquiesce to this behavior. It simply rewards it.

I'm not the same person I was when I faced this gladiator years ago. I wish I had another shot at him today. I'd go all Russell Crowe on that Gladiator and feed him to the tigers. And not the friendly one I grabbed by the tail, either.

There you have the root to my deep seeded disdain for scamsters. The Roman Gladiator is the cause.

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