The summer is prime time for European travel, meaning it’s also the perfect time for pickpockets to rob clueless tourists. One Italian woman has gone viral this summer thanks to her anti-thievery efforts documented on TikTok. With simple shouts of “Attenzione! Pickpocket!”, she alerts throngs of tourists to the seemingly innocent swindlers weaving through crowds as they scatter from view.
Monica, the 57-year-old Venetian woman behind the viral TikToks, spoke to Newsweek about her newfound fame. She’s a part of the volunteer group Cittadini Non Distratti, meaning “non-distracted citizens,” where everyday Italians help protect visitors from potential robberies.
“I have been part of a group of disturbance against pickpockets for 30 years—together with 40 other people,” Monica said. Cittadini Non Distratti’s TikTok account, which boasts nearly 270,000 followers, is home to these priceless videos of Monica and other volunteers yelling in crowds to humiliate the sticky-fingered locals.
In the process, Monica has taught loads of TikTok users some basic Italian—namely the words “attenzione” (attention) and “borseggiatrici” (pickpockets). For her, this work is nothing more than a public service for the greater good.
“We decided to make our videos go viral to inform tourists to be careful,” she said. “There is a lack of prevention and information about what is happening in the city and we are all happy that these videos are letting people see the problem in Venice and throughout Italian cities.”
She went on to explain how pickpockets won’t just go for easy items like wallets or phones, but even tourists’ travel documents.
“People are pickpocketed for their American or English passport, then to return to their country they have to go to the embassy [in Rome],” she said. “This incurs additional expenses for them, so it is better to prevent this by warning tourists of the problem.”
The videos have made a splash with non-Italians around the globe, but she’s also gained a reputation in her home country. Speaking to a local news outlet, she expressed her gripe with pickpockets running wild even after her years of trying to run them out of tourist hotspots. “They have a long history, I don’t know how long, and yet they’re still free pickpocketing,” she stated plainly.
While one would expect authorities to be thankful for the extra help, they’re not exactly thrilled about this kind of vigilante justice. Their concerns lie with the fact that many of the thieves are young and that pickpockets are considered innocent unless they’re caught in the act.
“It’s forbidden to put these recordings on the internet, especially if they are minors,” Diego Brentani from the Venice Police Union told Deutsche Welle in a 2020 report on the group. “It’s forbidden to get physical, even if the people concerned are known pickpockets. As long as they are not caught red-handed, the presumption of innocence applies.”
If you find yourself in Venice this summer and hear those familiar cries of “Attenzione, borseggiatrici!” double-check your bags and pockets to ensure all your goods are secure.