Simon Brandon gets caught in a ticket scam that lines the pockets of the Venetian Mafia

The staggering number of visitors to Venice provides rich pickings for organised crime.
And with only one way to get about in the city of canals, it's not surprising the water transport industry has long been a target for Mafia interests.

Whatever you pay for a water taxi, gondola or the vaporetto ferries, it seems a good portion will find its way into Mob coffers.

That's Italy and that's how things work.

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Most Venice tourists come and go without taking a direct hit, but there's a nice little earner ferry users need to be wary of — a dodgy ticket scam.

There seem to be a few parties in on the act, and it starts at the various ticket outlets where what you ask and pay for may not be what you get. The out-of-order or long, slow queues at the self-service machines help send the unsuspecting to the manned stalls.

Tickets bought earlier in our stay were fine; it was the ones to the train station on departure day that drew us into the net.

On a crowded ferry, with two large bags, and 30 seconds before docking to catch our train, a conductor-type appeared in front of us asking to see tickets. Mine was scanned and fine, my partner's was not.

We disputed this and loud discussions (in true Latin style and gusto) took place on the pier and up the steps to the station as we were not interested in paying the €67 fine to this rather intimidating man who had attached himself to us like a ferry barnacle.

A German couple ramped up the very public discussions by claiming they had just paid €134 for the same "scam". Tickets were paid for, validated, then deemed void when scanned by a hand-held device.

We asked for the police to be called but time was not on our side. With five minutes until our train left, we folded, paid the fine for apparent fare-dodging and left. Here's some tips to avoid this expensive comedy:

• Allow plenty of time to catch your train. With more time, we could have got the police involved and dug out our laptop to show the bank record of the ticket purchase. It might have helped.

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• Sit down the back of the ferry and park your luggage nearby, but not with you.

• Don't appear anxious, as though you are late for a train.

• Ask the ticket sellers to write the date/journey on the ticket. Tickets have no wording or date to indicate what you have bought.

• Buy tickets online, and get a pass for the full time you are there — it will cut out the enterprising middle men.