Hi Frugalistas! Tourist scams in Paris are a fact of life, as they are in many parts of Europe. My readers have reported them, and travel bloggers also know them well. I have personally “experienced” (but never been caught out) by several of them – even as recently as my last trip to Paris in October. This is what you need to know about Paris tourist scams, and how to avoid them:
The Ring Scam in Paris
The Paris ring scam is probably the most “famous” (if that is the right word) Paris scam. It is very prevalent around the Eiffel Tower, and is probably the most common of the Eiffel Tower scams, particularly in the Champs de Mars approaches to the Tower – my record is three attempts on a single walk up the Champs de Mars.
A man will approach you holding out a gold ring. He will ask you if you have lost it. When you say no, he will then point out the obvious quality and value of the ring. He will then offer to sell it to you for what appears to be a very reasonable price.
What makes it a scam? The ring is not gold. The ring is worth nothing. You’ve been robbed.
The Petition Scam in Paris
The Paris petition scam is more widespread in tourist areas of Paris. I’ve seen it around the Champs Elysees and frequently around the Pont des Arts near the Louvre. But be alert to it elsewhere.
A small group of young people (usually teenage girls) will approach you to sign a petition. As one of them explains the “cause” – ie distracts you, another in the group will pickpocket you, or relieve you of any convenient valuable.
The only “cause” you are supporting is their theft of your valuables.
The Café Scams in Paris
There are variations to the café scam, but they are all based on the same premise – distraction. Sitting outside in a Paris café is, of course, one of the quintessential Paris experiences. One you should definitely take part in, and enjoy.
But beware….. a handsome, well dressed stranger will approach you and place his newspaper on the café table, and strike up a conversation. These Frenchmen are so friendly, aren’t they?
The only problem is, this Frenchman will pick up your phone, camera or wallet (whatever you’ve conveniently left on the café table of any value in fact) with his newspaper, and quickly make his escape before you realise…..
The variation on this scam is for the clever tourist who hasn’t left anything of value on their table. Instead the handsome Frenchman, or cute French girl strikes up a conversation. So what’s the scam? While engrossing you in a conversation his or her accomplice relieves you of your bag or backpack that you’ve left on the ground beside you.
You only realise when you stand up to leave, and they are long gone. Yep, you’ve been scammed.
Pickpockets in Paris
Pickpockets are certainly not unique to Paris. Every city worth its salt has them. In Paris, there are certain places they can be guaranteed. On the RER train between Paris and Charles de Gaulle. On Metro lines where the main tourist attractions are located. Then around and inside every popular tourist attraction – the more crowded the better. Whether it’s around the Eiffel Tower (yes again), queuing for the Louvre, or even inside, yes, inside the Louvre, there will be pickpockets.
The Destitute Teacher Scam
I’ve never seen this scam documented anywhere. But given I’ve experienced it twice now, I am sure it is a scam.
On the rue de Rivoli you will be walking along quietly minding your own business. A middle aged lady who looks like any other tourist will approach you and ask if you speak English. She will have an American accent. She will explain to you that she is a teacher from New York (because we all love teachers, don’t we?). She will explain to you that she has run out of money, and needs some Euros to tide her over. Can you help?
The first time it happened to me I didn’t think anything of it. Just some tourist run out of money. But the second occasion? This is a scam………
How to avoid tourist scams in Paris
Knowledge is key in avoiding the Paris scammers. Any good guide book will explain the latest and greatest. Do your research, make sure you know about the Paris tourist scams and make sure everyone in your group understands what to look out for (even your children) – knowledge and plenty of sets of eyes peeled will hold you in good stead.
While it’s somewhat obvious, don’t leave valuables on café tables. If you are sitting outside in a café, particularly in more tourist related areas, don’t sit in the front row closest to the street or on the end of a row. Yes, it is more difficult for you to get in and out of, but those other tables and chairs will protect you and your bags. Put your phone, wallet and camera away and keep your bags close by and as out of sight as possible.
Look like you fit in. Learn how not to look like a tourist in Paris and try not to scream “tourist” as you walk down the street. Backpacks, bumbags/fanny packs and cameras round your neck are easy pickings for professionals.
Be guarded with strangers. Yes, just like Mummy always said. Keep your distance. Keep your hand on your bag. And don’t give money to people you don’t know, or accept “gifts” from strangers. It’s not mean. It’s just sensible.
How to avoid pickpockets in Paris
Keep your eyes and hands on your bags on public transport and in crowded public areas. Even small children can be taught to put their backpacks on their fronts in busy areas, and to keep their bags on their laps, with their hand on the bag on crowded trains. Remind each other to do it before you board the train, or enter crowded tourist areas to look after each other. Be careful when you are reading your Paris tourist map, as looking distracted can make you a target.
Travel light. You really don’t need a big day pack or a large handbag. A small bag, kept close in front of you, with your hand on the bag at all times, is a safe way to travel. Keep valuables well hidden on your body. Don’t put wallets, passports, phones or any other valuables in back pockets or any other obvious place.
Personally I like to travel with just a cross body bag, slung in front of me, rather than on the side. I walk with my hand on the bag to keep it close to me at all times.
Do you know any other Paris scams we should be made aware of? What are your favorite tips for avoiding scams and scammers in Paris?
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