The following series of bluntly honest posts might trigger people nicer than myself but I’m not going to sugarcoat this harsh reality as the gates to Paris tourism reopen this summer.
Pickpocketing in Paris is out of control and the thieves are in control.
Nothing pisses me off more than seeing tourists fall into traps that ruin their trip because they are in awe of this beautiful city and not paying attention to their surroundings.
Here are some tips to follow to avoid being a statistic.
- DON’T SIGN THE CLIPBOARD
I see this all the time around Paris landmarks. Young women brandishing clipboards approach tourists and ask them if they speak English. Once you say yes, they thrust the clipboard and a pen in your face and ask you to pledge money to support deaf children. You sign to get rid of them, or maybe you give them money. If you are lucky; you lost a few euro. If you are unlucky and a victim of this common scam, you notice your cellphone or wallet are missing a few minutes later. While the clipboard was distracting you (and strategically placed under your line of vision) one of the young women was busy exploring your pockets.
Sounds obvious right? I was a victim of this very scam a few years ago by two very young girls who were a lot slicker than they appeared. I shouldn’t have even let them approach my café terrace table but how can you tell off innocent little girls?
PLOT TWIST : You can!
All you jolly Americans out there who struggle with not smiling at every person they cross, this is for you because you are a target. You can avoid 99% of all scams if you just totally ignore any stranger that tries to engage with you. The easiest thing to do is to pretend you don’t speak English and keep walking.
- PUTTING YOUR GUARD DOWN IN FRONT OF KIDS
I love kids. I really do. I made one. But some of the kids you see in the streets of Paris are not innocent and they do not deserve your pity enough to justify stealing from you. They are usually pre-teen or teenager age. and usually in small groups. The moment you feel sorry for them is when they pounce. They are quick, and their skilled hands can effortlessly swipe your wallet or phone. Don’t let them approach you and don’t be afraid to gently push them away if they get too close.
- KNOW WHAT’S A THREAT AND WHAT ISN’T
There are two types of thieves to watch out for; mobile thieves and non-mobile ones.
The mobile ones are the pickpockets with the clipboards or other tricks that roam the streets or metro all day. Unless you know what to look for, they aren’t obvious to the untrained eye but often these are young children and women in small groups of 2-4 carrying clipboards; often around landmarks and in the metro.
The non-mobile ones are less of a threat because they don’t move much. They usually occupy the same spots in the same neighborhoods day after day begging for money with their various accessories including cute animals, sleeping babies, and small children, (Who are frequently drugged. If you don’t believe me look it up or pay attention next time you see one. They are ALWAYS asleep) Watch out for the coffee cups with small amounts of change on the sidewalk directly in your path. These are put there purposely so you trip over it and feel bad enough to give them money for the trouble.
pLaY StUpID gAmES, WIN STuPiD PrIzEs!
- Don’t fall for these easy to spot scams!
- Bracelets – I’ve only see this one in the Montmartre/Sacre Coeur neighborhood of Paris. If you see anyone coming towards you with an arm full of bracelets, don’t acknowledge them. What they will do is quickly tie a bracelet on your arm just tight enough that you can’t get it off, and then demand money in return.
- Fake Ring – This hasn’t happened to me yet, but I fantasize about the day it will! If you happened to be approached by someone claiming to have found the ring you dropped, keep walking. They will pretend to be doing you a big favor by returning it to you, but when you reveal its not your ring, they will offer to give it to you anyways in exchange for cash. Of course the ring is worthless!
- The Cup Game – This is a classic scam I see from time to time (especially near the Eiffel Tower or on bridges) and I am bewildered by the people who actually believe they will win. How it works is that someone will have three cups and a ball on a map, if you guess which cup they hide the ball in, you win the cash. You might observe for awhile and notice other people winning, so you feel it must be legit. However these “winners” are actually decoys who are apart of the game.
- FOR GODS SAKE LADIES carry a purse that has a GOD DAMN ZIPPER. Keeping your valuables in an open bag is an invitation to a pick pocket. Cross body bags are great so your arms can be free, but I usually stick with a backpack and have no problems. Keep the zipper at the top, its harder to sneak into. You really don’t need special anti-theft bags or devices (in fact these will just further acknowledge you are a tourist and an easy target).
- MEN- Wallets go in FRONT POCKETS HORIZONTALLY and placed DOWNWARD. This makes it much harder and less of a target for someone with sticky fingers. Also avoid having a lot of cash in your wallet. If you got a bulge in the front of your trousers, its for 2 reasons. Your wallet is full of cash, or you have an erection. A pick pocket knows the difference.
- DON’T CARRY A LOT OF CASH there are ATMS all over Paris and they are free. (although your home bank will probably charge you) Use them but be aware of your surroundings. It is not uncommon to get jumped by an ATM in broad daylight. Go inside the bank if possible to use the ATM.
- During peak tourist season (June through September and around the holidays) thieves are out in full force. So if you’re traveling at this time, you’ll want to be extra vigilant.
- Pick pockets love the metros that are crowded but not too crowded so that they can be close enough to smell your deodorant or bump into you without being suspicious. Line 1 is probably the worst because it goes right through the heart of Paris and hits several big tourist stops. If you find yourself in a crowded metro, do your best to get your back against a wall. Move your bag or briefcase so that you are hugging it. If you can sit down, even better.
- DO NOT TAKE OUT YOUR PHONE ON THE METRO! I know its tempting, but avoid this at all costs. It takes one second for that door to be shut and one second more to realize you are no longer playing Candy Crush because your phone was swiped just as the door was closing.
Do You Have Victim Potential?
You think a pickpocket won’t target you because you have a baby in a carrier attached to your chest and a 2 year old holding your hand?
You are a target.
You are wearing stilettos or carrying lots of bags?
You are a target.
You’re wearing valuable jewelry?
You are a stupid target.
(I once saw an older woman get her diamond necklace ripped off her neck on the metro as the doors were closing.)
I don’t see many thorough, bluntly honest anti-theft guides for tourists that include all this information. I wish someone had told me these details when I arrived here 8 years ago with stars in my naive eyes.
Don’t make the same mistakes that costed me a few valuables.
And most importantly, don’t let the threat of being robbed stop you from visiting Paris. Like any other large city, its just one negative among many positives that are a part of daily life. If you follow these tips and are always aware of your surroundings, your chances of being a victim are minuscule.