Surely, there’s a reason why Paris, and the whole France, is the most visited country in the world. The allure of romanticism and immortality of Eiffel Tower, the elegance of Louvre Museum, and many other attractions have never ceased to attract curious visitors.
No wonder visitors can get too busy taking snapshots, staring at landmarks on maps and guidebooks. And that’s what criminals wanted to hear. Thus, many traps and tourist scams were borne out of this opportunity or organized crime members have become too creative to steal whatever they can. One of many types of Paris scams lurks in the corner waiting to prowl on innocent, unsuspecting or borderline gullible tourists.
Besides the often ostentatious effort by authorities to remind tourists of lurking pickpockets, other petty crimes take place in Paris, easily noticed to the uninformed but hardly ever get paid attention by the apathetic locals.
1. People tying a bracelet on your wrist. This takes place as you walk on your way to an attraction, often at known landmarks like the Seine River, Louvre Museum or Gare du Nord. As you pass by the crowd, a seemingly random stranger suddenly offers you a “genuine” bracelet or other form of jewelry while quickly tying it into your arm, if you are not quick enough to parry him or her. Even if he offers it for free, never believe it for a moment. Just walk away and say “non, merci”, just as many others do. A simple rebuke may anger them, but be firm and never fall for their next moves, whether to curse you or beg for another chance.
2. People asking ‘Do you speak English?’ The question may be simple but it’s also a bait you can easily fall — English speakers are more likely foreigners than locals. Assuming the role of a tourist, a scammer may ask you if you know the universal language, so he can strike a conversation. The next sentences could be the well-rehearsed lines aimed at asking you for money for whatever reason (he lost his passport, he was robbed, and so on). This tactic is often employed on popular tourist attractions, notably the square facing the Notre Dame. While it’s not bad to be honest that you can speak English, be ready to anticipate tricks this stranger might play on you.
3. People asking ‘Is this your ring?’ The setting is similar: you are walking in the street and suddenly someone in front of you feigns picking up a ring or any valuable and asks if that item is yours. You naturally say you don’t own it, but the person foists the “valuable” on you insisting that you own it.
The scammer can claim he illegally lives in the country, so he cannot sell the “gold ring” but would be happy if you keep it and give him a little money far lower than the value of the ring.Be aware about this and tourists have reported similar incidents near Jardin des Tuileries and the Champs de Mars, near the Eiffel Tower.
4. Strangers giving flowers for the ‘beautiful lady’. Receiving flowers in the romantic city is certainly a dream come true to many women. But only if the giver is the one you love and not an aspiring casanova you do not know. Most of the time women ignore the offer and refuse to accept the flowers. After thorough convincing, others may accept especially if they concede flowers are actually free.
But it’s never free at all.The giver will ask for a few euros from the woman’s companion — boyfriends, husbands, siblings — despite the free offer to the woman. Failed attempts by the scammer means dirty looks towards his victims.
5. Folks attempting to distract you while at the ATM. When short for cash and turn to the ATM on the street, never allow yourself to be distracted by surrounding people. They can be children trying to grab the money as they come out of the machine, or some shabby man feigning sickness begging for loose change. Do not try to withdraw money from dimly lit areas or where it’s harder to find security staff or police.
6. People seeking your participation in a signature campaign. Whether it’s for abused citizens of Zimbabwe or abandoned kids in Eastern Europe, the motive is more than just raising awareness for them; it’s simply making a fool of an unsuspecting Good Samaritan and siphoning as much money from his or her wallet as possible.
When one signs, the next scene of tactics may depend on how easy is it to convince one to part a few euros. Showing the “donation” one must provide for signing the pledge, or outright begging on behalf of the more unfortunate beings are all part of an act that could land crooks a role in a Broadway play.
7. Strangers confronting you for ‘stealing their coins’. On a crowded Paris metro, be aware of people with suspicious actions. They can “accidentally” drop their coins, wallets or jewelry and pretend to frisk your jacket suspecting that you picked it up and concealed it. Never fall for such modus operandi. Fighting back could mean asking for trouble, but parrying them as you stay away is the best approach. Alight the train if possible or simply move away. Parisians may seem to notice this but don’t be surprised if they pay less attention and prefer to stay out of trouble.
8. Cafes serving larger, more expensive drinks. There are reports of cafes serving more expensive drinks to tourists than locals. Not that they get the same serving but a tourist could get a super-sized version when she could get a regular size like what locals get (and pay less). That means a plain request of “coffee” can be interpreted as a serving of large coffee with milk at 7 euros while specifying a regular one can cost only 2 Euros.
Lesson to learn: be specific when ordering food, drinks or any service; if in doubt, ask questions especially if prices are not displayed.
9. Getting extra bill for items you did not order on restaurants. After enjoying a multi-course meal in the restaurant, you ask for the bill. But while it is handed, you are busy chatting with your companion or occupied with staring at the map for your next tourist attraction to visit. Careless, or otherwise customers unmindful of the price to pay for a great meal could end up paying more than what they consumed. In fairness to Paris, it can easily happen elsewhere where less attentive tourists go.
10. Sleeping thief. A dozing fellow on the next table doesn’t seem like a threat right? Wrong, as crooks who appear less of a threat are at their prime position to commit the crime. While he may look sleeping, he could also be observing your movements. Any slight opportunity and he seizes it: as you look away from any valuable — luggage, handbag or sunglasses, he (or she) will grab the chance like a magician with his bag of tricks.
11. Pickpockets on the train. Just like on any place frequented by crowd, pickpockets can thrive on Paris metros filled with people. Making matters worse is how travelers become vulnerable. They wear back packs that can easily be opened without their knowledge, or get too busy checking out their guidebooks and folding maps while inside the train. Beyond the metro stations and trains, be on the lookout elsewhere, as Louvre Museum staff are even fed up they staged a protest due to rampant pickpocket incidents inside the renowned museum.
Paris may be among the top places people wish to visit, but it also has a dark side that make some visitors pledge not to come back again. In your first visit to Paris, be aware of these scams and other forms of rip-offs so your stay will be pleasant and memorable, and not filled with haunting memories of becoming a victim to these crimes.