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Paris Pickpockets and Scams
Paris pickpockets and scams pose a risk to tourists. You can lose your money, credit cards and other valuables unless you stay alert for thieves and avoid common con games. Many Parisians are friendly, but some try to get your attention to distract you for a theft or set you up for a scam.
Paris pickpockets and scams tend to be found around major tourist attractions like Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Champs-Elysées because these areas are rich with potential victims. These criminals can also be found around hotels, monuments, museums, beaches, and transportation hubs like airports, bus stops, and train stations. They are alert for people getting out of rental cars and people who appear to be lost or unfamiliar with the area, since those are the hallmarks of tourists.
Pickpockets can be any age, but it's common for adolescents to do the crime since minors are rarely jailed in France. The thieves often work in groups, with one distracting you while another steals your valuables. Distractions run the gamut from striking up a conversation to bumping your or spilling something on your clothes and keeping your attention by apologizing profusely while you are unknowingly robbed. Pickpockets also target people getting on or off trains, since it's difficult to chase them in the crowd of embarking or disembarking passengers.
Scammers sometimes tamper with ATM machines, so use machines attached to banks during business hours. Complain to someone in the financial institution immediately if the machine keeps your card. Cover the keypad when you enter your PIN because scammers often try to observe this information.
The string scam is a common trick in which a harmless-seeming person tarts a conversation with you, then asks you to hold out your hand. Suddenly they slip a braided string bracelet onto your wrist, then demand payment for it. Women are the usual targets, although anyone can be a victim. If you refuse to pay, they may follow you and continue their demands, often claiming it's for a church or other charity. Some con artists leave a string hanging from the bracelet and hold it so you can't easily get away. Pull out of the person's grasp and ignore them as you leave. Be alert because this scam is sometimes combined with pickpocketing. You're an easy target for a thief while you're distracted by the con artist.
The ring scam involves a girl getting your attention by suddenly bending over, then squealing in delight as though she has found something. She'll tell you that she just found a gold ring and that it's her lucky day because she's always wanted a beautiful piece of jewelry. If you get draw into the conversation, she'll tell you that she's having financial problems and, even though she loves the ring, she should really sell it. She'll try to get you to either buy it or to give her money to help her out. If you purchase the ring, you'll soon discover that it's a worthless fake.
The shell game is a common scam in many cities around the world, including Paris. The scammer hides a ball under a shell, and you win money if you guess the correct hiding place. It looks easy, and con artists often use shills who pretend to play and win to draw in victims. It's virtually impossible to win at this game, so you'll quickly lose your money if you try.
You can avoid being a victim of Paris pickpockets and scams with some simple precautions. Women should carry zipping purses so pickpockets cannot easily reach in and grab the contents. Carry your purse under your arm, toward the front of your body, for the best security. Men should keep their wallets in a front pocket with a rubber band around them. Money belts are a good alternative for either sex, since they make it very difficult for a thief to steal your money undetected or to snatch it and run.
Carry a minimal amount of money and only one credit card when you're out in the city to minimize the damage in case you are a theft victim. Never carry your passport with you when you're out of your hotel room. Bring a photocopy of it with you when you travel in case it gets lost or stolen.
Do not engage in conversation with strangers who seem to be acting oddly or participate in any street gambling. If you are talking to someone and they say or do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, don't be afraid to stop the conversation and walk away. Keep walking and say, “No, no!” if the other person follows you and persists in trying to engage you.