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CRIME

The sneaky tricks thieves in Paris use to steal your money

Though pickpocketing is often thought of as 'petty' crime, one network busted last month proved that it can mean big business. Here's how they and other thieves take your money.

The sneaky tricks thieves in Paris use to steal your money
Crowded areas are a pickpocket's best friend. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The group, which operated in Paris and Disneyland, had stolen valuables worth an estimated total of at least €1 million over a period of six months, before being busted in a joint operation by Romanian and French police last month.

As well as cash, the group had nabbed leather goods, mobile phones, jewellery and other valuables in over 1,000 thefts – most of which were carried out by young children against foreign tourists.

Their total loot in just a few months was believed to be worth over €1 million.

A police source described the pickpocketing ring as “a very organized system, even a lifestyle,” adding that one of the young girls was able to bring in monthly profits of €100,000 for the group.

But just how do they bring in so much cash and valuables? And just because one pickpocket network has been broken, it doesn't mean there aren't others out there ready to employ similar tactics to take your money.

Here are some of the most common ways thieves in Paris, who are often disguised as tourists, take your money, and tips on how you can avoid falling victim to one of them.

The ‘butterfingers’

This trick often targets people in the fancier districts of Paris, and involves a passer-by spilling something on your clothes – often a hot drink. Whoops! Amidst profuse apologies, they’ll try to wipe off the stain – all the while using the shock to distract you from the fact that an accomplice is going through your pockets or running off with your suitcase.

The Navigone


 

Many of the dirty tricks take place on the city's Metro network, where passengers or potential victims are crowded together.

If you see a fellow traveller drop their Navigo pass or even their wallet right in front of you, your first instinct might be to pick it up and return it. Pickpocketers know that and they take advantage of people's good nature, deliberately dropping something while an accomplice waits to snatch valuables from your back pockets or bag when you bend over.

The ‘woman shows her breasts’ trick

This sounds like something out of a comedy sketch, but it does happen in Paris.

This hustle is used to target young men, usually at ticket or bank machines. Once a man has put his card into the machine, the female trickster seizes her chance, exposing her breasts and distracting the victim. Before he's had time to process what's happening, an accomplice of the woman has made off with his money or even worse, his card.

While the victim may be thinking about breasts, the thief is almost certainly thinking about the pin number she saw him type in.

The ‘back to back’

This technique is popular in Paris’ crowded cafes and bars. Quick-fingered thieves will choose to sit directly behind someone who has left their coat or jacket hanging over the back of their chair. Sometimes aided by an accomplice seated opposite them, they will proceed to go through the contents of your pockets, without ever turning around. The key here is to keep your valuables on your person, where you can see them, at all times.

The cash machine hustle

Always be wary around cash machines, particularly in deserted areas or late at night. Hundreds of tourists have fallen victim to a scam carried out by groups (often children) who loiter close to cash machines (pretending not to know each other) and wait for unsuspecting victims to key in their PIN code. Once that's been done, one member of the group grabs the victim or distracts them while others make a withdrawal for the maximum amount, before making a swift getaway.

SEE ALSO: VIDEO – The top five street scams to avoid in Paris

The distractions can involve children shoving pieces of paper in front of you to block your vision or someone spilling a drink over you.

This one's tricky because you may feel safe if there are several other people around – but that's no use if they're all in on the trick. Try to limit your cash withdrawals to well-populated areas at daytime, and if possible use a machine situated inside a bank.

The selfie trick

Photo: AFP

In Paris, you might often find your path blocked by a group of selfie-taking tourists. Usually it’s no more than a mild annoyance, but if you’re unlucky, they could be thieves, aiming to cause a bottleneck which allows an accomplice to go through pockets and bags without anyone noticing. And if someone asks you to take their photo, make sure you don't focus so much on getting a good shot that you lose track of your own valuables – again, an accomplice may be standing nearby to snatch something out of your pocket.

The tailgater

When you pass through the barriers to get on the Metro, occasionally someone might slip in after you. But it's not always just a free ride on the Metro they're after – opportunist pickpockets will use the close proximity to grab any valuables that are in easy reach. The key is obviously to make sure that none of them are.

The 'frail old lady'

In this trick, an elderly lady might ask you to help her cross a street, or up the stairs. Only the coldest-hearted person could refuse, but some people have found themselves minus a watch, or with their pockets emptied, after obliging, sometimes by an accomplice, who took advantage of the victim's attention being elsewhere.

We aren't suggesting that everyone who asks for help is out to rob you, or that you should leave them to fend for themselves, but it's another reminder to keep track of your valuables at all times.

The escalator trick

Crowds on escalators and stairs – particularly to Paris' Metro stations – provide ample opportunity for thieves, as it's a confined space with everyone going in the same direction. A common trick is for someone near the front to drop something, usually just as they get off the escalator, causing confusion and holding everyone else up as they slowly retrieve the object. Meanwhile, an accomplice standing further back helps themselves to other people's valuables, which are now in easy reach.

The 'terrace table trick'

This trick targets people who have left their valuables on a table – especially mobile phones and tablets. A passer-by will approach and ask if you can direct them somewhere, placing a map on the table and covering up your phone. Or they could just shove any kind of paper in between you and the phone you have left on the table. While you are trying to work what they are asking you, another hand is swiping your phone. This technique is also used when thieves see that you have paid your restaurant bill in cash and it's on the table in front of you.

The dawn raider


Police arrest a man who allegedly robbed a sleepy passenger. Photo: AFP

Some groups of thieves target the Paris Metro in the early hours of the morning. Their prey is not the unwitting tourist, but the sleepy commuter who is too exhausted to notice the nimble fingers finding their way into their pockets or bags or those who've been out drinking all night and are sleeping it off on the first Metro of the day.

The false thief

This is one to be particularly vigilant for. One member of the group will yell “Thief!” or loudly shout that their wallet's been stolen. Your instinctive reaction would probably be to pat down your pockets to check that you haven't also been robbed. You'll be relieved to discover everything's still in place – but probably not for long, as the real thief has just been alerted to the location of your valuables. Another tactic of thieves is to loiter around signs warning of pickpockets, which are on display in many of Paris' public areas. Travellers passing these signs often have the same reaction of patting down pockets.

Fight or even firecrackers

Efforts to distract potential victims are getting more elaborate and more scary. While groups of children have been known to have fake fights to cause a commotion and divert attention, one gang of thieves recently threw firecrackers onto a Metro train. It scared the life out of passengers, while thieves tried to take advantage of their shock.

(Police in Paris arrest a group of suspected thieves. Photo: AFP)

So how to avoid these scams?

You'll have noticed that distraction is key to most of these tricks, as well as preying on people being good-natured enough to stop and speak to or help strangers. Keep valuables out of sight at all times –  preferably divided among a few inside pockets of jackets and bags. If someone stops to talk to you, particularly if they seem to be part of a group, don't feel bad about ignoring them and carrying on walking.

The groups are known to prey on tourists and, while you shouldn't spoil your time in Paris by steering clear of tourist hotspots, it might be a good idea to try to blend in with the locals a little bit (make sure you've looked up directions before you leave your hotel so you don't look lost, and avoid any clothing that seems to scream 'tourist'). And don't be afraid to say 'no' if someone asks if you speak English – this is often just a way of singling out gullible Anglo victims.

Finally, remember that professional pickpocketers will go out of their way not to look like criminals. The children in the Disneyland ring reportedly wore Disney merchandise including Mickey Mouse ears to blend in with tourists. Anyone – particularly anyone who finds a reason to get close to you – could be a thief.

 

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TRAVEL

6 European cities less than seven hours from France by train

Looking to travel outside of France this summer, but want to avoid flying? Take advantage of France's excellent high-speed train network to explore Europe.

6 European cities less than seven hours from France by train

Train travel has all sorts of advantages – it’s better for the environment and journeys usually end in the centre of the city you want to visit, rather than in an airport several kilometres away.

The journey time is of course longer, but this isn’t always a bad thing – take some time to relax, drink in the view (and some decent wine that you can bring on board with you – no 100ml liquid limit on trains), enjoy a good book or binge on a box set and the journey becomes part of your holiday.

Here’s our pick of the European cities that have direct train links from France, with all journeys coming in at under seven hours. We’ve provided a price guide, but obviously prices change depending on when you travel and when you book.

Paris to Munich

There are typically at least 10 direct trains taking the 684 km trip from Paris to Munich each day. On average, the journey takes about seven and a half hours, but the fastest version of the journey can be as little as five hours and 45 minutes. 

How much? Prices depend on the season and time of day, but the average ticket cost is €105. 

Are other transportation options more affordable? By plane, Google Flights says that the average cost is between €55 to €150. In contrast, however, the flight time is about an hour and a half. If you were to drive, it would take eight hours and 48 minutes. At the time of writing, this trip would cost between €135 to €165 euro for fuel.

Screenshot from Google Maps of a journey from Paris, France to Munich, Germany

Paris to Turin/Milan

On a typical day, nine trains run from Paris to Milan – going through Turin on the way for an alternative Italian destination. Though the average route time is seven hours and 51 minutes, the fastest train can get you to mainland Europe’s second fashion capital in just six hours and 54 minutes.

The latter part of the route – up through the Alps passing beautiful villages and snow-capped peaks – is also particularly scenic.

How much: The average cost for a train ticket is €92, though a ticket can reportedly cost as little as €19 if you book in advance.  

Flights cost between €60 and €150, with a flight time of about an hour and a half. For other transportation options, you could consider taking a bus. This journey would be around 12 hours, and an average bus ticket would cost approximately €52. 

By car, the journey would be closer to nine hours, and the average cost of fuel would come out to between €151 to €185.

A screenshot of google maps for a journey from Paris to Milan

Paris/Lyon/Marseille to Barcelona

There are multiple French cities with a direct rail link to Barcelona. If you leave from Paris, the fastest journey can take as little as six hours and 44 minutes, and the average cost is €238.

From Marseille, it would take four hours and 32 minutes, and the average cost is €115.

If you leave from Lyon, the fastest travel time is five hours and five minutes.

This is another journey that offers great views of southern France and the Pyrenees.

How much: Rail Europe says that these tickets, when bought 30 days in advance, will cost around €104, in contrast to €88 (usually) if booked 7 days in advance.

If you are trying to get from Paris to Barcelona and you want to avoid train travel, the most affordable option you can do is fly from the budget airport (Beauvais). The least expensive flights from Paris to Barcelona are typically between €50 to €155. 

On average, a bus ride from Paris to Barcelona would be about 14 hours and 15 minutes, with average tickets costing around €80. If you want to take a road trip and drive yourself, you would likely pay approximately €176 to €216 (depending on the car you drive). 

If you are looking to go elsewhere in Spain, and you’re willing to travel a bit longer by train, the journey from Paris to Madrid is about nine hours and 38 minutes.

Screenshot of Google Maps from Paris to Barcelona

Lille/Paris to Amsterdam

Heading from France to the Netherlands is pretty easy. You can leave from Lille (average fastest time being two hours and 45 minutes) or you can leave from Paris (average fastest time also being three hours and 19 minutes). If you’re coming to/from the UK both the Paris and Lille trains give the option of a connection to the Eurostar.

How much: If you take the train from Lille, the cost is on average €107. Whereas, the cost from Paris is €144. 

To fly to Amsterdam from Paris, the least expensive flights usually fall between €85 to €125. Taking a bus to Amsterdam is quite affordable with average prices being at €47. The time to travel by bus from Paris to Amsterdam six hours and 25 minutes. From Lille, the bus time is shorter and also less expensive: travel time is about three hours and 26 minutes, and the average ticket costs €17.

Driving from Paris to Amsterdam is about €92 to €113 in fuel costs, and the travel time is about five hours and 46 minutes.

A screenshot from Google Maps showing the journey from Paris to Amsterdam

Paris to Frankfurt

The shortest train trip from Paris to Frankfurt is three hours and 38 minutes, with the average trip taking about four hours and 20 minutes. There are about 15 trains that make this journey per day.

How much: The average cost for this journey is €40, which usually stays the same if you book with a week of advanced notice, according to Rail Europe’s website.

If you would prefer to fly, the average cost for the ‘least expensive flights’ fall between €115 and €315, with a flight time of about an hour and 15 minutes. If you take the bus, on the other hand, the travel time is seven hours and 45 min, with the average ticket costing around €44.

Driving from Paris to Frankfurt takes a little over six hours, and in terms of fuel it costs typically between €80 and €98. 

A screenshot of the journey from Paris to Frankfurt from Google Maps

And if you want to plan ahead for next year, there will soon be a new sleeper train from Paris to Berlin, as well as from Paris to Vienna!

READ MORE: Paris-Berlin high-speed train ‘possible next year’

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