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Paris Olympics: 14 tips to avoid pickpockets and scammers

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Oliver Gee - [email protected]
Paris Olympics: 14 tips to avoid pickpockets and scammers
All photos: AFP

Pickpocketing is an age-old problem in Paris while there are also plenty of scammers waiting to take advantage of unwary visitors. So if you're visiting during the Games, here are some tips to avoid losing your money.

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The French capital is expecting 10 million visitors during the Paris Olympics and Paralympics this summer - and unfortunately among those waiting to greet them will be pickpockets, thieves and scammers.

There will be an enhanced police presence in the capital and at Games venues, but some thieves will likely still try their luck.

While Paris is, by the standards of big urban areas, a relatively safe city there has long been a problem with pickpockets and thieves, who especially target visitors in busy tourist areas and on the Metro.

But it's important not to be fearful. It's rare for people to be physically hurt and anyone who is a victim of a theft is advised not to chase and try to recover items but go straight to the police station (Commissariat).

READ MORE: What to do if you're the victim of a crime in France

The worst that normally happens is that you'll be left with the annoying task of having to cancel bank cards or change email and personal banking passwords.

But there are simple things you can do to avoid the thieves.

Empty your wallet

There's no reason to have too much cash in your wallet. There are ATMs all over the place and it is always easy to get more cash or just leave some in your hotel safe, if you are staying in a hotel.

Remember you can pay by card pretty much anywhere in Paris and around France.

And you don't need more than one bank card in there either, so consider leaving the extras in your room.

Watch your personal belongings in the bars

Many pubs and bars in the French capital, particularly those in touristy or trendy areas, attract thieves. Don't leave your bag on the back of your chair or anything valuable in the pockets of your coat. The same goes for leaving your phone out on the table or bar.

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Staff at pubs will warn you about all this or they will have notices advising customers. Take their advice.

If you pop outside for cigarette or go to the toilet then take your bag with you.

READ MORE: The 14 scams that tourists in Paris should look out for

Don't use your phone next to the Metro door

If you are riding the Paris Metro, avoid having your phone or wallet out while seated next to the door. 

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It is easy for thieves to simply grab your items and walk off the Metro with them. This trick happens quickly, leaving many tourists (and locals) unable to react. By the time you realise what has happened, the Metro doors will have closed, with the Metro car already rumbling away.

Don’t flash the cash

If you do happen to find yourself with a wallet full of cash (lucky you), then don't show it off. If you're making a purchase, be discreet, and don't let it be known that the wallet is full. You're attracting all the wrong kind of attention.

Don’t wear your best jewellery

Yes, Paris is glitzy and glamorous, but that doesn't mean you should be wearing a diamond necklace while strolling around Montmartre. Save the bling for your evening at the Ritz, or even better, leave it at home. There's no quicker way to ruin a trip to Paris than having your diamonds stolen, as happened to Kim Kardashian in 2016.

While there have been snatch robberies of tourists after shopping at expensive boutiques, this type of incident is very rare. After making an expensive purchase, try to stay aware of your surroundings.

Only use bags that zip up 

Pickpockets love to see an open bag, especially if it's slung over the back shoulder of a woman in a crowded area. Don't let them get away with it! Use a bag that zips up and carry it over your shoulder at the front. 

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Cover your PIN code

When getting cash out, cover your hand as you're putting in your PIN code. And it should go without saying, but pick a secure-looking ATM in a safe-looking area. Don't get cash out alone in a dark street. 

Don’t talk to people at ATMs

It's a fairly common scam in Paris. People, especially minors, will approach you while you're getting cash out. They typically do it right after you've entered your PIN code. Then, one or even two will distract you, perhaps with a piece of paper to block your view while the other enters the largest amount possible and nabs the cash.

It might sound impossible, but the scammers who use this technique are very, very good at it. You might not even notice.

Keep wallets in front pockets

If you like to keep your wallet in your back pocket, then get out of the habit in Paris. Thieves will press up against you in crowded places and you won't even notice that the wallet has been lifted. 

Be on guard on in tourist areas and large train stations

Metro stations near the Eiffel Tower (Trocadero) or the Champs Elysées are common sports for pickpocketing. Similarly, you should exercise caution when going through large train stations, such as Gare du Nord and Châtelet-les-Halles.

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Don’t allow yourself to get distracted

Another common scam in Paris is for a pair of thieves to approach you while asking for your help. Maybe they'll spill something on you, or ask for directions on a big map, or ask you to sign something. In all the confusion, one of them will be digging through your pockets. Learn to politely say "non merci" and move on. 

Distraction methods can get even more extreme. They can include groups of youths having screaming matches, fainting spells, and fake fights. They will do whatever it needs to get your undivided attention.

So be aware for potential fake distractions. Again if they are going to happen it will most likely be on the Metro or at one of the tourist sites.

Don’t draw attention to yourself

This might sound obvious, but you'd be surprised. Try to avoid the big "I LOVE PARIS" T-shirt and beret; use Google Maps discreetly when navigating; use your inside voice when on public transport. Be subtle, try to blend in with the locals.

Don’t take the ring

This one is very specific, but it's good to know. There's a common scam in Paris, usually around the Seine River, where a scam artist will approach you and pretend they just found a gold ring on the ground. They will pretend they don't want it, and try and sell it to you really cheaply. That ring is not gold. Don't buy it. Just say "non merci" and move on. 

Don’t take the string bracelet

Lastly, don't take the string bracelet that the guys try to give you in Montmartre, especially at the Sacre Coeur cathedral. They'll try and put the string bracelet on you before you've said you don't want it. Heck, they might even call it a friendship bracelet. But when they're done tying it up, they'll ask you for money. And good luck refusing, that bracelet is tied very tightly and you're unlikely to get it off without a knife or scissors.

What to do instead? You guessed it. Say "non merci" and move on. 

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Anonymous 2021/08/27 18:45
Anyone who tries to help you at an ATM or even a ticket kiosk at the train station is trying to scam you. They will smile and seem nice, but don’t believe it. Stop your transaction and walk away.
Anonymous 2020/01/14 03:31
One guy near gare montparnesse metro spinned around my cross body bag and unzipped it on the escalators. I screamed "voleur!!!!!!!". Nobody gave a shit. He just walked on, circled me twice and disappeared. The audacity! He took nothing but my snot tissues
Anonymous 2019/10/23 23:08
also the people who walk up to you and ask, "do you speak English?" - either with or without a clipboard (to act like they're taking a survey) - another non merci moment =)
Anonymous 2019/10/23 13:32
You should not carry a wallet in any pants pocket--put things in a neck wallet or money belt. Anything else is folly.

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