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ECONOMY

Warning: 6 of the most common scams in France to watch out for

From computer hacking to phone calls, a new report reveals that scams and frauds are unfortunately on the rise in France and the criminals are getting more sophisticated - here are some of the most common frauds to be aware of.

Warning: 6 of the most common scams in France to watch out for
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

France’s fraud and financial crime watchdog, Tracfin, has published its annual report, indicating that fraudulent activity has become both more frequent and more evolved in the last year.

The report highlighted the most significant forms of fraud tracked by the watchdog. In particular, it found that CPF (Compte Personnel de Formation) scams represented a significant proportion of the fraudulent activity registered this year. 

These are the scams the report highlighted:

The CPF scam: The Compte Personnel de Formation is available to all employees in France. Essentially, they are given access to money each year for free professional training (€800 for unskilled workers, €500 for full-time, skilled workers).

This is a real, government-backed scheme with a genuine website and app – it’s particularly useful for foreigners in France because the money can be used for French classes. Here’s how it works.

Unfortunately, however, the name is frequently used by scammers and Tracfin director Guillaume Valette-Valla warned that these scams have become more professional, often now involving transnational criminal organisations, particularly those located outside the EU, as well as shell companies that exist to siphon off the public money.

A lot of these scams involve SMS messages and phone calls warning people that they would lose their allowance and urging them to sign up to training courses have become increasingly frequent. These messages often contain fraudulent links asking recipients to enter their personal details onto dodgy websites.

The presence of CPF shell companies dramatically increased in 2021, according to the report. Tracfin received 116 reports of suspicion of shell companies, which is a significant increase from the 10 reported in 2020. 

For CPF fraud overall, the scams racked in accounted for over €43.2 million compared to €7.8 million a year earlier.

READ MORE: Beyond the scams: How to use France’s €500 training budget

The carte vitale scam – if you live in France your carte vitale is a vital document, allowing you to access publicly funded healthcare.

An increasingly common scam is sending a text message or email telling a person that their carte vitale is about to expire, and to click on the link and enter their details to keep it active. This is a scam, the carte vitale does not expire. If you need to make any changes to your card or request a new one if you have lost of stolen it, use your online Ameli account or visit your local CPAM office.

Driving scams – summer is the time of year when thousands of people – both locals and tourists – take to the roads for a trip away, and scammers often prey on drivers.

Some scammers operate at service stations, approaching non-French drivers and spinning them a sob story to try and extort money, while others operate insurance scams by pretending that you have damaged their car. There are also sporadic reports of ‘fake cops’ who try to issue on-the-spot cash fines to cars with foreign number plates.

Driving in France: The common scams thieves try on foreign motorists

Postal scams – it’s a very common experience to get a message from La Poste or a parcel courier telling you that you were out when they tried to deliver a package. Usually you will just need to arrange another time or head to the post office, but beware of text messages or emails telling you that there are outstanding charges for a parcel, with a link to enter your card details.

Couriers do not operate like this and if there are any outstanding postage or customs charges, you pay them in person not via a link in an email or SMS.

Ransomware attacks – France also saw a rise in ransomware attacks – particularly those targeting small businesses.

In 2021, the French National Agency for Information Systems Security (ANSSI) handled 203 ransomware attacks, compared to 192 in 2020 and 69 in 2019. This represents an increase of 194 percent increase in incidents handled in two years. These attacks were predominantly (over 52 percent) targeted at very small, small and medium-sized businesses.

Ransomware attacks are on the rise for two reasons: a lack of digital literacy and security, and an increased specialisation and professionalisation of the criminal ecosystem.

Fraud on government schemes: Tracfin also noted a rise in fraudulent declarations for government schemes, particularly those made available as emergency responses to the Covid-19 crisis.

These were mostly represented by misuse of compensation for short-time work, emergency aid for companies, self-employed people and business owners, and state-guaranteed loans.

Looking forward – the report also warned how NFTs (Non-fungible tokens) could constitute an additional fraud and cybersecurity risk for people across the country.

So far, Tracfin has received reports of scams involving NFTs whose value has been artificially increased (“pump and dump”), NFTs copying or plagiarizing original works without having the copyright or simply fake NFTs that disappear once they are downloaded from a fraudulent website. The watchdog also highlighted that NFTs could eventually be used for tax fraud. 

On top of tracking scams within France, Tracfin was also involved in tracking down the assets of Russian oligarchs after sanctions against Moscow went into place following the invasion of Ukraine, estimating that €1.18 billion worth of financial and non-financial assets have been frozen in France since the beginning of the conflict.

If you are contacted by a company and you are not sure if it is genuine, the French government has compiled a ‘blacklist’ of dodgy companies that frequently try and defraud people – you can find it here.

If you think you may have fallen victim to a scam, particularly if you have shared your banking information, the first step is to contact your bank. You can learn more about what to do in this scenario, HERE

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EDUCATION

Fees to class sizes – what you need to know about private schools in France

In many countries, private schools are the preserve of the wealthy elite, but France has a wide network of private schools that are well within the financial reach of ordinary families - James Harrington explains more.

Fees to class sizes - what you need to know about private schools in France

The education system in France has its problems – at the start of the new school year some 4,000 teaching posts were unfilled and the government has launched an ‘emergency plan’ for English language lessons – but there’s no doubting there are wonderful schools and wonderful teachers making every effort to ensure children from aged three to 18 get the education they deserve.

However the country also has a sizeable network of private schools and around 15 percent of French children go to a private school. While some are undoubtedly expensive and elite, others are surprisingly affordable and provide an extra option for parents when deciding on  a school for their children.

Here’s what you need to know; 

Different types

There are two types of private school – sous contrat and hors contrat.

Sous contrat schools, of which there are about 7,500 in France, are part-funded by the state – teachers are paid by the Department of Education, for example – but also charge fees. France’s numerous Catholic schools, or regional language schools are usually sous contrat.

Hors contrat schools – which number about 2,500 – must still meet general education requirements but can choose their teaching methods and have no state funding. Private international schools found in most big cities, such as the American School of Paris, are hors contrat, but still follow mainstream teaching methods.

For comparison, there are around 60,000 state schools in France.

Prices

Yes, there are expensive private schools in France. Sending your child to the exclusive Ecole des Roches Private Boarding School, for example, will set you back more than €12,000 a term – not quite Eton or Winchester-level fees, but still well out of the reach of a large portion of the population. But, like Eton and Winchester, they’re not the norm. 

On average, fees for a day pupil – one who goes home at the end of the school day, rather than one who boards at the school – are in the region of around €2,250 a year. Meals are not included, and are generally charged at a slightly higher daily price than at state schools.

Financial aid, including scholarships, may be available for less well-off families.

READ ALSO French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites

Boarding and hours

A large number of state and private schools offer Monday-Thursday boarding. It is not uncommon for pupils who excel at certain subjects or sports to attend collèges or lycées some distance from home, and board during the week.

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Daily school hours, meanwhile, are broadly similar, with children generally starting their school day at around 8am and finishing soon after 4pm on school days. Collège and lycée pupils also go into school on Wednesday mornings, and some may have classes on a Saturday, too.

Popularity

Smaller class sizes and a reputation for “better” results means that private schools are increasingly popular. The number of French private schools has increased steadily over the last decade, and now 15-20 percent of pupils go to a private establishment of some form. 

On the whole, private schools tend to do better in results league tables – perhaps in part because of the additional investment from parents, but also because class sizes tend to be smaller, which allows for more one-to-one education. Smaller class sizes and more individual attention mean they may also be a better option for children who struggle in big schools.

READ ALSO What kind of school in France is best for my kids?

Qualifications

State schools and sous contrat schools teach to the national curriculum, which leads, in turn, to brevet and baccalaureate qualifications.

In contrast, some hors contrat private schools offer different qualifications, including American High School Diplomas and SATs, British GCSEs and A-Levels, or the international baccalaureate.

Religion

Although many sous contrat schools are Catholic, most readily accept non-Catholic children and are not allowed to indoctrinate the Catholic faith. Hors contrat schools, on the other hand, may include a religious element to their teaching.

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