17 Most Common Tourist Scams in France

Paris, Nice, Lyon, Bordeaux, Cannes, Lourdes, Bayeux, Marseille, Lille, Monaco

France Paris Eiffel Tower

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For over twenty years, France has been the #1 most visited country in the world!

In this gem of a country, we have the most romantic city in the world, Atlantic beaches, modern winter resorts on the French Alps and medieval castles of Normandy and the likes. Coupled with world class gastronomy, fashion and culture, it is little wonder why France is one of the most loved countries in the world.

However, such unrivalled numbers of tourists have since engendered numerous opportunities for shrewd scammers to thrive.  Check out this list of 17 travel scams to protect yourself and have the best holiday you deserve in this marvel of a country.

 

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. The Gold Ring Trick

A very old and common trick in and around France, especially Paris.

A gypsy will coincidentally find a gold ring on the floor, point at the “18k” hallmark on the ring and offer it to you. Trust me, there ARE people who take it. It can be very convincing. It goes something like this:

Scammer: “Sir, did you drop this ring?”
You: “No, I did not”
Scammer: “Well, you can give it to your wife, why not? It will make her happy. They might also insist that their religion (or some cock and bull reason) prevents them from keeping the ring.

If you accept, the gypsy will demand your money in return. He will simply say:

Scammer: “Sir, I am hungry, could you give me some money/change for a croissant?”

When you give, they will ask for more. Most people tend to give as they have accepted/taken something from the scammer. Reciprocity is a very powerful thing.

Sometimes, the scammer might walk away and reappear 5 minutes later to demand your money. Whatever it is, they will stop at nothing to get money from you.

The most scheming ones will have an accomplice pickpocket you while you are protesting. So don’t even engage them. If it is not yours, don’t’ take it. Keep a lookout for suspicious people and gold stuff on the ground! It is mere useless polished brass.

 

2. Louvre Pickpockets

Mona lisa Louvre

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I know, we are all here to see Mona Lisa and that’s the area where pickpockets operate. There are usually huge masses of people at the cordoned off area trying to snap pictures of the painting. It is squeezy and most people are unaware of their surroundings, the perfect scenario for pickpockets.

Reports have found that in one day in July alone, 56 stolen wallets were found in the museum! And the thing was that these were just the discovered ones, imagine how many more went undiscovered..

Do be careful outside the Louvre as well! Queues are snakingly long and this presents a great opportunity for pickpockets too.

Stay alert and secure your valuables in hidden or hard to reach areas.

 

3. The String/Bracelet Scam

Very common in France (especially the sacre Coeur/Montmartre area, Seine River, Louvre, Gare du Nord) and around Europe as well. They can even be found on metro lines leading to the Montmartre area! They are easy to spot as they carry long, colored string, yarn or other items.

What they do (normally Africans) is they will ask if you want a “friendship bracelet” or “friendship ring”. If you say yes, they will tie it so tight around your wrist or finger that makes it impossible to remove. They will then demand money from you. The more ruthless ones will gather some of his accomplices, bring you to the nearest ATM and threaten you to withdraw everything inside.

Another variation is that these scammers will first engage you in a conversation. They might then ask if you want to see a magic trick and before you know it, they would have skilfully tied a band around your wrist or fingers.

They will justify it by saying it is from the church, a gift, or a local Paris souvenir and then demand €20. Refuse to pay and you find them sticking to you like cockroaches and bugging you every second. Some of them will even try to intimidate you. Most tourist just suck it up and pay to get rid of them.

More creative scammers will approach couples and offer the woman for free. Should the woman accept, another will pop out to offer the man. Since it is assumed to be free, the man tends to accept. But once you do, good luck as they will begin hounding you for payment.

The most ruthless ones will tie the friendship band and while distracting you, an accomplice will appear from the shadows to pickpocket your stuff.

This is so common and yet many still fall for the scam. What to do when they approach is to say no and keep walking away. Do NOT stop as a moment of hesitation is all they need to tie the string on your hand. However, be careful of walking yourself into a corner. If you are alert and have spotted them from a distance. Keep your hands well hidden in your jacket or somewhere.

What I did was that I shouted no and some vulgarities when I was approached. This gave me a real kick haha but on hindsight is a very stupid thing to do. There is no need to offend them as they would surely have more accomplices in the area and it is not possible to outfight a bunch of them.

I have also observed that they tend to target females travelling alone so please be extra careful if you are.

 

4. The Rose Scam

flower scam

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A pretty stupid scam, but people do still fall for it.

It is very simple, a scammer offers you a rose as a token of friendship in the city of love. When you accept it, payment will be demanded. Even if you return the rose, you will be constantly hounded till it would be better to pay the scammer off.

Another version is where the scammer targets couples, by offering the girl the rose and asking the guy to pay.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Unscrupulous Taxi Drivers

France taxi

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There are unscrupulous drivers who purposely take a longer route. There are also those who do not have a meter.

Firstly, to protect yourself, at least have an idea of which direction/route you should be on. That’s the least you can do, else you put yourself vulnerable to such unscrupulous people.

Next, do NOT take any taxi without a meter – those are not taxis.

There are those at the Charles de Gaulle Airport as well who are extremely aggressive. They will probably demand €20-30 more than legit taxis.

 

2. Helpful People (at Metros)

This is one of the most difficult scams to prevent/protect yourself from. There are also so many variations and you just have to be alert. Below is a scenarios at metro stations.

Do NOT let someone help you buy your metro pass. There are people who dress like train officials which makes it more difficult to spot. Commonly, they are observed to work in groups of 3-4 so as to pressure you.

Unknowing to you, the “official” buys child fare and exchange for adult fare from you. If you are really unlucky, you might be caught by the real train official and made to pay an obscene amount of fine.

Another variation is that these scammers standing around the metro station would have already bought metro tickets and would try selling them to you if you have not already bought them. These tickets which they peddle are likely used and useless.

By the way, the metro machines do not take notes, credit cards and debit cards, so that’s a huge warning sign should they ask for those from you.

 

C. MISC

1. “Charities” and Beggars

paris beggar

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Normally perpetrated by gypsies, Africans or small girls, they will appeal to your emotion and seek money for accident victims, orphanages, or simply their personal woes. When you are distracted, their accomplices spring into action to pickpocket you.

Some beggars also have motionless pets lying next to them so as to enhance the “pitiful” sight and make you sympathise with them. Note that these pets are drugged.

Best action is to ignore them as most of them work in packs. Give in to one or engage one and you might find yourself pickpocketed by their accomplices unknowingly.

The smarter beggars “hunt” for their prey at restaurants. They are equipped with a piece of paper detailing their sad story and their plea for some donations, and they stuff it in your face so that you cannot see what is below. Then that’s it, whatever valuables you have on the table will be gone.

These beggars tend to loiter around the restaurant to observe the situation before moving in for the “kill”, so do keep your valuables secure with you. Never leave it on the table or in plain sight.

 

2. Lost Soul Scam

A bunch of people carrying a large map walks up to you and ask you for help. If you are like most people, you would have said yes, since you most probably have been in that situation before. While you are checking out the map and/or pointing directions to them, your wallet would have been gone by then.

This can easily happen in restaurants/cafes/picnics as well, where the scammers lay out the map over your valuables and take them with the map when they go.

Of course, there are genuine people who ask for help but to be safe, ignore.

 

3. Magic Tricks or Gambling

There is no free lunch in the world and such gambling games are meant to tap on the greed of tourists.

One such game is betting if one of three cups contain a pea or a ball, which is quite common at the Champs-de-Mars park behind Eiffel Tower. The set-up is that someone would have betted a lot to entice you to join. It becomes more enticing when you see him winning double the amount!

This guy is obviously one of their accomplices. The people surrounding watching the game are also accomplices!

When you get in on the game, they will try to distract you so that the pea can be removed when you are not aware. You might win initially, but is meant to tempt you into betting bigger amounts!

Another version is where you see this stupid guy who keeps losing money even though it’s painfully obvious where the ball or pea is. This makes it tempting for you to step forward to play the game. You might win at first, but suddenly, the scammer would move the cups at such an impossibly fast speed that you would eventually lose your money.

Do not be a spectator too, as you leave yourself open to pickpocketing since your attention is fully on the game.

 

4. Clumsy Jogger/Person

Beware! They will knock into you, bump into you and in the next second, you find that something has gone missing from your pocket or backpack! By then, the jogger would have sprinted off already.

It could be a jogger, someone in the crowded market or even a passenger on the train. Another variation is the stain routine, where the scammer stains your shirt and apologize profusely. At that moment, the accomplice springs into action..

 

5. Petitions

Normally out in full force at the Eiffel Tower, this scam is perpetuated by young girls working in groups. It usually starts with an innocent question: “do you speak English”?

There are a few variations of this scam. Firstly, someone will try to hold your attention as they get you to understand the petition and to sign it. Next moment, your wallet is gone. It could be done stealthily, or a bunch of people could simply mob you.

Ignore them. If they get aggressive, shout at them and push them away. Another trick to try is to simply say that you know their scam.

Another scam would be young girls approaching you to sign a petition to help save the world/help the deaf/the mute etc. They might pretend to be deaf/mute themselves. A clipboard is shoved in your face, and you see several signatures and some French words.

These words basically mean that if you sign it, you have to give 1,000 euros or something bad will happen. If you don’t pay, suddenly more kids will appear out of nowhere to pressure you to pay. In the midst of distraction, pickpocketing your wallet is as easy as ABC.

Finally, be wary of the creative ones who place the clipboard on your table (assuming you are at a restaurant/cafe). When you chase them away, you will suddenly realise that the phone, camera or wallet which lay under the clipboard has disappeared.

Never sign anything you don’t understand, no matter how credible it looks or how helpful a person seems.

 

6. Did You Drop Something?

Have observed this at Sacre Coeur and believe this scam to be pretty common around the world. So what happens is that you will hear something drop nearby. Suddenly, someone would ask if you have dropped something. The aim is to distract you from your wallet so that it can be easily pickpocketed. This becomes even easier should you bend over to check.

Another variation is that of asking if you have dropped your wallet. Natural reflex action means that you would check your pocket for your wallet, and this reveals the location of your wallet to the scammer.

 

7. Child Pickpockets

paris child pickpocket

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There are reports that 75% of pickpockets on the Paris Metro are by an organised gang using girls from 12-16. These girls are trained in theft and to tell police that they are 12 years old when caught.

This is because criminal prosecution is difficult for this age. It has been reported that these girls are given a target of at least 300 euros a day, or they would be punished with beatings, attacked by knives and cigarettes and might even be subjected to rape.

The face of scammers is ever changing so instead of being wary of certain groups of people, just aim to be alert especially in crowded spaces. Secure your valuables in a hidden or hard to reach area and use your hands and body movement to deter potential pickpockets.

 

8. Street Vendors

paris street vendor

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It can be any item, as long as street vendors are the ones selling it. What they do is to let you try out whatever items (e.g. bracelets) they have. Before you have time to say no, they will demand quick payment.

Some of the more irritating ones will keep pestering you. For instance, if you have bought something, they will hound you to buy more. If you have more, they will cry after you with offers of lower prices.

These vendors don’t talk logic, so if you are not prepared to pay for any item, do not even ask to try them. Simply put on a grumpy face and DON’T look interested.

 

9. ATM Machines

atm scam

It is essential to be aware of this scam, as it can be especially painful.

One situation is where the scammer stands real close behind you to see your PIN number. Once he knows your PIN number, he swipes your card.

Another situation is where your card is eaten up by the ATM machine. Coincidentally, the bank is closed at that time. This is because there are criminal gangs who use a device that memorises PIN numbers and prevent your ATM card from being ejected. They then download the PIN number and withdraw cash from your account.

So what you should do is besides shielding your PIN and watching out for anybody behind you, only use your ATM during business hours if possible. Also examine ATM machines for any unusually devices, though it is not an easy task. Also, keep a list of 24 hour hotline for your credit cards so that you can enquire and/or cancel your card at any time.

Finally, you might meet with a situation where when you are withdrawing money, someone taps you to ask an innocent question in a language you do not understand. As you are distracted, the scammer will walk closer to you and grab the money when it comes out from the ATM and run off. The more brazen ones will simply grab your money and run.

Avoid ATMs in dimly lit areas or where it’s more secluded and not easy to get help.

 

10. Unethical Cafes and Restaurants

france paris cafe

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This happens around the world, not just in France.

For instance, a café might serve you larger and more expensive drinks if you do not specify the size you want. Restaurants might also serve you an inflated bill.

Always be specific and always check.

 

11. Sleeping Thieves

These sleeping thieves are extremely dangerous as you tend to let your guard down against them. They are simply observing your movement and waiting for the perfect time to strike.

Watch out for them especially on the metro or in restaurants. To keep your belongings safe, consider locking your backpack, placing it down while on the train or simply spreading your valuables around in secure areas.

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11 Comments

  1. These worked for me:
    1. When they asked if I dropped the gold ring I said yes and reached for it. They pulled it back and left.
    2. When I say a block away that women were pressing sprigs of herbs in tourists hands and demanding money, I pulled a branch off a bush. When they came to me I said “Oh good you want to trade and pushed my branch at them. They did not know what to do.

    Reply
  2. I say names of random Canadian towns in an aggressive native accent so they have no idea what language I speak.

    “Did you drop this ring?”
    “MOOSEJAW SASKATOON EDMONTON MONCTON!”
    “Sir did you drop this..”
    “BROCKETT, MOOSEJAW, DUNMORE, YELLOWKNIFE, MOOSEJAW!!”

    Reply
    • hahaha! easy way of getting out of trouble 🙂

      Reply
  3. Two weeks ago we returned from Paris and i can confirm that the above scams were fully operating on the Champs Elysees and on and around the Eiffel Tower.
    We arrived in Paris on the Eurostar- a journey i have taken many times. My son and I walked to the taxi rank and waited in the queue.
    The taxi rank supervisor indicated to us which taxi to board and out of nowhere, 2 or 3 men appeared and took our luggage without my consent and started to load up the taxi.
    The car had “taxi parisien” signage on the roof of the car.

    I do speak French so when i asked them to stop, the luggage was already locked into the “taxi” and the men asked for “service”. Before i could speak, the “taxi driver” told them to go away and then the doors locked. It was distraction.
    i realised then that we were not in a Taxi Parisien and the driver asked where we were going and after i gave him the address- he said the cost was EURO 85. There was no meter.
    The fare for this journey in a Taxi Parisien would have cost 15-20 Euro at the most.
    Not wanting to alarm my young son, i stayed calm and prayed that he would take us to our hotel and not some remote part of Paris where we would be robbed or worse.
    I paid the “taxi driver” .

    I often wonder if the taxi rank supervisor was part of the scam.

    Reply
    • Oh my, that’s one elaborate scam not easy to get out of in the heat of the moment, particularly even more so as scammers selectively target their victims (in this case you had a young child). Thanks for sharing Opera! Am sure this will help many other readers. Hope the rest of the trip was great for you! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Any of these are new? nope. In Rome I saw the train ticket scam in operation. Carabinieri were 5 meters away. I’m not saying there is complicity, but certainly there is some level of tolerance that is peculiar

    Reply
  5. Nothing will be done. The Roma’s /gypsies have destroyed paris/nice and the mouton populace seem to enjoy it as the govt appears apathetic and not do anything. Boycott until the Romas/gypsies are gone.

    Reply
  6. I’ve been to Paris twice, most recently last weekend (10/28-30/16). Most of the scams you listed were going at full force at the Eiffel Tower – Street Vendors, String Bracelets, Cup and Ball, Petitions and likely some of the others I didn’t see. One not on your list was the beer/wine/champagne vendors that surrounded the areas outside of the secured area below the Eiffel Tower. At Gard du Nord train station we also were swarmed by the illegal taxis drivers upon arrival and by a very aggressive begging gypsy when we returned. Much of this was done with no apparent concern by the Police who were usually quite close by to where all this was happening and where they could clearly see what was going on. I hate to say it, but if I never return to Paris or France in general that will be just fine.

    Reply
  7. oh my …at the end of the day i was so pissed that those street vendors became so anoing that i took what they offered to me for free without payment! Just dont look like your intrested, of just tell em to fuck off! They just leave u alone the next time, trust me, These gypsys/scammers are such a pain! Police wont do anything about it!
    In such a beautiful city i expect to be not bothered! I dont think i eill be goong to paris anytime soon!

    Reply
  8. Decided to walk from the Eiffel Tower to a nice cafe we enjoy. Being late afternoon the wide gravel path between the Sein and Quai Branly was mostly deserted except for an elderly Roma woman who approached us and “found” one of those ubiquitous rings people seem to be losing all over Paris.
    I have been aware of this scam for a long time, but have never had anyone attempt it on me before. I couldn’t help myself, but as soon as she picked it up and held it out to us I burst out laughing! We just kept on walking and the woman left us alone.

    Reply
  9. Just got back from paris, i can also confirm these scams are still happening. I did no research on local scams before we left. we experienced the following scams.
    1. Train ticket scam.
    After landing we went to the train station at the airport, we were unsure of which ticket to buy when a man came to help us. He showed us which ticket we needed and asked if we had a travel payment card, we said no, so he put his card in the machine and produced 2 tickets for us. I was already suspicious of him and his slight of hand with the tickets was not quick enough. Not sure why but my reaction was to laugh. He calmly walked away no argument.

    2. Charity Signature scam.
    A woman asked us if we speak english, then asked us to sign a petition, i said no and she laid the guilt on thick, so much so i felt bad. I only stopped feeling bad after googling it and finding out it was a scam.

    3.Tight bracelet scam
    Guy approached us with his hands outstretched holding a noose looking bracelet, i had heard of this scam before so said no in my most french accent.

    4. Ball and cup gambling.
    Saw a few big winners who were obviously in on it, and one girl crying her eyes out because she lost. No idea how much but she was sobbing her heart out.

    5. Trinket seller
    After beating my fear of heights at the eiffel tower i was feeling good so decided to buy a memento outside, big mistake. Getting my change out of the trinket guy was an ordeal. My wife and i both had to shout at him to get my change.

    6. Airport hotel scam.
    At the airport i was litteraly about to go through security when a guy appeared claiming his flight was delayed and he had been mugged, he wanted money for a hotel stay. He was doing this right in front of airport staff who, as far as i know, did nothing.

    Still we loved paris, one of the best holidays we have ever taken, amazing scenery but very expensive, 7.50e for a beer!

    Reply

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