32 Most Common Tourist Scams in France

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Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

 

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, the French Atlantic coast, modern winter resorts on the French Alps, medieval castles of Normandy and many more!

Coupled with world class gastronomy, fashion and culture, it is little wonder why France is one of the most visited countries in the world and in Europe.

However, such unrivalled numbers of tourists have also attracted a great number of thieves and scams

So read on to learn how to protect yourself in the city of lights!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. The gold ring trick

 

How it works:

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.

In reality it is just polished brass, but 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 prevents them from keeping the ring.

If you accept, the gypsy will demand money in return. She will say:

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

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

Sometimes, the scammer might walk away and reappear 5 minutes later to demand your money. Whatever it is, they will hound you until they get some money.

The most scheming ones will have an accomplice pickpocket you while you are protesting.

 

What to do:

If it is not yours, don’t take it.

 

2. Louvre pickpockets

Mona Lisa painting in Louvre

Mona Lisa painting in Louvre

 

How it works:

I know, we are all here to see Mona Lisa and that’s the area where pickpockets operate.

There are usually large masses of people at the cordoned off area trying to snap pictures of the painting. It is squeezy and most are unaware of their surroundings, the perfect set-up for pickpockets.

Authorities have found that in one day in July alone, 56 stolen wallets were found in the museum! And 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.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Keep your wallet in the front pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch.
  • Store large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

3. Street pickpockets

 

How it works:

Although the French police has made admirable efforts in busting pickpocket gangs over the years, the networks run deep across Europe and the scourge of pickpockets is still alive today.

Hotspots in Paris include (non-exhaustive):

  • Major tourist sites: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Champs-Elysées, The Louvre, Notre Dame, Orsay, Madeleine, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur and Montemarte, L’Opera, Les Halles and the George Pompidou Centre, Château de Versailles
  • Shopping malls: Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, Le Bon Marché
  • Markets: Porte de Clingnancourt flea market
  • Parks (during night time): Bois de Boulogne, and the Bois de Vincennes
  • Others (discussed later): public transportation, restaurants, clubs, hotels

Hotspots in other cities include (non-exhaustive):

  • Nice: Côte d’Azur, Gare Thiers tram station
  • Marseille: northern neighbourhoods (except L’Estaque and Château-Gombert)
  • Strasbourg: Petite France historic district, near and inside the Cathedral

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelry / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround you and then work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another blocks, pushes or distracts you (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes.

In recent times, Asians have been increasingly targeted, as they are deemed easier targets who carry large amounts of cash around, especially at shopping malls.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Keep your wallet in the front pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch.
  • Store large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

4. The string / bracelet scam

 

How it works:

This is a standard scam in Europe (e.g. ItalyGreece) and is common around the Sacre Coeur / Montmartre area, Seine River, Louvre, Gare du Nord, and metro lines leading to the Montmartre area.

They are easy to spot as they carry long, colored string, yarn or other items.

The standard trick:

  • They ask if you want a “friendship bracelet” or “friendship ring”.
  • If you say yes, they tie it so tight around your wrist or finger that it is impossible to remove.
  • Payment will be demanded. If refuse, his accomplices will emerge to bring you to the nearest ATM.

Another variation:

  • The scammers ask if you want to see a magic trick.
  • Quick as lightning, they then tie a band around your wrist or fingers.

A different style:

  • Couples are targeted and they offer a string / bracelet to the woman for free.
  • Should she accept, another will pop out to offer the man, who accepts as well assuming it is free.
  • Payment will now be demanded for both.

More ruthless variation:

  • While one scammer ties and distracts, another steals.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and stay away.

Keep your hands well hidden in your jacket or pockets if you walk past them.

Single female travellers should take extra precaution.

 

5. Ball and cup / shell game / three pea scam

 

How it works:

The ball and cup / shell game / three pea game / trilero scam is everywhere in Europe (e.g. UK, Germany, Italy), and is commonly seen at the Champs-de-Mars park behind Eiffel Tower.

To win, you have to bet which one of three cups contain a pea or a ball, after a scammer switches the cups around a few times. Guess correctly and you double your money.

At the game, you will spot a bunch of people – they are all part of the same gang. One will switch the cups around, one will play the game, three to five will act as the onlookers, and one will be on the lookout.

The trick is that the scammer switching the cups will make it painfully obvious which cup the pea / ball is in when the accomplice plays to make it seem like an easy game.

However, once you are hooked and join the game, they will use a sleight of hand trick to switch the pea / ball without you realizing at the last moment.

Do not be a spectator too, as you leave yourself open to being a pickpocket target by the accomplices.

 

What to do:

Stay away.

 

6. Petition scam

 

How it works:

This scam is perpetuated by young girls working in groups.

You can find them in Paris (area around Eiffel Tower) and in Lyon (Rue de la République, outside Part-Dieu station).

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.

Another variation 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, you have to give 1,000 euros or you will face a penalty.

If you don’t pay, more kids will appear out of nowhere to pressure you to pay. While distracted, you become an easy pickpocket target.

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 realize that any valuables which you have laid out on the table will have disappeared as well.

 

What to do:

Firmly decline and walk away.

 

7. Ticket reuse scam

Louvre Museum

Louvre Museum

 

How it works:

Recent reports have exposed this scam, where entry tickets to renowned attractions are being constantly reused by unlicensed dealers (suspected to be rouge tour agencies in China).

For instance, at the Louvre museum in Paris, what these unlicensed dealers do is to buy the tickets, hand them out to a tour group and then collect them back again after the group is done.

This batch of tickets is then handed over to another tour group, and it is estimated that these tickets can be reused up to 7 times in a day.

This is quite a smart scam but it’s only a matter of time before the authorities clamp down on it.

So if you are to get a ticket from a shady tour operator or an unlicensed seller, there is a good chance in future that your ticket is not going to work.

 

What to do:

First, only engage a licensed, reputable tours and activities operator which you can find via:

 

 

  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operators: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

Next, if you are not engaging a tour operator, do not buy tickets from a street tout / unofficial sellers. Buy only from these sources:

  • Direct from company / official counters.
  • Licensed retailers.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided
  • Day tour platforms like GetYourGuide:

a. Bestselling skip the line tickets:

 

 

b. Value for money city passes:

 

 

 

8. Bar bill scam

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

 

How it works:

When around the Moulin Rouge and Barbès-Rochechouart area, be very careful as a common trick played here can end up costing you a fortune.

You will encounter many street touts standing outside the bars in this area, encouraging you to head in for a quick look.

Sure you do, and after you head in, you order a drink which seems quite affordable at only 5 Euros.

The real fun starts when some bar girls head over to join you, who will chat with and entertain you for about 10-15 minutes.

When it’s time to leave, you ask for the bill. When you see the bill however, you think there must be some kind of a mix-up, because why is my bill showing 200 – 500 Euros???

Well, the bar’s bouncers will come over and assure you “soothingly” that it’s correct, as there is an extra charge is for the girls’ “service fees”.

 

What to do:

One way is to create a ruckus, and in the meantime, contact the police (hotline at end of this article) and / or embassy for help.

If not, pay with a credit card and call your bank right after to dispute the charge.

The best solution is still, to not enter such shady bars.

Instead, find proper bars you can go to by checking with your hotel / hostel staff or with some online research.

Alternatively, you can also consider joining a fun local bar hopping tour – GetYourGuide (day tours platform) offers a couple of options:

a. Cabaret shows:

 

 

b. Bar hopping:

 

 

 

9. Drink spiking

Drinks in France

Drinks at a bar in France

 

How it works:

Just like anywhere around the world, there have been reports of drink spiking in France as well, with Bordeaux in particular a place to be careful at.

 

What to do:

Do not accept any drinks that you have not seen made in front of you, or to leave it unattended.

Canned or bottled drinks are recommended as it is more difficult for someone to put a sedative inside.

 

10. The rose scam

Red rose

Red rose

 

How it works:

A scammer offers you a rose as a token of friendship in the city of love. Should you accept it, payment will be demanded.

Even if you return the rose, you will be hounded.

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

 

What to do:

Never accept anything from a stranger on the streets. Nothing is free.

 

11. Street vendors / touts

Street vendor in Paris. Source: ibtimes.com

 

How it works:

What these touts do, is peddle lousy quality items.

They let you try whatever items (e.g. bracelets) they have but before you have time to decline, they will demand an inflated payment.

In some cases, these vendors are just using this selling gig as a set up.

Should you take your wallet / purse out, an accomplice might snatch it and run away with it.

 

What to do:

Avoid engaging.

 

12. Snatch thefts

 

How it works:

Generally, there are two versions of snatch thefts – strike and run, or distract and grab, in many possible contexts:

  • Bikes / mopeds riding past, with a pillion rider doing the snatch.
  • Snatching from behind you, then running into a getaway car to escape.
  • At restaurants, stealing unattended bags / valuables on the chair or table.
  • Hotels airports, where distracted / tired tourists carry all their valuables out.
  • The beach where tourists are relaxed, or when they head to the water.
  • Nightclubs, where “prostitutes” pretend to proposition tourists by grabbing them but are really trying to steal your valuables.
  • Seats beside a train’s doors where a thief gets out just before the doors close.
  • Stealing of bags on overnight trains / buses.
  • Valuables snatched through a car / bus window.
  • Thefts around ATMs.

An even more creative variation can be seen from the video below:

 

What to do:

When seated / not moving:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Avoid carrying valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.

Other measures:

  • Leave valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

13. Helpful photographer

Photographer in France

Taking a photo in France

 

How it works:

You may be approached while taking selfies or photos of a travel companion or by a harmless looking person who offers to help you take such photos.

In the best case scenario, he will ask to be given some money for the service.

As for the worst case scenario, that may be the last time you see your camera or phone!

 

What to do:

It is better to solicit help than to receive unsolicited help. Get a fellow tourist to help if you need a photo taken.

 

14. Broken camera scam

Honfleur

Honfleur

 

How it works:

Someone may approach and ask for your help in taking a photograph with his / her friends.

Should you try to do so, you will realize that the camera is not working. As you hand the camera back, there will be some “fumbling” and the camera will drop and be “damaged”.

The gang of scammers will then intimidate you and demand compensation for the damaged camera, claiming it was your fault.

 

What to do:

Either refuse to help, or if you realize that the camera is not working, return it to them on a solid surface / in a way that doesn’t allow it to drop, and not into their hands.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Public transportation pickpockets

 

How it works:

Crowded metros are a favourite hunting ground for pickpockets.

Stations to be careful at in Paris include the following:

  • Chatelet
  • Les Halles
  • Barbes Rochechouart
  • Gare du Nord
  • Auber-Opera-Harve Caumartin
  • Charles de Gaulle-Etoile
  • Concorde
  • Strasbourg-Saint Denis
  • Republique
  • Montparnasse
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Bastille
  • Care de l’Est, Nation
  • Gare de Lyon

Operating on public transportation such as metros and trains, there are thieves who pretend to sleep so that you will let your guard down against them.

They are actually observing you and waiting for the perfect time to strike.

Other thieves will wait beside a train’s doors, so as to be able to snatch and escape just before the doors close.

Otherwise, they will execute the standard “surround-distract-snatch-pass” method as described under the street pickpockets scam.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Keep your wallet in the front pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch.
  • Store large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

2. Trojan horse scam

Luggage

Luggage

 

How it works:

This is a recent scam reported on the airport bus to the Paris Beauvais Airport.

A thief hides in a luggage bag which is then deposited in the luggage compartment for long distance travel.

Once the coast is clear, the thief gets out (by attaching a lace to the zip on inside of bag) and begin stealing valuables from surrounding bags.

Once he is satisfied, the thief hides in the luggage bag again but now with his loot.

 

What to do:

There are four key steps to protecting your luggage:

 

3. Fake / unofficial taxi

 

How it works:

You will find unofficial airport taxi touts all over the world (e.g. Mexico, Indonesia).

At the Charles de Gaulle Airport, these touts are extremely aggressive. Should you engage them, be prepared to pay €20-30 more than normal fare.

Besides at the airport, you might find these unofficial taxis on the streets as well.

You do not want to take these, as encountering a rogue driver can be a harrowing experience, such as:

  • Being overcharged
  • Being driven to a secluded location and locked up in the car unless you pay
  • or even being kidnapped!

 

What to do:

At the airport, head for the official taxi counters / pick up zones by following the signs.

In Paris for instance, there are three official taxi companies (G7, Alpha Taxi, Taxi Bleu).

Learn know how to identify a real one:

  • A meter with the displayed price
  • A physical plaque with the license number
  • An insignia on the windshield
  • A lighted display on the roof

You can also consider pre-arranging private transfers through your hotel / hostel or day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (100+ options).

 

 

4. The meter is down / rigged meter

France taxi

Taxis in Paris. Source: autoblog.com

 

How it works:

Then there are also those who do not have a meter and charge an inflated fixed fare.

 

What to do:

We would recommend not taking any cab which refuses to use a meter.

However, knowing a rough price at least gives you the flexibility of taking these cabs without being charged an unreasonable fee.

You can do so via checking:

  • With your hotel / hostel staff.
  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • Taxi booking apps like Taxi G7, Chauffeur Privé, Uber.

Finally, keep your eye on the meter during the trip just to make sure that it has not been tampered with.

 

5. Longhauling taxi drivers

Traffic in Paris

Traffic in Paris

 

How it works:

There are unscrupulous drivers who take a longer route, or drive through areas with heavy traffic to get a higher fare.

 

What to do:

You can find out the best route and how much a trip should cost by checking:

  • With your hotel / hostel staff.
  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • Taxi booking apps like Taxi G7, Chauffeur Privé, Uber.

If you have GPS on your phone, you can use it as well to check if you are heading in the correct direction and not brought on a long route.

 

6. Helpful people at the metros

Miromesnil metro station in Paris

Miromesnil metro station in Paris

 

How it works:

This scam is common around the world (e.g. Morocco, India) and there are many variations:

Variation 1:

  • Scammers dressed like train officials offer to help you buy your train ticket.
  • They usually work in groups of 3-4 so as to pressure you.
  • When these officials help you get a ticket, they actually buy the child ticket but charge you adult fare for it.
  • As they select the French language while using the ticket machine, chances are that you will not be able to see through their trick.
  • If you are unlucky, you might be caught by the real train official and made to pay an exorbitant fine.

Variation 2:

  • Same set-up as variation 1, but this time, should you buy the Paris Visit or a tourist pass, they will claim that it has expired and offer to help you buy a new one.
  • They will choose French on the machine, select the longest duration pass for adults and show you the price.
  • Next, someone will distract you, and another will switch to the shortest duration pass and buy that instead.
  • They then pass you this pass but seek payment for the longest duration pass.

Variation 3:

  • There are scammers who pick up used tickets or use fake tickets and try to sell them to you as if they are still usable.

 

What to do:

Don’t accept unsolicited help from a random stranger.

If you need help, head to the official station or check with another local / tourist who is using the machine as well.

Also, the ticket machines do not take notes, credit cards and debit cards and languages other than French can be selected.

If someone asks you for those so as to help you buy a ticket, that should be a huge red flag.

 

7. Fake traffic police

 

How it works:

If you are driving a rental car, you have to watch out for this when taking routes which tourists use:

  • A9 motorway leading to Spain.
  • A8 motorway around Marseille.
  • A13 motorway between Normandy and Paris.

There are scammers dressed in police uniform posing as traffic police – they operate in unmarked cars but with flashing blue lights mounted on top.

They strike at night when victims are usually tired and it’s difficult to tell if the scammers are fake.

When they target you, they will force you to pull over onto the hard shoulder – this is something real police would never do unless there is an emergency.

They may also get you to stop in designated motorway rest areas, although they will never do that at service stations which likely have CCTVs.

These scammers will first shine a torch directly into your face to disorientate you, and then snatch your car keys and mobile phone to prevent you from immediately raising the alarm.

Next, they search your car and bags, stealing anything they can find, all the while claiming that they are searching for fake ID papers or drugs.

 

What to do:

If you have not obviously broken the law, be very skeptical when a “police officer” stops you.

Three steps you can use to shake them off:

  • Verify badges and identification. Threaten to call the police hotline (end of this article).
  • Never hand over your passport (show only a photocopy), keys and phone.
  • If they want to fine you or check your bags, insist to only do so at a police station (use your GPS to find it) with a lawyer or someone from your embassy.

Also, manage your valuables effectively to make it impossible to steal from you:

 

8. Car break-ins

Car parked in France

 

How it works:

Should you use a rental car, watch out as vehicle theft rates in France is one of the highest in Europe.

If you do not know, professionals only need 10 seconds or fewer to break into your car or boot.

Note that break-ins can happen either in traffic or at parking lots.

Hotspots include:

  • Nice: underground parking beneath old town
  • Normandy: parking lots at Normandy beaches, American cemeteries
  • Provence: streets of Avignon
  • Rennes: Rue Saint Michel, Place Sainte Anne
  • Other cities: Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille

 

What to do:

Ideally, park your car in a paid lot that has security cameras instead of in open car parks.

Also, back your car into the parking lot to make opening the trunk difficult.

Next, do not leave any valuables exposed in the car:

  • Hide small valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch.
  • Large valuables should be in an anti-theft bag with you / locked down in the boot (do this before driving / somewhere else, not when you are at your parking lot).

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Fake one Euro bottled water

Champs Elysees

Champs Elysees

 

How it works:

Next time you are thirsty and are tempted to buy the 1 Euro only water bottles being sold by street touts, think again!

There have been reports of tourists witnessing touts filling up water bottles sourced from rubbish bins with water at a nearby fountain.

This means that whatever you are going to drink is going to be filthier than filth!

 

What to do:

There may be legitimate touts but why take the chance?

If you do, check the seal carefully. Else, please do get your water from proper shops.

 

2. Rental apartment scam

Apartment in Paris

 

How it works:

Although most apartment listings are genuine, it is still easy to fall for a rental apartment scam if you are not careful.

This is because these scam listings are always beautiful apartments at dirt cheap prices which entice tourists’ greed.

Some telltale signs of a scam listing:

  • Prices that are too good to be true.
  • Illogical descriptions because they copy and paste without any edits.
  • Dodgy sounding reviews.
  • Difference in photos provided and pictures seen with Google Street View.
  • Payment only by bank transfer off the booking platform (note: they will use names that includes the original booking platform to make it seem like you are still dealing with the platform).
  • Or payment to a foreign bank account or via Western Union / MoneyGram (sure sign of scam as transfers are irreversible).
  • Owner is overseas, insists on only using English in emails and emails are worded in poor English.
  • If the “owner” refuses to provide more details or to allow for a tour of the place.

 

What to do:

Only book via legitimate accommodation platforms such as:

  • Booking.com: Frommer’s tests have found the site to offer the best selection and rates amongst competing sites most of the time.
  • Homestay: if you are up for gaining genuine insights of France by staying with a local host!

Next, some due diligence to be done on individual listings:

  • Search online reviews and Google the names of the owner.
  • Call the phone number provided on the listing.
  • Grill the “landlord” by asking specific questions, such as room dimensions or something unique as seen in the photos.
  • You can even pretend something exists in the online photos and test if the “landlord” can call your bluff.
  • Search if the property has another online presence or contact number and engage that to see if they are consistent.
  • Test the owner by requesting for a visit from a local friend before booking – it doesn’t have to happen, you just want to test the owner’s receptiveness.

Finally, avoid paying in full upfront or making payment off the platform.

 

3. “Charities” and beggars

Beggar with a dog on the streets of France. Source: aljazeera.com

 

How it works:

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 will spring into action and steal your valuables.

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

The smarter beggars “hunt” for victims at restaurants. They are equipped with a piece of paper detailing their sob story and their plea for some donations.

When they reach your table, they stuff it in your face and swipe any valuables you have laid out on the table.

 

What to do:

If you want to help, only donate to established charities.

Avoid straying into their paths, and avoid flaunting or exposing your valuables unnecessarily.

 

4. Rigged ATM machines / ATM thefts

Signs of a rigged ATM

 

How it works:

Generally, ATMs can be rigged in two ways.

First, the card skimmer and pinhole camera / keypad overlay set up:

  • A card skimmer is installed over the card slot to capture your card details.
  • The pinhole camera / keypad overlay is used to capture your PIN.

Second, the card trap:

  • The card slot can be rigged with cheap tools to trap your card.
  • When your card is stuck, someone will come over and tell you that if you retype your PIN, your card will be unblocked.
  • Obviously, your card will still be stuck, but the scammer will now have seen your PIN.
  • Should you head into the bank / somewhere to seek help, the scammer will unblock your card and escape.

Another situation is when you are withdrawing money:

  • Someone taps you to ask an innocent question in a language you do not understand.
  • As you are distracted, an accomplice will grab the cash when it comes out from the ATM and run off.

 

What to do:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas. Use only at controlled environments such as in banks.

Scan the area for suspicious looking characters and cover your PIN when typing it in.

Also, although not directly relevant, consider using a RFID blocking wallet.

That will prevent your cards’ details from being skimmed by thieves with a mobile RFID reader / scanner.

 

5. Lost soul scam

Versailles

Versailles

 

How it works:

A bunch of people carrying a large map will walk up to you and ask for help.

Should you attempt to help, while you are checking the map and pointing directions to them, the scammer’s accomplices will steal your valuables.

This can easily happen in restaurants / cafes / picnics as well if you had laid out your valuables on the table / ground.

The scammer will simply lay a map over your valuables and take them with the map when they go.

 

What to do:

Avoid flaunting or exposing your valuables unnecessarily.

Conceal them securely in a money belt or hidden pouch and in a sturdy anti-theft bag that is slash resistant, lockable, and difficult to unzip by others.

Keep your bag in front of you.

 

6. Clumsy jogger / person

Jogging in France

Jogging in France. Source: samaa.tv

 

How it works:

They will knock into you, bump into you and next moment, 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.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done in a crowded environment.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, do arm yourself with a money belt or hidden pouch and an anti-theft bag to conceal your valuables securely.

 

7. Did you drop something?

Sacre Coeur Basilica

Sacre Coeur Basilica

 

How it works:

This scam has been reported at Sacre Coeur.

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 so that an accomplice can steal from you without you realizing it.

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.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, keep your wallet secure.

 

8. Child pickpockets

 

How it works:

There are reports that 75% of pickpockets on the Paris Metro actually belong to an organised gang which “recruits” girls from age 12-16.

These girls are trained in the art of pickpocket-ing and to claim that they are 12 years old should they be arrested. 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. Else, they would be punished with beatings, attacked by knives and cigarettes and might even be subjected to rape.

Their modus operandi:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another blocks, pushes or distracts you (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Keep your wallet in the front pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch.
  • Store large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

9. Overcharging cafes and restaurants

Wine cheese and bread at a cafe

Wine, cheese and bread at a cafe

 

How it works:

Some tricks used include:

  • Serving you the largest portions if you did not specify the size initially
  • Adding items you did not order to the bill
  • Using tourist menus, i.e. a menu with higher prices just for tourists
  • Hiding certain details in footnotes and in French

 

What to do:

Do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff on recommended places locals go to eat at.

Otherwise, you can also consider joining a food tour for an authentic, local food experience!

  • GetYourGuide: best day tours platform in Europe – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport. Some popular food tours include:
 

 

  • BonAppetour: join locals over a meal for an authentic food experience!
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operator: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

Before a meal, check the prices to ensure it has been clearly listed. Look out for fine print, especially those in another language.

After a meal, scrutinize the bill carefully. Are there extra items or charges? Are the prices listed correct?

 

10. Spilled liquid / stain scam

Normandy

Normandy

 

How it works:

This is a common scam globally.

A scammer might spill a liquid on you out of nowhere, and then quickly attempt to help you clean up.

He will either try to steal your valuables, or distract you enough to allow his accomplice to steal your valuables.

Sometimes, it may even be just a ruse, claiming that there is a stain when there is none.

 

What to do:

If someone spills something on you or if they point out a stain on your clothes, reject any help and quickly move to a safe spot.

While moving, check that your valuables are still secure with you.

To prevent thieves from ever having a chance of stealing from you, consider these measures:

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

This is not a fear mongering exercise, as most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise some common sense.

However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Information below has been compiled from:

                                                     

1. Violent crime, hazards, hotspots, terrorism, civil unrest

Map of safe and unsafe regions in France. Source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: rare. Watch out for petty crime and scams instead.
  • Hazards: illegal migrant camps in Paris and in the southeast around the France – Italy border.
  • Hotspots: criminal groups concentrated in Marseille, Grenoble, Paris, Lyon.
  • Terrorism: a number of high profile attacks have occurred and future attacks remain likely.
  • Civil unrest: protests, organized strikes and demonstrations can occur.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, travelling alone at night, and don’t look like an easy victim (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

Monitor local media in case of any terrorist threats, and avoid participating in demonstrations.

Two good sources are:

 

2. Medical care

Grenoble Hospital. Source: Wikimedia – Milky

 

How it works:

Medical care standards are high in France.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: zika, chikungunya (in Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy), dengue, leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, and West Nile virus.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, schistosomiasis.
  • Animal borne diseases: rabies, measles.
  • Human borne diseases: HIV.

 

What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads – our review), you can’t afford to travel, as:

  • Emergency health services can cost a bomb.
  • Insurance providers can make complex logistical arrangements to get you the best medical treatment fast.

Vaccinations to consider:

  • All travellers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, rabies (outdoor activities, activities involving animals).

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing.
  • Insect repellents.
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets.
  • Plug-in insecticides.
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass.

Food safety:

  • Practise safe hygiene such as washing hands with soap.
  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, ice cubes, uncooked and undercooked food.

 

3. Natural disasters

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Avalanches: in mountainous regions.
  • Flooding: may happen sometimes without warning.
  • Forest fires: June to August, particularly along the Mediterranean coast and in Corsica.

 

What to do:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) that covers natural disasters.

Check the latest media reportsweather forecasts and sources such as:

Reacting to one:

  • Forest fires: make yourself seen (e.g. spread out something large and bright), find shelter with little vegetation, stay low to avoid smoke.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

In France, the road conditions are excellent, and the public transportation system is efficient and extensive.

However, a couple of factors to watch out for:

  • Unclear lane markings and sign placements.
  • Aggressive / speeding drivers.
  • Travel can be disrupted by strikes.

 

What to do:

Before going out, check the latest media reports and weather forecast.

When on the road, stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Police in France

Police in France. Source: dailytimes.com.pk

 

  • SAMU (Ambulance): 15
  • Police: 17
  • Fire: 18
  • EU wide general emergency number (can be used in any EU country): 112

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