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Paris scams are real. They catch you off guard. It can happen to you. It can happen to anyone. It happened to me, twice. Once I had the infamous string bracelet tied to my wrist and then in 2020, I had a Velib bicycle stolen within two minutes of me leaning it against a wall.
Paris scams are alive, well and targeted at tourists. It’s no secret that I love Paris. No matter how well I know the city, how easily I can converse, and how stylish I think I am being nor how long I have lived here… I still stand out as a foreigner (étrangère) and a target.
Being pickpocketed, for example, can leave you feeling taken advantage of and with a long list of things to sort out. You are completely at the Uber driver’s mercy when you realize you are on the longest route possible to get to your destination.
Being as savvy as possible, whether travelling solo in Paris or with a partner, is the goal. But sometimes, the unexpected happens.
Here are 8 Paris scams to be aware of.
I fell for the first two.
1. Paris Scams | Friendship Bracelets
Really – who doesn’t want a fun, multi-coloured string bracelet?
Not when you get it like this…
Towards the end of a 6-month travel stint, I arrived in Paris on a glorious September weekend. The hill in front of Sacré-Coeur was buzzing with people on a Friday evening. Lovers. Wine bottles. Families. Life was perfect.
After a wander about, I headed down the hill completely in my own little world. A really tall black man started chatting to me and had a friendship bracelet tied around my wrist in no time flat. Before I could even blink. I got totally sucked in by the banter. After having just travelled solo in SE Asia, I was pretty sure I could get out of this situation.
He demanded money. So I decided to give him a couple of Euros. He was adamant that the bracelet cost €15. I told him I didn’t want it. He told me it was too late. Somehow on that sunny evening, I just stalled. He was pretty intimidating. I was on my own. I dug back into my wallet, incredulous at what my hand was doing. Yep, I handed over fifteen euros.
I knew I had been totally taken. I was so annoyed. I ranted (to myself) for quite a while.
In the end, I decided that my expensive friendship bracelet was a minor price to pay for a HUGE reminder to be on alert for Paris scams.
I wore that Paris scam bracelet for months.
Update January 2022: On a quiet Thursday morning strolling down the hill from Sacre-Coeur, I was once again accosted by a group of men ready to scam me in Paris. Colourful strings in hand, one came straight for me saying “Hakuna Matata. I work for a church.” I put up my hand and said, “Absolutely. NOT.” and increased the speed at which I was walking.
The others were targeting a couple. The girl screamed as the scammer was already putting the strings on her wrist. Luckily she and her boyfriend moved away.
This most aggressive of Paris scams is one to be aware of and avoid. I haven’t seen this Paris scam anywhere except at Sacré-Coeur.
How To Avoid The Bracelet Scam In Paris:
- Keep your hands in your pocket or by your side.
- Don’t engage in conversation like I did the first time
- Don’t give eye contact.
- Apparently, once it is tied on, the friendship bracelet can be removed with the pull of one string.
2. Stealing Your Bike
In the spring of 2020, I started renting the Velib Metropole bicycles in Paris. I lent my bicycle up against a wall, went to take a photo, turned my back and the bike was gone. What’s even more shocking about this Paris scam is that we were in the midst of confinement. There was virtually no one in the street. But, there was a thief that I didn’t see.
Read the whole story How Not to Get a Velib Bike Stolen in Paris.
How To Avoid Paris Scams:
- Lock your bike even if it is for a millisecond that you are stepping away from it. Every Parisian has a bicycle theft story.
- Use the handy lock on the Velib bike that is hidden in the handle. Watch the video in my post.
- Don’t leave anything in the bicycle basket if you are locking your Velib bike.
3. Paris Scams | Signing the Petition
Please note: In April 2022, three different women approached me in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. Paris scams are in full swing.
“Do you speak English?” she asks me.
I answer immediately, “No.” No eye contact.
As I wander away I giggle to myself. My answer was so swift. Of course, I speak the language.
They come at you.
At Notre Dame.
The Louvre. Or any tourist attraction.
They want you to sign a petition.
They are very persistent. There is usually a group of young women operating this Paris scam. With clipboards in hand, they ask you to sign for some cause and to donate money. If you do choose to sign, you can be quite sure that as you concentrate on filling in the form, another member of the group is pickpocketing you. A double whammy of a Paris scam.
How To Avoid The Petition Scam In Paris:
- Don’t sign.
- Don’t engage.
- Say you don’t speak English!
- Try this line: “Non, madam” and walk away.
4. Paris Scams | Cup and Ball Trick
Strolling the bridges in Paris is part of the magic but, stay aware.
I watched this Paris scam, the cup and ball trick, on the Pont des Arts, a lovely pedestrian bridge perfect for lingering. There are three small boxes and one ball in this travel scam. The main scammer shuffles the boxes around at lightning speed.
Under which box will the ball appear after the shuffle? Place your bet. Guess correctly? You double your money. Someone from the crowd wins! Great encouragement for others in the group to keep betting. There is a lot of smooth-talking and hand signals happening here.
And so it continues.
Once the tourists dissipate, it is quite clear that there is a group of about 5 men running this Paris scam. And, you guessed it, the man from the crowd who won? He is part of the gang. It’s all a setup. Definitely a scam in Paris to avoid.
How To Avoid Paris Scams:
- Just don’t engage in this Paris scam.
- You definitely won’t win, even if the guy beside you does.
- Don’t even watch as you are setting yourself up to be pickpocketed.
5. Pickpocketing In Paris
Update: January 2022
I have recently heard of so many people being pickpocketed in Paris. And every story is about a Parisian that has suffered Paris scams, in their home city. They’ve lost their cell phones, computers, earbuds on the Métro and/ or a package at a café. At a café the other day, the waiter came around and warned everyone to watch their bags and wallets. Pickpocketing is alive and well in Paris.
Like any big city, Paris’s streets can be very crowded. I am comfortable walking through Paris with my backpack or a purse that is zipped tight. I know my wallet is in the depths, inaccessible to light fingers. But walking by Notre Dame, the Parisian I was walking with insisted I wear my backpack on the front. If that doesn’t say it all.
Pickpocketing is a slick art and happens on the Métro and in high tourist traffic areas.
How To Avoid Pickpocketing In Paris:
- Separate your valuables – use a money belt (I am not a fan of something around my waist so I have opted to use a neck wallet like this one); my favourite is the small bra stash big enough for that extra credit card and some cash; leave some valuables in your room safe or in your locked luggage.
- Do not put anything in your pockets or the outside pouches of your handbag or backpack. If you are a pocket person, try using this hidden pocket that attaches to your belt.
- In crowded places, move your bag securely towards the front of your body. Hug it securely under one arm. Cross the other arm over the first.
- Wear your day pack on your chest in crowded areas.
- Be wary – find that lovely balance of totally enjoying the experience but stay alert to the people around you.
6. Scams In Paris | Pay Attention At Cafés
An integral part of life in Paris is café life. It’s perfect for meeting a friend, observing Parisian life like a true flâneur, and for sipping, writing and relaxing. But, watch your things. Place any bags or purses in a strategic place away from easy access to passers-by. Keep your purse over your shoulder. And don’t leave your cell phone on the table, especially at an outside table on a busy street. I know a Parisian who placed her bags on the empty seat beside her to find that the couple one table down took off with her bags. After a lengthy chase, even with the police, the goods were gone.
I was quite relaxed at a table this past fall and placed my cell phone on the table as I searched for something in my purse. I got a quick reminder to always pay attention as two young men passed my table, completely in my space. I wondered afterwards if they had had their eye on my phone…
How To Avoid This Scam In Paris:
- Do not leave any bags or daypacks unattended under café tables.
- Tuck bags between your feet or between a wall and your chair
- Never leave your cell phone on the table at a café.
7. Paris Scams | Cab Drivers
All cities have the most reliable and wonderful cab drivers and also the ones that will take you for a ride – literally.
Arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport one evening, I knew I was taking the Roissy Bus to Paris. Several eager cab drivers approached me. When I told them I was taking the Roissy bus, they replied, “C’est fini,” indicating that it was not running anymore that day.
I knew it was. I had checked the schedule in advance. The experience left me not trusting cab drivers.
If you do plan to use a cab from the airport, only use ones that have a meter or risk being overcharged. Know your prices. There is a Flat Rate for Service from Charles de Gaulle into Paris. It costs 53€ to get to the Left Bank and 58€ for a taxi to the Right Bank. Before getting in the taxi verify with the driver the price you will be paying.
How To Avoid Taxi Scams in Paris:
- Check with your hotel/ Air BnB as to the best way to get there.
- Know if you are going to the Left Bank or the Right Bank
- Consider taking public transportation. There are plenty of signs directing you to public transportation
- Use the Roissy Bus or RER train to get to the city. Both are easy to find and take.
8. Scams In Paris | Fake Metro Tickets
Yes, apparently people will sell you already-used tickets. They might even be wearing a uniform.
How To Avoid This Scam In Paris:
- Do not engage with anyone that approaches you and tries to help you buy tickets.
- Use the ticket vending machines.
- Go to the counter and ask for help.
- Read: How to Ride the Métro Like a Pro.
9. Paris Scams | Gold Ring Trick
This is a very common scam in Paris. Someone (usually a woman) approaches you and picks up a gold ring from the ground asking if you dropped a ring.
When you say, “No” she looks at the carat sign on the ring and asks if you would like to buy it. Persistently and convincingly, she will try to get you to take it. If you do, she will demand payment. And then it’s hard to give back, just like my friendship bracelet.
How To Avoid The Gold Ring Scam In Paris:
- Walk away.
- If you are feeling rather bold, possibly when asked if you dropped a ring answer, “Yes!” and see what transpires.
Being aware is always the first step. Don’t let possible travel scams in Paris dampen your spirits or hold you back from exploring.
Watch for the magic in Paris. Look for her heart.
“The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay, I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café.” Oscar Hammerstein II
Have you fallen for or witnessed any of these Paris scams?
More Travel Info
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And Montparnasse. Most people think of the tall black tower looming over the Paris skyline or the train station. This guide on Montparnasse uncovers some marvellous things to discover in the 14th arrondissement.
If you like being by the water, Ile aux Cygnes in the Seine might be for you! The Statue of Liberty, views of the Eiffel Tower and locals walking their dogs!
Wondering what to do in the Eiffel Tower district after you’ve visited the Iron Lady? Here’s my full guide to the 7th arrondissement.
If you are looking for food suggestions, read about where to find the best croissants in Paris. And, if you have a sweet tooth like me, check out these best pâtisseries to try. There are also plenty of café suggestions for the Marais area in this post: Tips from a Local. And if you are exploring the area around Canal Saint-Martin, here are the best places to stop for a bite or to find the fixings for a picnic.
Travelling to Paris alone? This article on navigating Paris alone is full of tips and tricks for the solo traveller.
This page has all my articles on Paris that will help you plan out your trip, including day trips from Paris. I hope you subscribed to my newsletter to get my free download – An Amazing 2-day Itinerary in Paris.
If you are going further afield in France, make sure to check out my page on France
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