Learn how to avoid common scams, and what to do in case of theft in Paris
While planning your Paris trip, you’ve probably heard some Paris scam horror stories from friends, family, or *gasp* the internet.
I’d love to go on and paint a 100% purely rose-colored and dreamy portrait of the City of Lights for you. I’d love to tell you that Paris is exactly how you see it in movies like Amelie, Midnight in Paris, and Before Sunrise.
I would be lying, though.
This is important: I am absolutely NOT saying that Paris is a terrible or unsafe or sketchy place. I am NOT telling you to cancel your trip. I am NOT telling you to be scared. What I am saying is this: Paris is just like any other big city in the world – you will (unfortunately) find con artists, scammers, and just generally immoral people. These are opportunistic people who pounce on the unwitting, in New York, Sydney, London, Barcelona, and just about any other corner of the globe.
Paris is just like any other big city in the world – you will (unfortunately) find con artists, scammers, and just generally immoral people.
So what am I trying to do for you here? I’m trying to make sure you are NOT the unwitting. I want to give you the tools you need to avoid being taken advantage of. That way you can make the most of your experience (whether you plan on your own or decide to get expert advice)!
Here’s the truth, people: Paris is a beautiful, thriving, exciting, fascinating, and truly diverse city. It is so much more, and so much better than what you’ve seen in the movies.
Yet, as is always the case in life, there are pros and cons, positives and negatives, light and dark.
And as is the case with most things in life… the better equipped you are for avoiding the bad, the easier time you’ll have focusing on the good.
So let’s get into it. Let’s get you prepared so you don’t have to worry about these things, and can instead purely focus on having a memorable experience.
Here is what you need to know on your Paris trip – common scams, how to avoid them, and where to turn if something unfortunate does happen (I hope it doesn’t, but these resources are here for you just in case!).
Click to jump to a specific section, or just continue scrolling!
Scam 1: CHILD PICKPOCKETS
Alright, I’m going to start with some sad stuff first. Pickpockets in Paris are typically children and adolescents. Why? It is very difficult for minors to go to jail in France.
Though it’s never okay to steal, reports show that these children (often 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“.
Okay, yikes. That’s absolutely atrocious.
At the same, you’re not traveling to Paris to get your things stolen. (If you want to participate in chartiy, there are hundreds of them based in Paris that you can donate money or time to.)
So let’s talk about how this works.
First, pickpockets typically work in groups – at least 2. One might distract you, another lift your wallet/phone/moneybelt etc, another discretely gets the item handed to them so they can escape even if the other two recognizable thieves are caught.
You might see this take the form of a quick snatch-and-run in the confusion as the metro doors close.
You might experience it as someone asking you for directions (and you don’t realize their team is pickpocketing you).
Or you might be at a cafe and your bag simply disappears from where you’d hung it on the back of your chair. (Bad idea, by the way).
You’ll see these techniques used for phones, as well as for any other valuables. Here’s a thorough guide to pickpocket techniques (this guide is phone-specific but applies for any valuables, really) and how to avoid them.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM
This is pretty easy to avoid.
Bags: ladies, carry zipped purses. Avoid backpacks when you can – you want a bag you can have under your shoulder or in front of you at all times.
Pockets: use your front pockets, not your back pockets (wearing skinny jeans? Even safer, as we discuss here!).
Eyes: especially in a crowded metro platform or train, in high-traffic tourist destinations, and while sitting on cafe terraces. Have you seen the crowd in front of the Mona Lisa, or on the steps of Sacre Coeur? These may not be places you’d assume you’d have to pay attention to your belongings… but you definitely should.
Valuables: Don’t keep ’em all in one place! If you have one wallet or moneybelt that has all your cash, all your cards, your drivers’ license, your passport, your phone,and your accommodation keys… well, just imagine if that one thing somehow gets lost or stolen. So: eggs, meet multiple baskets. Also, carry only what you need for that day, and leave the rest at your accommodation. The Police department site recommends carrying only 50 euros in cash, 1 form of identification, and 1 credit/debit card. If something happens, you minimize your loss this way.
Phones: Yes you will probably want to use your phone in Paris (and me myself I couldn’t get around here without some of these super helpful apps!). But be prudent. When using your phone on the street, pause and back up to a wall so no one can approach you from behind. After you’re done with your phone, put it in a secure place.
Blend in: Well, the more you look like a tourist, the more you’re going to be targeted. To the opportunistic, tourists are targets because they are dazzled (aka distracted), they don’t know the language or culture of Paris, and typically have valuables on them (lots of cash, cameras, phones, etc.). If you do your best to blend in, you at least lessen the target on your back. Need some tips? See the Dress” section on my restaurant etiquette article here.
Scam 2: GAMBLING GAMES
If you wander the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower or head to the famous flea market just outside Paris, you’ve probably seen the three-cup game.
And if you’ve stood around to watch it, you’ve probably seen someone win.
But hey, guess what! That’s a scam! That ‘winner’ is just part of the team that works together to get money from unsuspecting tourists and Parisians alike.
The game seems simple when you watch. A ball is passed from the underside of one cup to another as the cups are shuffled around. It’s glaringly easy to follow the ball, and you see one of the onlookers double his money again and again.
But that’s a trap. That onlooker is actualy part of the team. As soon as any ‘real money’ comes into play, the game will become impossible to win. Sleight of hand is masterfully used to prevent you from ever winning. And before you know it… 20, 50, then 100 euros down the drain.
Or, maybe you’re not going to play but you’re distracted watching the game. As you walk away you realize that your wallet isn’t in your back pocket anymore…
This game can take a few different forms, but the premise remains the same.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM
Oh, boy. I guess the best lesson here is: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Gambling on the streets is not a good idea anywhere you go – but especially if you are a tourist. If you see it, just avoid it and keep walking.
Scam 3: PETITIONS
I’ll be honest, I fell for this myself when I first arrived in Paris.
A group of children with petition clipboards approached me as I walked in the Tuileries gardens. I saw the petition was for a deaf/mute organization – and the children themselves appeard to be deaf and mute as well.
I signed the petition because of course, why wouldn’t you? Then they pressured me into giving money, which of course I felt totally guilty and hypocritical not doing. So I forked over 10 euros, feeling like something was a little off in this organizations approach…
I continued my walk to the end of the gardens and then turned around to backtrack to the Louvre. Along the way I saw a them chatting amongst themselves. Hm, strange, because they had definitely made the effort to appear deaf and mute before… THEN I saw a deaf tourist approach them up to them, furiously signing. I can only assume he was yelling at them for pretending to be deaf. The group only stood for a few moments before sprinting away in different directions.
The petition scam is well documented in Paris (though I didn’t know it at the time). I fell in to the trap, but I’m here to let you know that you don’t have to!
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM
Another easy one to avoid, actually.
Logo: Charity organizations DO canvas in Paris, though often not in touristy locations. However, you can tell the real deal because they will be wearing clothing (jackets, tshirts, backpacks, etc.) with the name and logo of their organization. Common charities that do this sort of thing are Solidarity SIDA (AIDS funding, research, and support), Amnesty International, WWF, and Croix Rouge (Red Cross).
In any case, if in doubt just shake your head no and keep walking, giving the group a wide berth.
Scam 4: BRACELETS
I live in Montmartre and wander those streets quite a bit, so I’ve seen the ‘bracelet weavers’ all the time in the gardens of Sacre Coeur.
What happens is this – one of the weavers offers a ‘friendship bracelet’ style woven bracelet. The victim agrees (or simply doesn’t say no, actually), and before you know it the weaver has attached the bracelet to the victim’s wrist – too tightly to remove – and demands payment.
This happens very, very fast, and can get a bit scary since the bracelet guys are often pretty intimidating-looking. I’ve heard extreme stories that sometimes they will even force you to go to an ATM to withdraw money for the bracelet.
Another variation works for a couple – they offer the bracelet to the woman, explaining it’s free of charge. Then they offer one to the man, and assuming that one is free as well he agrees. Then they claim that it’s only the woman’s bracelet that was free and money is owed for the man’s bracelet…
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM
One main rule of all big cities (including Paris) is this: nothing is free.
Keeping that rule in mind makes this an easy scam to avoid. If you don’t want to pay for a bracelet (you probably don’t), just repeat ‘NO’ firmly when approached and keep walking.
I’ve found that’s the best way to deter these bracelet weavers. And honestly – the bracelets aren’t that great, and you don’t really want to deal with these guys so…
“NO. NO. NO.” until you’ve passed them.
Scam 5: GOLD RING
“Excuse me, is this your gold ring?”
What an opening line, huh?
Scammers will use this (along with a fake gold ring) to lure you in to a trap.
Even if you say it’s not your ring, the scammer will still try to push the ring on you. They’ll tell you it’d be a great gift, and surely you know someonw who would appreciate it as a gift from you…
And then, if you take it, the scammer will relentlessly demand money from you until you give in.
Or, while you’re distracted by the whole thing, a member of their team will be lurking, waiting for the rigth moment to pickpocket you.
I’ve been approached with this gold ring scam, and I can tell you that it is super disorienting if you don’t know what’s actually going on. Thankfully nothing bad happened in my case, but I would have been the perfect candidate for pickpocketing because I was so caught off guard.
Oh and yes, I’ll say it again: the rings are not real gold.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM
Using the same rule I mentioned above (nothing is free), this one is pretty easy to avoid.
What makes it easier still is recognizing it as a scam right off the bat.
So what do you do? Firmly say no, and just keep walking.
Scam 6: FLOWERS & ‘GIFTS’
This one is (in my opinion) one of the more innocent items on this list, but it’s still a scam…
Men with bouquets of roses will wander the more touristy spots of town, and offer roses to groups with at least one woman. She is beautiful like the rose, you see?
He’ll straight-up hand the flower(s) to her, as if he’s giving them for free. Then, once she has them in her hand, he asks the men in the group for money.
Yep, that’s how this slightly sexist scam works. Either the woman has to give the flowers back (sad face!) or the man/men have to pay for the flowers – a relatively small sum between 3-10 euros… depending on how much the seller thinks he can get out of you.
Why might he ask you for more money? Well if you seem inebriated, he’ll hike up the price for sure. In fact, you’ll see these flower salesmen come into bars quite often in Paris.
It’s not the worst scam in the world, but you’ll see it often enough that I wanted to include it on this list.
There are other similar situations but instead of flowers it might be light-up glasses or headbands, popcorn necklaces, light-up toys, etc.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM
Once again (do you notice a pattern?)… nothing is free!
If it seems like the right time to give a flower or two to your sweetie, by all means: pay the man.
If you’d prefer not to though, just shake your head and firmly say “No” if a flower salesman approaches you with his bouquet in hand… keep saying “no” until he goes away. Sometimes it takes a while!
Scam 7: RESTAURANTS
Here, what I’m really talking about is tourist trap restaurants.
I’ve written a full guide on avoiding tourist trap restaurants (it’s actually pretty easy if you know what to look for). I won’t spend too much time expanding on it here, letting you instead click the link above to go more in-depth.
However it’s worth adding that some ‘trap’ restaurants will upsell you without you even knowing. For example, maybe you order a Perrier… instead of bringing a single-serving bottle of Perrier which would cost 4 euros, they bring the liter bottle one which is 10 euros. Maybe you order a beer without specifying which one you would like… you may end up with a full pint of their most expensive beer. And so on, and so forth.
This isn’t really common practice in France. However, some restaurants will, let’s say, ‘alter the way they do things’ if they can tell you are a tourist. These generally are the sorts of places I would already define as tourist trap restaurants, so it’s best to avoid them anyway (here’s a guide on how to do just that).
Though it’s true the dining experience is different in France than in other parts of the world, generally servers are not looking to scam you!
To help you out even further in terms of restaurants, read through this super useful guide which will shed some light on what to actually expect at normal Parisian restaurant.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM
This one is terribly easy. Just ask for the drink menu.
If your French isn’t great, this can prevent costly “misunderstandings”… just point to exactly what you want and there will be no confusion.
And of course in a general sense as I said, these sleazy tactics are mostly only used at “tourist traps”. So, learn how to avoid them.
WHAT IF SOMETHING HAPPENS?
Sometimes all the preparation in the world can’t prevent things from happening. That’s frustrating, I know! And I hope you never have to use this section of the article…
But if something does happen and you are a victim of theft in Paris, here’s what you should do.
Search the trash bins
This one sounds kind of silly I know. But, search the nearby bins.
If your bag or wallet was stolen, you may find them there. Most thieves are only interested in cash or digital devices (like phones or tablets) that they can easily sell. Often they don’t care about credit cards (digital security is a lot tighter here so they’re nearly impossible to use) or passports.
If you’ve been a victim of theft, you just might find some of your belongings nearby!
You can also search the Police departments’ Lost and Found. Sometimes things will turn up over a day or two, so you should check back in with the Lost and Found following the next steps as I’ll detail below.
Block your cards
As I mentioned, many thieves are only interested in your cash. Howeve if your wallet was stolen and there are credit or debit cards inside, it’s best to call your card company and bank to cancel them as soon as you can.
Here are the 24-hour emergency services numbers for the biggest card companies.
- Visa: +33 8 00 90 11 79
- Mastercard: +33 8 00 90 13 87
- American Express: +33 1 47 77 72 00
Don’t forget that you should also call your bank to alert them of what happened, and to get a new card issued with new numbers.
You may also want to place an initial fraud alert.
Contact your embassy
If your passport gets stolen, you’ll need to contact your embassy immediately to schedule a meeting. You’ll need the passport to travel, and they can issue you an emergency one (once you’re home you’ll have to get a new one though).
Every year, 2000 Americans report getting their passports stolen in Paris… and that’s only Americans.
So there are a lot of stolen passport stories, unfortunately. But hey! At least you’re not alone!
It’s important to point out that you do not need to carry your passport around with you while in Paris. It’s best to leave it in a safe in your hotel room or otherwise secure location at your accommodation. It’s also a good idea to have a photocopy of your passport in a separate location, just in case. If you need proof of ID, a drivers’ license or residence card will generally suffice.
Note that your embassy generally cannot replace your drivers’ license. If that has been stolen, you must get a new one from a driving facility in your home country (each country has different specifications). However, as long as you report your license as stolen when filing your police report (see below), you can still drive in France if you need to. You’ll just have to show the documents you receive after filing the police report!
Get your phone info & deactivate
If you’ve had your phone stolen anywhere (traveling or not), you already know to have written down your IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) somewhere safe.
The IMEI is key when filing a police report (more on this in a second). With it, the police can enter the serial number on a black list making the phone itself inoperable on any of the country’s networks even with a new SIM card. It will also allow them to figure out if a phone is yours or not, if they find it later on.
You’ll want to make sure you have this prior to any travels. Actually: just make sure you have this, in general!
How do you get it? Dial the IMEI code: *#06#. You typically will not need to press the Call or Send button- the IMEI number will typically appear as soon as you finish dialing the code.
Okay, so what if you didn’t save this number before your phone was stolen or lost?
If you have a phone lock system in place (for example the Find my Phone app for iPhones), shut down your phone as soon as you can. Keep in mind that generally, thieves will remove the SIM card of your phone as their first step.
All the same, you’ll want to call your phone provider as soon as you can and inform them of the theft. This way they can deactivate the SIM card on your phone. Some providers will even let you do this by logging into your account online.
File a police report
This should be done after the steps above, which are a bit more pressing.
You need to file this report at the police station closest to where the theft took place. The Police department has a list here (and the page is in the resources section below, too).
After filing your report, you’ll get a récépissé de declaration de vol, often in French and your own language (more on this in a second). Keep this because you’ll probably need copies for your bank and/or your embassy.
For tourists’ police reports, officers generally use a software called SAVE (Foreign Victims Assistance System), which allows them to give a report receipt in the traveler’s native lanugauge. This definitely helps to simplify things in relation to dealing with the Embassy or your home country!
Filing a police report is a relatively painless process, at least in my personal experience. There are generally bilingual police officers at every police department, specifically to help in situations like this.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting a bit emotional when describing what happened – whether that emotion is frustration, fear, relief, or anger. I caught myself totally off guard by crying both times I had to file a report (I thought I was fine!), and the officers were understanding, courteous, and helpful.
This one is important.
Listen, I know it is a terrible thing to have something stolen while on vacation. Especially if that thing is important, like your wallet, passport, or phone.
But remember: everything can be replaced.
Everything, that is, except for your time in Paris.
Everything can be replaced. Everything… except for your time in Paris.
For most of you, your trip to Paris is rare or possibly even once-in-a-lifetime. Take the steps you need to, then do your best to move on and continue seeing and experiencing all you can in Paris.
If you are overwhelmed with the steps you should follow, know that you can hire Anglophone Paris experts to help walk you through the necessary procedures.
Here’s a list of helpful resources for staying smart and safe while in Paris.
- “Staying safe in Paris” – Official city guide by Mayor’s office and Police department
- “Pickpockets in Paris: How to Avoid Becoming A Victim” – US Embassy
- “Lost and found Office of the City of Paris” – Government of Canada
- List of Paris police stations by arrondissement – Paris Police department
- “7 phone theft techniques and how to avoid them” – Sight Seeker’s Delight
Having something bad happen to you in Paris is NOT ideal. With these tips I hope you can avoid all these situations.
Was this information useful to you? If so, please share this article with your friends and family, so they can fill their trip with happy memories (instead of stressful ones)!