France – Favorite Pickpocket Scams

France is known for romance, decadent wines, crusty baguettes and cheeses aged to perfection. France is also famous for its pocket thieves and swindlers. Petty crime, bag snatching and pickpocketing present a common annoyance for travelers throughout the country, but mainly in larger cities such as Paris, Marseilles, Nice and Strasbourg. Key targets for lone and gangs of thieves include public transportation, hotel lobbies, tourist attractions and sites, restaurants and cafes, and beaches to name few.

Child Pickpockets in France – A Surprising Problem

One thing that anyone traveling to any of the major cities of France should be aware of – as well as any major European city for that mater is – child or teenage pickpockets.  Reports of them are more and more common and numerous reports come out of France.  The problem appears to be increasing because of the way European laws treat children and teenagers when they are arrested – very little happens to them.  Because of this, more and more adult thieves educate young children and teenagers to commit these crimes.

Here is a recent article that outlines the severity of the problem. French police earlier this month dismantled the biggest child pickpocket ring ever seen in Paris, run by a shadowy patriarch who spent the cash on luxury cars and property. But since then up to 100 more girls have been stopped by officers in the Paris Metro, prompting an investigation into whether the international network is still operating, despite the arrests of its ringleaders.  The mastermind of the child pickpocket ring was arrested with his two sons near Rome four weeks ago. A dozen others were arrested in France and Italy in recent weeks. The judicial police chief of Paris said: ”It feels like we have broken up a completely medieval [gang] structure.”  The pickpocket ring leader, who already has a conviction for people-trafficking in Austria, is accused by Paris police of being a mafia-style patriarch running a gang of children and teenagers who brought him €1.3 million last year.

The girls, most aged between 12 and 16 and thought to be mainly Roma, were brought to France from the Balkans and trained how to steal wallets, often targeting Asian tourists who were thought to carry the most cash. The adult masterminds gave the young girl pickpockets a target to steal at least 300 Euros a day and, if they missed it, were punished with “ultra-violent” methods where they were beaten, attacked with knives, burned with cigarettes and often raped.

The male leaders kept their distance from the everyday operation so they would not be caught. The girls were trained to tell police they were 12 years old – an age at which criminal prosecution is difficult in France. The gang is said to have been behind 75 per cent of thefts on the Paris Metro.  Here is more on this report of Paris child pickpockets.  This is just one of many reports of child pickpockets that are prevalent in France and across Europe – Travelers are advised to be very aware of valuables anything they come in contact with groups of 2 to 5 youth in Paris subways and other tourist attractions.

Famous Scams in France

The following scams have placed Paris, in particular, as one of the most famous cities for pickpockets. Any of the following situations can occur in any French city, while walking on the street, in a museum or cathedral, on a metro train or even in your hotel lobby. Many of these scams originated in France and are now used by petty thieves worldwide.

The Ring Scam: Some one stops you and hands you a golden ring and asks if it is yours. You answer no, but the person insists that you keep it. You happen to be in Paris and walking with you wife, what a wonderful gift to give her in the city of romance. You take the ring and then the person asks if you could spot him/her 30 Euros. You give them the money, because heck, you just got a gold ring for free!

Scam:  Although the inside of the ring says that it is 14-carat gold and is trademarked, the ring is worthless and worth about 10 cents.

Solution: If someone approaches you asking if you dropped something, one of two things will happen, 1) they will steal from you or 2) they will swindle money from you. If the item is not yours, simply say no and walk away.  Another way to avoid the “ring scam” or whenever someone approaches you and asks a possible “set up” question or you are approached by someone carrying around little signs which say “Do you speak English?” (and it’s usually the Roma, or Gypsy women, aka Gens de Voyage in French)  – just say “Non.”  These people just want your money or are very possibly pickpockets.  It they are a beggar, they can get quite aggressive if you look like you’re even thinking of considering it. Here is a video of this ring scam shot in Paris as two unsuspecting tourists are targeted.

The String Theorist Scam – also known as the Friendship Bracelet Scam
You are walking along when a couple of people walk up to you – they can be men, women, your teens for that mater.  As they engage you in conversation, they want to show you a magic trick where they tie a string around one or two of your fingers.  You like the trick and walk on your way after being charmed by the “locals.”

Scam:  The trick may have been fun to watch, but while you were distracted by the charming “magic trick,” one of the accomplices helped themselves to your pockets’ contents or your wallet in your purse.

Solution: Just like what was spoke about in prior pickpocket articles on this website, if someone approaches you – be alert and aware – It could be a set up. do not let anyone get behind you or next to your purse when you get engaged in a conversation with someone who initiates a conversation “out of the blue” or because a certain event happens. Here is actual video of the friendship bracelet scam as it unfolds on an unsuspecting tourist.  While this video was shot in Rome, it is carried out the same way around the world.

The Bracelet Scam: Someone shows you a beautiful bracelet and offers to sell it to you for a great price of 5 Euros. They even let you try it on. You decide that it does not suit you and hand the bracelet back. The seller then says that he cannot take the bracelet and that you must pay for it because you are wearing it.

Scam: A sales person places their goods on you before you are able to say no and then demands quick payment. Whether you wanted to buy the item or not was never the issue for the salesperson.

Solution: Do not try something on, especially from a street vendor, unless you are prepared to pay for it. If you find yourself in this situation, quickly remove the bracelet and quickly walk away.

“The Lost Soul Scam:  A small group of people walk up to you and say they are lost and need help with directions.  Of course you want to help because it has happened to you.  One of the lost soul’s opens a large map and has you help them find their way back to the hotel they are staying in.

Scam:  Of course you want to help – it’s the polite thing to do.  As the group surrounds you and the map, one of the thieves removes your wallet or money from your purse.

Solution:  Just as before, the act was started by someone starting a conversation with you.  An obvious red flag.  Watch your pockets and purse.

“Do you speak English?” Scam: Someone will approach you asking if you speak English and give you a card that tells a sad story and in the end ask for cash.

Scam: The people operating this scam are not the needy, rather an organized gang and they can be quite persistent.

Solution: If a firm “No” does not work, try to make a scene because the beggars do not want to make a commotion and bring attention to them.

Good Rate for your Money Scam: Someone on the street offers to exchange your currency for a seemingly good rate, not the same rate offered at those tourist exchange bureaus. They even guarantee that they have the best rate on the street and to not trust the other swindlers offering similar deals.

Scam: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Because foreign currencies can be confusing to travelers, money changers on the street can easily take advantage of unsuspecting “customers”. Further, the exchange rate may be worse than what you could get at a bank or official currency exchange bureau, or even worse, you might be slipped counterfeit currency.

Solution: “Better Safe than Sorry”. Because ATMs offer the daily exact exchange rates, these are your best bet, or research competing banks and currency exchange bureaus to find the best rate.

ATM Machines

Most ATM machines in France are safe and often provide a better rate of exchange than exchange bureaus, plus they are easier to access than using traveler’s checks. Because ATMs are any easy way for account holders to access money at all times of day, they also present a great opportunity for thieves to make a few or thousand extra bucks. Below are the most common scams reported:

  • Another customer, a.k.a thief, stands too close to you in line while entering your PIN number. Once the PIN number is known, the thief swipes your card.
  • On a weekend evening you get some cash for a night out, but the ATM machine eats your card. The bank at this time is closed, so you have to wait until Monday to try to get your card back. On Monday, the bank reports that they do not have your card and after checking your online statement, you see that someone already withdrew thousands of dollars. A criminal gang has modified the machine using a device that memorizes the PIN number and prevents the card from being ejected. The gang can then download the stored PIN numbers and retrieve cash from the account.

Solution: Try to use ATMs during banking business hours. Examine ATM machines for unusual add-on devices – especially at the card slot. Carry a 24-hour, emergency number for the card account so you can close or put a block on the account immediately. Always cover the keypad when typing in your PIN number in case a camera device is installed to record these entries.

  • You are withdrawing money from an ATM in a bank lobby. A person walks into the lobby and from the door asks for directions. You try to explain that you do not speak French and the person walks closer speaking this time in English. You explain further that you are not from Paris and while you are looking away from the ATM, the crook grabs your cash when it comes out and runs.

10 Basic Tips to Protect Your Belongings from Pickpockets in France

Although millions of people have fallen victim to petty theft, it is most certainly not a reason to avoid the treasures of France. There are simple things you can do to avoid being a target. Travel companies have even created specialized products to help you keep your belongings safe while viewing the wonders of the world; take advantage of these tools.

  1. Research ahead of time to determine areas with high pick pocketing activity. Either avoid these areas, or be vigilant when traveling through.
  2. Va-t-en! – ”Get Lost!” Learn a few French phrases to make the locals happy and catch the pickpockets off guard.
  3. Appear confident, even if you are nervous, or lost.
  4. Try to avoid talking to strangers. If unavoidable, stay alert while speaking with them.
  5. Use ATMs located in bank lobbies during bank opening hours. Block the keypad when entering your PIN.
  6. During the day, walk on the sunny side of the street. Most pick pockets lurk in the shade.
  7. Be suspicious of strangers who try to position themselves close to you.
  8. Be on high alert in areas that are crowded and create the opportunity for people to easily bump into one another: buses, metros, markets, etc.
  9. If possible, travel in groups – safety in numbers.
  10. Try to dress like the locals, no shorts, flip flops, baseball caps, etc.
  11. When traveling on a train, attempt to find a seat. If a seat is not available, try not to stand by the doors.
  12. Do not pull out cash in public to avoid drawing attention to you. Keep your money spread out in multiple pockets.
  13. Leave large amounts of cash in the hotel safe.
  14. Do not examine your map while in a crowded area. Try to study your map before leaving the hotel or while sitting at a restaurant.
  15. If you carry a backpack or purse in a crowded place, wear the backpack on the front, or your purse across your body.
  16. When speaking English, speak quietly, so you do not alert pickpockets that you are a tourist.
  17. Never leave your purse hanging on the back of a chair.
  18. If you suspect that you are being followed, do something unpredictable and go into a store. This will catch the pick pocket off guard.
  19. Friendly female travelers who smile at men may be perceived as flirting. Be conscious of the type of attention you may attract from others.
  20. Last, prepare for the worst and gather pertinent information such as: credit card phone numbers, make two photocopies of your passport, make additional copies of tickets and hotel reservation information.

Products to Keep Your Belongings Safe from Pickpockets

Travel companies have developed products that provide an additional level of security for valuables, thus giving travelers peace of mind. Such products include special slash-proof backpacks with locks, a portable travel safe, plus travel wallets, waterproof pouches, and wrist, arm or leg wallets. To find your perfect travel solutions, visit www.corporatetravelsafety.com.

When flying, keep your luggage safe from prying fingers with a TSA (Transport Security Administration) approved padlock. The PacSafe ProSafe 750 TSA Key Card Lock is TSA approved and you don’t need to fuss with combinations or keys, rather a credit card-sized card opens this lock. If it is necessary to inspect your luggage outside of your presence, TSA agents have special tools to open these special locks without destroying them or your luggage.

Newly issued-US passport cards and many credit cards contain a radio frequency identification chip (RFID) that can be read by anyone with a RFID scanner, sometimes from as far as 10 feet away. Keep your identity safe with the RFID Blocking Wallet which contains by a thin layer of metal fiber mesh to block penetrating radio waves.

Fully educate yourself about petty theft and pickpocket crimes before you travel with resources such as Traveler Beware! An Undercover Cop’s Guide to Avoiding Pickpockets, Laptop Theft, and Travel Scams by Detective Kevin Coffey. Learn about theft prevention while traveling and advice on how to outsmart the crooks.