Scams & Scoundrals

As with any big city, Paris has its petty crime. But, unlike cities in the US, most crime is non-violent and mostly scammers and pick pockets. If you remain vigilant, you can avoid these quite easily. After 11 years and 20 trips to Paris, we have never once had a problem. Here are some basic tips:

• Men, you should always keep your wallet and other valuables in your front pocket. If you are wearing a coat be sure to keep valuables in pockets that zip or button closed
• Women should do the same and if you absolutely MUST have a handbag, keep it zipped closed and close to you at all times
• Fanny packs and back packs are easy targets so be very careful if you use them. I would suggest not using them if at all possible
• Try not to look like an easy target tourist by not having cameras and bags hanging off of you. Dress to blend and avoid hats and souvenir shirts

There are several scams currently in the city that target tourists. Here are the most common right now:

Sign My Petition Scam
Sign My Petition Scam

• ‘Sign my Petition’. This one has become more and more popular in recent months. Almost always run by women, someone will approach you waving their hand and pointing to a clipboard they are holding. In some cases they will pretend to be mute and in others they will ask if you speak English. They indicate that they want  you to sign their petition. Once you are distracted by looking at or signing their fake petition, another one will swing behind you and help themselves to anything you have in your pockets or bags. If they can’t get to anything in your pockets they will even ask you for a donation. You might as well have let them pick your pocket if you give them a donation. Even knowing about this scam won’t help if you let them anywhere near you so DON’T! If they approach you simply say ‘No’ very firmly and keep moving. Don’t let them get too close. I was walking in the very crowed Champ de Mars the other day and saw two of them moving in on a tourist. One woman (I’ll call her the Lead) engaged the tourist and as she looked down at the clipboard, another woman (the Picker) moved behind her to where the tourist’s purse was. The Picker usually has several layers of clothes wrapped around their waist to hide what they steal more easily. When the Picker saw me taking a picture she put a piece of paper up to cover her face (for obvious reasons). Fortunately this attempt was thwarted. So just be cautious and you can avoid this scam.

• ‘Found Ring’. This one is very clever. As you are walking down the street, someone will bend down and pick up a ring very close to you in proximity. They will hold it up in surprise and ask if you dropped it. When you say ‘no’ they will indicate how exciting it is that he/she found it so close to you and that it must be very valuable. Since it seemingly belongs to neither of you, they generously offer to let you keep it to sell if you are willing to give them a small amount of money in exchange. SCAM! The ring is fake and so is the entire scenario. Just ignore them and keep moving. Any attempt to engage them and you risk falling victim. One exception to this rule was when a guy tried to play this scam on my partner Mitch. Given we have been designing and manufacturing jewelry for over 20 years, he was quite excited to turn the tables on the scammer. After examining the ring and exclaiming at how beautiful and valuable it must be, Mitch suggested that the man give him some money and Mitch would let him keep and sell the ring. Needless to say the scammer was not happy at having his time wasted and quickly moved on.

• ‘Cups and Ball’ or ‘Three Cards’. These are the oldest in the book. They have been around forever and still they manage to snag unsuspecting tourists. Indeed when I was in college I went to visit my best friend who was living in NY at the time. I was so excited to be in the city and with my friend. As we walk around I noticed some guys playing the Cups and Ball game so I stopped to watch. (The other version involves three cards face down – same principle). After several people unsuccessfully attempted to select which cup the ball was under, I inadvertently said to myself ‘no it’s in that one’. In an instant the guy running the game looked at me and said ‘you win’. I said ‘what?’. Another person who was watching and playing the game also said ‘you win’. I said ‘really?’. He said ‘yes. All you have to do is cover the bet and you win.’ I put down the $50.00 (a lot of money for me back then) and he then tipped the cup over to reveal it was empty. I made a 360° turn and when I looked again, they were all gone. Yep, they got me. They were all in on it too, the players and the leader. Everyone you see betting, winning and losing or just watching is in on it and waiting for some unwitting fool like myself to look just slightly interested. Now days they even employ young children in the scam. So just don’t get involved unless you don’t mind being separated from your hard earned Euros.

There are other scams to be sure so just be cautions especially in popular tourist areas. They are like vultures to the kill waiting to pounce if you give them a chance. By being vigilant you can avoid being targeted which will make your stay much more enjoyable.


  1. Jan Munroe
    // Reply

    I had a cousin who simply placed her bag on the chair next to her in a restaurant (no snaps or ziper). Within 20 minutes they were using her credit card down the street. People should be aware that not only is summer “tourist season” but “thief season” and they come in droves from all over Europe to Paris, Nice, Marseille, Rome, etc. Thanks for this Pericles! Very helpful

  2. Dennis Dillon
    // Reply

    When we visited Paris on our cruise the tour guide was constantly admonishing us to be weary of pick pockets, and scam, in the tourist areas, I.E. the Louve, and Eifel tower.

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