How to outfox the Parisian pickpockets

So Paris has a big pickpocket problem. And to those of you who heard about my stressful yet amusing experience of having my bag swiped from my seat at a restaurant in Granada earlier this year, you’ll know that I am always on high alert for pickpocketing. Now I suppose this isn’t really about ‘outfoxing’ a pickpocket, but definitely some pointers as to how to identify them and other types of cons and crooks. Some may be obvious, others are not, and I honestly had no idea when I first came here of the extent some people go to just to steal your cash. I’ll start off with the obvious tips:

  • Don’t leave your phone or wallet on the table at a restaurant. Obvious, yes, but I’ve done it plenty of times and have always been told off by friends. Especially if you’re sitting in one of the many Parisian terrace cafés, people come along and take your phone without you even realising. A common trick is they’ll approach the table and set a map down over your phone, asking you for directions while sliding your phone from under the map into their pocket.
  • Avoid using your phone out and about – I’ve heard of people having their phone snatched while texting in the street or on the metro.
  • Wear a small bag over your shoulder, make sure it is zipped up. Try and keep your bag close to you, if the strap is also very thin, its easy for a pickpocket to just cut it off. My Dad gave me this small pouch big enough to hold my phone, keys and cash, which is sometimes easier if you want to conceal it under your coat and not worry about someone nicking it.
  • Don’t put valuables in open pockets of your coat/jacket – people will just stick their hands in your pockets so fast they’ll be running away with your phone and wallet by the time you’ve turned around.
  • Don’t handle cash out in public – if you’re getting out your wallet or a wad of notes, you’re catching the attention of nearby pickpockets and they’ll target you.
  • Lots of pickpockets work on metros too. On line 1 you’ll hear the typical “Beware of pickpockets” come on the loudspeaker at Franklin Roosevelt and it’s true – hear out for the buzzer which means the doors are about to close in just a few seconds; this is generally the perfect time for a pickpocket to swipe your phone or bag, run off the train, and the doors close before you can even get out of your seat to chase them. Particularly line 9 and the RER B heading north, these lines can be a bit dodgy at night and are notorious for pickpockets so if travelling alone, I would either use the night bus, Uber or taxi.
  • Never get in an unidentified taxi. All Parisian taxis will have the clear ‘Taxi Parisien‘ sign, anyone else who claims to be a taxi driver but hasn’t got this sign on their car is just a super dodgy person. Twice since being here I’ve had someone approach me asking if I need a taxi, one asking me in the street and one while I was hailing a cab he pulled over and claimed he was a taxi (no taxi sign). Now, I’m pretty sure taxi drivers don’t come up to you and ask if you need a taxi, so be careful of that as they may be thieves or worse …

Now on to the less obvious:

  • Some crooks go to the extent of pretending to be a police officer. We all know what happened with Kim Kardashian, two French men dressed up as police officers got into her building and stole all her jewellery etc etc … But it’s true, thieves actually do this. If a ‘police officer’ comes up to you and asks for your identity papers and money, it is 100% a scam. Police officers will never ask you for money, but if you’re still not sure, ask to see their police identity card, which should have POLICE stamped in red across the front, with diagonal blue, white and red stripes in the left corner.
  • Be vigilant at ticket machines. At Charles de Gaulle airport, there are sometimes people wearing fake badges pretending to be airport staff helping people with buying metro train tickets. These people are scammers and will try to take your money, card or wallet as soon as you expose it at the machine. Just to be safe, I would go straight to the information desk to buy travel tickets.
  • Don’t buy the stuff people sell on the streets. Although its all just cheap memorabilia which looks like a good bargain to take back for a friend after your trip, you’re actually giving money to illegal organisations and ‘underground networks’. Also, some bags and purses you see people sell on the street are sometimes things that have been stolen from other tourists.
  • Fake petitions. In many tourist areas in Paris, such as the Opéra area, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue Champs Elysées, young girls and boys may come up to you and ask you to help fund a foundation or charity, asking for your money and signature. While distracting you with signing something, the rest of the group will come and take your valuables from you. I’ve seen myself the ‘gang’ of girls, no older than 17, in the Opéra area, who work for a pickpocketing organisation based in Romania.
  • The three-card/cup trick – a lot of you may have seen this in London, they do it a lot on the bridges in Embankment area. Basically, either with two black cards and a red card, or three cups with a ball, you have to bet money (50 euros minimum) that you will find the red card, or the ball under the cup, and then receive double of what you bet if you get it right. It looks so easy, because there is always someone in the crowd who wins every time, but these people who win are actually working with the dealer. You will lose every time, the game is a scam, so don’t play it, however tempting it looks.

I hope these tips are useful to those coming to stay in Paris, or for you year-abroaders who are planning on living here. Don’t forget, Paris is such a beautiful city, so it’s 100% worth going out and about exploring. However when you do, just be careful and don’t let these cons catch you out!!

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