When you are traveling and stand out as a non-local, be it because you pose for pictures in front of well-known sights or walk around camera and map in hand, there are people who like to take advantage. In Paris, I have come across a few scams myself, while others were tried out on friends. There’s no need to be scared, but do be aware, and hold onto your valuables at all times.
The gold ring – I was walking along the Champs de Mars with my daughter, and a man in front of us suddenly bent down and seemingly picked a ring up off the ground. He showed it to me, and when I took it to examine it more closely, he immediately demanded money. I tried to give the ring back, but he kept insisting. In the end, I got angry and threw the ring at him then rushed off. So, if someone shows you a ring – don’t even look at it!
The free bracelet – This is a common one, particularly in Montmartre. Someone approaches you with a string friendship bracelet, claiming it is to give you good luck. Before you know it, he or she grabs your arm and ties it around your wrist, so tight that you can’t get it off. They then ask you for money. So, be wary of people carrying bundles of long strings in their hands. Best not to stop and look, you might get an unwanted bracelet!
The three cups – This is a common gambling scam, where a ball, or something similar, is placed under one of the three cups. The scammer moves the cups around and then asks you to indicate which cup is covering the object. Not as straight-forward as it looks – the person manipulating the cups is actually working with some of the bystanders. What seems like an easy game ends, as soon as you join in, and becomes a trick in which you will lose any money you bet.
The petition scam – Often carried out by a group of girls who approach you with a clipboard, this scam seeks to distract you by making you sign a petition to help handicapped persons or to fight against some evil in the world. If you make the mistake of signing, they will generally relieve you of some valuables. In another variant, they’ll demand you give money to their ’cause’ as soon as you sign. Avoid people with clipboards!
The leaflet approach – While I was getting coffee, my daughter was approached by a woman asking her to look at a leaflet. The lady placed a second leaflet on the table and when my daughter sent her away, the woman collected her leaflets. That’s why my daughter realized that her phone – which had been sitting under the other leaflet – was in the woman’s hand! Luckily, she noticed right away and was able to grab her phone in time. Don’t rest your phone on the table when sitting on a café terrace!
Kids on the metro – If you look around you on the metro, you’ll notice nearly everyone is engrossed in his or her phone. It seems that groups of thieves work with children who will hop on the train, grab your phone, then squeeze through the closing doors as the metro is about to leave the station. With your phone in hand, they then join the rest of their group waiting on the platform. It might be a good idea to keep your phone tucked away while on the metro.
Unofficial airport taxis – This is a simple scam that takes place at arrivals in airports around the world, with someone approaching you, asking if you need a taxi. Please do not go with these people, as they will overcharge you. Only use the official taxis from the stands, which have fixed prices from the airport.
Beggars – Yes, Paris, as most cities, has a homeless problem, but there are also plenty of scammers going around who are part of gangs and are being dropped off in the morning and picked up at night, after a full day’s work of begging. Look out especially for those with sedate bunny rabbits, cats, or small dogs by their sides. If you spend a little time in Paris, you will soon get to know the difference between those who need help and those who are just profiting from your compassion.
Paris has always been the city for the flâneur (and flâneuse), as it's only by slowly meandering through the streets that you can properly appreciate its beauty. But what to do when the weather is simply ghastly? Keep wandering, of course, but stick to the streets with a roof.