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Bird poop! Eiffel tower!

We were walking from the Eiffel Tower on Monday. About 2 blocks away on Avenue de la Bourdonnais my wife and I got hit by bird poop. That thing must have been a pterodactyl or an emu, because it spread down both our jackets. Luckily, some nice pedestrians came to help. They had Kleenex, and even some baby wipes. We thanked them, and flagged down a cab.
About 20 minutes later, in our hotel room, I tossed my wallet on the bed. It flopped open. It was empty. The "nice pedestrians" were professional pickpockets. We think the "bird poop" was baby food that they threw. They pulled my wallet, took the cards, and put the wallet back. I didn't feel a thing.

Called Mastercard and Amex immediately. Mastercard had already been hit for 2 $4,000 and 1 $2,000 transactions. That's $10K in less than 30 minutes. Mastercard froze our credit and they say it will be investigated. I asked if I should report to Paris police and the Mastercard lady said it's up to me.
BTW, to report to the police would require me to return to where it happened and then to locate the closest police station. I didn't do it.
The bad guys didn't try Amex.

Posted by
31221 posts

Sorry to hear about your experience in Paris. This is an old scam, but apparently still very effective. In this case it sounds like rather than just using a small bottle to put material on the subjects clothing, they went overboard and used a bucket or something larger. The fact that you "didn't feel a thing" was a testament to their "skill", which has no doubt been fine tuned by years of training and practice.

For future reference, it would be prudent to split cards and cash into two or three groups, and store in different locations. That way if someone gets your wallet, you won't lose everything at once.

FWIW even Rick was pick pocketed on the Paris Metro, so you're not alone.

Posted by
5010 posts

One of the oldest and best-known tricks in the book. Sorry you had this trouble.

A money belt (or similar device), and maintaining a constant awareness of what's going on around you is your best defense (plus skepticism when nice pedestrians suddenly appear with a full set of baby wipes ready for action).

Consider it an educational expense.

Posted by
5841 posts

That one has been around for decades -- often it is mustard and what a nasty trick. I think your clue that it was a prepared assault is the helpful people with baby wipes -- Bummer.

Posted by
1756 posts

Wow, what an experience! Thanks for sharing, it always helps to hear of the experiences of others. Hope being forewarned will help me be skeptical of "nice" strangers!
Also, the suggestion of wearing a money belt and having cards and money in more than one place is a good one.
Sorry you had to learn the hard way.

Posted by
942 posts

This is an old scam and it's not just Europe. Two couples that I know who went to Buenos Aires separately each got hit. First with the bird poop from nowhere, then the ever-helpful group who all used Kleenex to help "wipe them off". Always be alert.

Posted by
175 posts

If anything lands on me when I'm over there, I will call the police because this causes damage to clothing, at the very minimum. Even if the pickpocket is unsuccessful, the victim still has to deal with soiled or damaged clothes, or gross hair. I promise you that I will chase down anyone who tries to "help" me while I am dialing the police. I almost hope they try to do this to me, just so I have a chance to get these lowlife jerks prosecuted.

Posted by
8014 posts

Thanks for posting your awful experience. I'm sorry this happened to you. I've got family/friends traveling to Paris in July and will give them a link to your thread for a head's up.

BTW, I was just on a Rick Steves tour and on a canal ride in Ghent the first night one of the guys got pooped on by a seagull! It actually was poop....

Posted by
2246 posts

I promise you that I will chase down anyone who tries to "help" me while I am dialing the police. I almost hope they try to do this to me, just so I have a chance to get these lowlife jerks prosecuted.

Use caution when chasing people down in a country where you are not a citizen. Merely putting your hands on someone can make your bird poop story moot and spoil your vacation.

Posted by
493 posts

I'm with Adrienne on this. Being sheep is what has allowed these sort of criminals to prey on others for so long. People who put their hands on your body and inside of your clothing to rob you of your belongings are violent criminals committing assault—despite claims to the contrary that these are "non-violent" crimes. You, ultimately, have the natural right to defend yourself.

Posted by
14227 posts

Just as an aside - the best thing to do if you are a victim of real bird poop is nothing. If you try to wipe it off, you just make a bigger mess. Let it dry, then it will brush off harmlessly.

Posted by
24892 posts

pharmer phil - it may not be seen that way in every country

Posted by
175 posts

I don't intend on putting my hands on a person, because I know that (at least in the U.S.) this can be considered battery. But there is nothing to stop me from running after someone and standing right next to them until the police arrive.

Posted by
942 posts

I'm with Adrienne on this. Being sheep is what has allowed these sort
of criminals to prey on others for so long. People who put their hands
on your body and inside of your clothing to rob you of your belongings
are violent criminals committing assault—despite claims to the
contrary that these are "non-violent" crimes. You, ultimately, have
the natural right to defend yourself.

European countries have different laws then in the US about defending oneself. As for chasing after someone, unless an NFL linebacker with you I'd be cautious. People do crazy stuff when cornered.

Posted by
493 posts

Heather, that is why I refer to it as a "natural" right. When people refuse to be victims, criminals will stop victimizing them. As for these criminals, they won't want to stick around for police or court actions.

Posted by
5841 posts

LOL. and yet the US which is filled with people obsessed with violently 'defending' themselves is the most violent country in the western world. Hasn't seem to discourage violent crime any. I am sure the bird poopers will wait patiently while you call the police and the police will be ever so concerned about your clothing bills. Yeah it is really annoying to be targeted by these professional criminals; there is no effective way to counter them except being pickpocket proof. Wallets that are inaccessible don't get removed and rifled.

Posted by
2246 posts

Many pickpockets are young, and under the control of adults, with all of the attendant issues that brings-such as defenders watching your every move from a distance. This is a world few really understand, myself included. We can talk about our rights and how to teach someone a lesson, however this can be quite self serving in a foreign country where a lot of our customs, beliefs, and ways of dealing with problems are not the norm.

If this happens to me I'll be working to extricate myself from the situation and get away from those involved, not closer to them.

Posted by
2635 posts

"But there is nothing to stop me from running after someone and standing right next to them until the police arrive."

Call me a cynic, but assuming that you are able to keep pace with the pickpocket and then stand "right next to them" with nothing happening (seems highly unlikely but possible, I guess), you'll be waiting a long time for the police and nothing will happen. I have had reason to call the police three times in my life -- twice in Europe and once here in Palo Alto. The time in Palo Alto, I found a shoeless and dirty toddler wandering in the middle of the street and it took the police almost 20 minutes to reach us. The two times in Europe were in Barcelona and Paris and were to report pickpocketing of my travel companions. In Barcelona, the police did not show up and after over an hour and the manager of the restaurant where the theft happened promised to call my cell if the police showed -- I am still waiting for that call. In Paris, the police did show up after about 25 minutes and said there was nothing they could do but, my friend could go to the station and fill out a police report for insurance purposes.
I'm with Dave here. I want to be further away from criminals not right next to them. In any event, if you choose to confront, note that even so-called non-violent pickpockets can react violently. A few years ago, my former boss was on a metro in Paris and a sneak thief tried to get his phone. My boss noticed and reacted to protect his "natural rights" and ended up with a broken nose and smashed glasses from a punch in the face and no phone.

Posted by
743 posts

I was sitting outside the Duomo bell tower in Florence waiting for my wife and son who were climbing when I got hit with what seemed to be bird poop. No one came up to me with baby wipes or offered to help.

It was bird poop. :-)

Posted by
2665 posts

Sorry this happened. You're not responsible for the money spent. This 'adventure' meant time on the phone and an interesting story and lesson learned. It would appear you must have had sufficient cards or money to continue on your vacation or you would have mentioned it.

In urban areas of the US, the police do not come to one's home for a burglary. Why do some expect foreign police to respond to a mere pickpocketing? It is an extremely minor claim, annoying and inconvenient as it is. Accosting a pickpocket in the US could get you shot, why do this in a foreign country? After reading about how people say they would respond, is it any wonder we live in such a violent country?

Instead, chalk it up to a lesson learned. You let someone get in your space, instead of stepping back and just taking the wipes. The old adage is most pertinent: Don't put all your eggs in one basket. And really, one shouldn't use open pockets to store anything valuable.

Posted by
595 posts

the best thing to do if you are a victim of real bird poop is nothing. If you try to wipe it off, you just make a bigger mess. Let it dry, then it will brush off harmlessly.

Chani, trust it to you to offer some practical advice for real poop, in the midst of all these replies. I’ve already shared with a coworker who was a victim of a seagull yesterday in LA.

Jaisbow, thank you for sharing your experience. Amazing that they were able to take your wallet, open it, take the cards, and return it to you. A warning for us all. I know Avenue de la Bourdonnais well, very huppée. Except now I’ll be on the lookout. Thank you again.

Posted by
357 posts

Very sorry to hear this happened to you, jaesbow, but thank you for sharing this helpful information with us.

Echoing what others have said, I'd caution against going all vigilante on someone if you find yourself on the receiving end of this trick. The best option might be to instead loudly and firmly say "Do not touch me. Back away from me", or the same in the local language, if you speak it. Even a loud and firm "NO NO NO" could help. There's no need to play superhero and chase someone down. If you are able to draw attention and make a scene, though, that will usually scare bad guys off. The last thing they want is attention.

Posted by
2000 posts

I agree, yell loudly! Draw attention to what is happening, and hopefully scare them off.
Don't be a silent victim.

Posted by
2635 posts

Yelling and calling attention to yourself only works if you know that the crime is occurring as it is happening. Many vistims of sneak thievery (that's the whole point of pickpocketing), including the OP, have no idea that they are being victimized until well after the crime happens. Most people do not sit silently, unless a weapon is involved, while they know someone is stealing their stuff.

Posted by
167 posts

Money belt..I would never carry a wallet.. I am pretty stern with suspicious folks who get too close and like arms length if possible. (can be hard on the Metro of course). Key rings on backpacks are helpful for me.. Sorry they got you...it could happen to anybody as these people are masters of distraction...

Posted by
3514 posts

I am so very sorry this happened to you. Thank you for sharing this on the forum as a reminder to always be aware of surroundings, etc. Important information has been shared above. I'll just share that it can happen to anyone, and I hope this does not spoil your trip. Someone commented that Rick Steves was just a victim of a pick pocket. In Barcelona, my 20 yr old daughter's iphone was stolen out of her coat pocket as we sat in a public area on the steps eating pizza. We had been so very careful. One of her first comments, was that she felt so violated and foolish and her brother would make fun of her. Amazingly, no. When we contacted him, he stopped service on her phone and told her that he knew many smart people that had been pick pocketed in Spain and other places in Europe. It happens. To keep things in perspective, while you might be a victim of petty theft in Europe, I feel safer from violent crime while in Europe than I do in the U.S. and statistics backs this up. Now, we just laugh at the unfortunate pick pocket who happened to get a very old model iphone with a small amount of memory and a cracked screen. Paris is a great city with many, many wonderful people. Don't let the bad guys win, have a great trip in spite of them.

Posted by
750 posts

Some times it is real. Two years ago we were walking through the Luxembourg Gardens after it had rained and we were hit with a lot of water dripping off the trees including a number of big drops. Then two older oriental ladies who spoke very little English ran up to us and pointed out that we had been bird bombed and offered us wet wipes and helped my wife with the mess in her hair. Our planned trip to Chartes turned into a dash back to the hotel for all the necessary repairs followed by a trip to the nearest laundromat (nice little place) that turned out to be barely a block from our hotel.

While we did not enjoy the event when it was happening we look back at it with positive feelings because we were helped out by a couple of fellow tourists who were total strangers from another part of the world when it would have been perfectly easy for them to let us go on who knows how far with a truly disgusting mess on our backs. My only lasting regret is that we will never be able to adequately thank those ladies for their help.

I always carry a basically empty wallet with some trash bait in it in my back pocket which is the pickpockets favorite target. I put a small amount of cash in one front pocket and everything of any value goes in my neck wallet or the hotel safe. So far, so good.

Posted by
230 posts

Wow, I had never heard of this one. Adding to my "awareness queue" which is growing!