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"Do you speak English" scam in Paris

It was during our visit to Paris in late June that we became aware of roving groups of women in their 20s or 30s who are carrying clipboards and who walk up to tourists and say "Do you speak English". We were warned about this early after our arrival so we never responded to them. I believe they always addressed the question to my wife so they seem to be pursuing women more than men.

We are really not sure what they were up to but we spoke with some other travelers about who said that they stole his sandwich. They apparently claim to be conducting a survey or asking for a petition to be signed.

We encountered them at the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral and at the Gar du Nord train station. We arrived relatively early in the morning at the Eiffel Tower one day and actually saw them traveling together in a line carrying the clipboards.

Also suspect, are these young men carrying large hoops upon which are strung these cheap metal replicas of the Eiffel Tower. We saw them both at the tower and at Versailles. There was one time when they must've seen some police as they all ran like lemmings across the area under the Eiffel Tower towards its periphery.

Posted by
6801 posts

Yes, the girls are pickpockets. The men with the Eiffel Towers are just vendors trying to make a living. They run because they don't have a license to sell, but they won't rob you.

Posted by
3372 posts

The clipboard groups are an old pickpocket scam. Sometimes, they pretend that they can't speak.

Posted by
11431 posts

Besides pickpocketing you.. the petition girls will tell you after you sign the petition( which is always for something like "helping deaf children" or some other charitable cause) that you have to then donate a certain amount of money.. that you signed saying you would etc.

The Eiffel Tower vendors are not thieves., they are just not supposed to sell stuff..

Posted by
12103 posts

That's right...you will most likely see them at Gare du Nord and the stairway as you going down the stairs presumably encumbered with luggage to Gare de l'Est. Either you ignore them or bark out NO.

Posted by
30968 posts

This is an old scam, and one that I've seen many times. While suckers are focused on reading the information on the petiition, the scammers are "pinching" whatever they can get. From a logical standpoint, why would any government in Europe be concerned about signatures on a petition from a bunch of tourists who don't even live (or vote) there. Total rubbish!

The petition scammers are always representing very worthwhile children's causes - deaf / blind / mute / crippled / insert name of affliction here, but you can darn sure the poor children won't see a nickel of the money these scammers collect. For one example, have a look at this - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4uwuQ-uZqU

For general interest, here are couple of other videos on the subject....

Posted by
7173 posts

I had a roving group of 18 people with me this year, and while in Rome I encountered a group of elderly women speaking German and all huddled around one of their group lamenting about the horrible blisters on her feet that the lady was attempting to cover with toilet tissue.

I approached and said "Do you speak English". They looked at me and smiled and said yes. I pulled out a handful of band aids from my pocket and offered it to them and they were ecstatic and so very thankful.

Moral: Not everyone who approaches you and asks "Do you speak English" (or german or french or italian) is a scam artist.

Posted by
8293 posts

Thank you Tim. Sometimes a scam is in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by
2044 posts

True - but if they have a clipboard, presume it's a scammer.

We had wonderful results in Gare du Nord this April responding to the "English" question from several petitioners with "No habla espanol". Priceless expression from these seemingly deaf petitioners each time as they then shuffled away.

Posted by
42 posts

I have seen the petition scam literally all around the world, the last time at a couple of locations in Venice. Personable young men or women come up to you with a petition they ask you to sign; always the "cause" is something that few would think unworthy. The petition has a long list of signatures, all of whom seem to have donated large sums of money to the cause. The idea is to shame you through peer pressure into also donating money. I just tell them to get lost.

Posted by
635 posts

In Rome last month I only saw the petition guys and "Do you speak English" guys around the Trajan's Column area. Maybe the selfie-stick guys are crowding them out everywhere else.

They really need better coaching. It's not too effective when a scruffy guy in a t-shirt walks up with a clipboard and grunts, "Sign against drugs ... ?"

Posted by
30 posts

Yes, it is a scam. This scam is known as "Petition Pick Pocket". While they converse with you, they use the petition to block your view of your fanny pack, bag or wallet while they pry it open and take your money. Don't underestimate how crafty they can be. They are well trained and this is how they eat. You can find video examples all over youtube. We encountered them in August and immediately walked to avoid them.

Posted by
8293 posts

The OP says someone told him about someone else who had their sandwich stolen in Paris. Now that really is going too far. A hungry person stole a sandwich. Alert Interpol.

It goes both ways - here the US, there is the old "deaf beggar" that will either sign and if the person responds no, they hand the person an card with the ASL ABCs printed on them and ask for a dollar or so in exchange. Observing this afar, I decided to casually stroll by in hopes that the "scam artist" would notice and ask me. Sure enough, the person signed (but not legitimate signs - more like gestures. I am Deaf myself and fluent in ASL). I smiled and signed "Great! Another deafie like me!" The scammer's eyes bugged out, dropped the cards and fled. Guess I was the first Deaf person they met? I had a good laugh on that and make a beeline for every "fake-deafie-with-ASL-cards" and oust them.

Posted by
3580 posts

Many beggars hang around Gare du Nord. If you wait for your train there, be aware. Some just want money, but they can be aggressive and annoying.