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Paris Metro Make Up Scam

My husband and I met two American friends at Gare Du Nord who were arriving from London on the Eurostar. They had too much luggage and large overstuffed handbags which we helped them carry onto Metro Line 4. We changed Metros at Montparnasse to Line 12, heading for Convention. As we were about to exit the Metro at Convention, a guy pumped jets of foundation make-up onto the backs of my and my husband's coats. We were standing and our friends were sitting. We did not feel or see anything but the guy who sprayed our coats nudged one of our friends, and pointed at the make up. Fortunately our other friend was alert and stared down another of the guys who she figured was planning to nab her bag while we were all checking out the "stuff" on our coats. It took about 40 minutes of scrubbing with soap and warm water to get the oil based make up off our clothes. A new trick for us. We have lived in Paris for two years and have always been very careful on metros, in museums etc. Our friends' overstuffed hand bags were probably an invitation to the would be thieves. I am guessing they followed us from Gare du Nord. Line 12 was not very crowded at 3 in the afternoon so the spraying was easily accomplished.

Posted by
6554 posts

It was another scam of a group of pickpockets. The Paris Underground is full of those guys. What gets me is the police see them on their television monitors and they're all well known. Nothing ever seems to improve.
We were going down an escalator, and a guy took a dive at the bottom in front of us. My wife and I and about 7-8 people piled on top of the guy while his buddies swooped in for the kill. All they were after was cash in billfolds and valuables. This is how they work. The pickpockets don't want any credit cards that'd link them legally to the heist--cash is untraceable.
And the French wonder why people from other countries have negative thoughts about Paris.

Posted by
8293 posts

Which people from other countries have negative thoughts about Paris? Everyone I know loves Paris. Is there no crime in your part of the world?

Posted by
7679 posts

David... what about London? What about Italy? Just to name two...

Hey, come to San Francisco... you'll love Paris. At least they don't kill you there.

Posted by
7315 posts

I do need to speak up for the Paris Metro police, Dave. They do care, they do arrest if victims press charges, and they work hard. But between the hoodlums coming into town from the suburbs, the organized gangs from Eastern Europe, the gropers going for the young women and men, and those with mental health problems jumping in front of trains, they've got their hands full. We have French tv at home here in the States, so I've seen plenty of reports on the job they face. It can be frustrating for passengers, but they're doing a good job.

Posted by
12160 posts

Watch TV 5 here.

Having overstuffed handbags is a dead give-away as a target for thieves. A good number of Americans (I won't say a lot) I've noticed over there simply stick out, not just as tourist. ( That's me too, I got tourist written all over me.) They are conspicuous as Americans, too focused on themselves, their immediate group of 3-6, without paying attention to or plain oblivious to their surroundings, talking loudly, or at least loud enough to be overheard that it's American English with some kind of American accent. Then there are those who carry way too much luggage, too big or too many pieces as to be literally cumbersome. You notice this on the train platforms, just how much luggage tourists are dragging around.

Posted by
7204 posts

When you have too much luggage just take a taxi instead of attempting to navigate the metro.

Posted by
762 posts

Interesting! In Venice I had someone put goopy stuff on my hand them point at it to get my attention. I did not stop as we were in a crowded narrow area. I had read about the trick on this site. I found a spot a bit further on to stop with my back against a building, and cleaned my hand. I was lucky to not have badly stained clothing.

I have splurged on taxis or the airport bus when leaving CDG!

I do love Paris and will return soon.

Posted by
11450 posts

David.. so explain to me why Americans don't have same feelings for Barcelona or Rome.. I have been to both and there are just as many scams and pickpockets there.. in fact they can be a bit more aggressive in Barcelona.. ride by on bikes and purse strap cutting,, something not so popular in France. Silly statement.

Anyways.. bprowse.. I had heard of this trick before.. and sorry it happened to you and your friends.. but really wish folks would realize that if travelling on public transport they really need to be able to handle and manage a reasonable amount of luggage.. or as said.. take taxis, because yes. pickpockets look for the good pickings..

Posted by
877 posts

You all, I'm not going to speak for David, I'm sure he can answer you if he wants, but I don't think it's necessary to jump all over someone (no pun intended) for an aside comment. I've been on the subway systems in Rome, London, and Paris, and yeah, Paris is the only one where I've seen crazy cat stuff taking place. There I said it. It doesn't mean that I don't like Paris or that that stuff doesn't happen elsewhere (although odds of goofball pickpocket rackets may be less in London).

Also, after being on here a while, I notice that sometimes posters from the more southerly portions of the U.S. say things in a more conversational way, and people jump all over it. (And I'm originally from what some people would consider the south.) There are nuances in tone that don't get picked up in written emails. Quite frankly, I think some posters here (in general, not just on this thread) are borderline sarcastic or picky on an almost constant basis. Are you being sarcastic? I dunno. I don't know you. You could be the biggest crab apple that ever walked or you could be a decent person who writes in choppy, pointed sentences.

it's an observational comment. The Paris tourism board isn't gong to shut down tomorrow because of one comment on the RS forum.

Posted by
518 posts

I agree, there is crime of all sorts in all big cities. I think that when we are on vacation our expectations are a bit different and there is perhaps an entitlement to a safe and carefree experience.

Posted by
12160 posts

" pickpockets look for good pickings." I'll include scammers too. In 2007 at Gare du Nord I saw this girl with one of the "do you speak English" signs. What was I doing there? People watching. This girl approached three locals guys (Africans) in business clothes standing at a circular espresso stand, one of whom was explaining (in French) , the other two listening attentively. I watch them too. Obviously these three were not tourists. I thought it was strange for her to approach these Africans and wanted to see how they would react to a scammer. The girl approached them, they didn't even pay her any attention or allow her to speak, the guy talking kept on going, one of them saying nothing verbally with a wave of the hand told to beat it. She did, obviously they were totally ignoring her., and it was obvious these Africans knew what was up.

After that she went to this American girl, a college backpacker, standing nearby alone. Instead of ignoring her this girl listened to the scammer after seeing English sign. I thought then ..don't tell me she's going to fall for this. The longer the conversation went on, the greater the chance I saw her getting scammed, handing over money. I had made up my mind to say something if it came to that. Luckily, it did not. In the end, the girl said no thank you, the scammer left empty handed. No, this scammer did not approach me, or I walked away.

It's one thing to be immediately recognised as a tourist as was this girl by the scammer, but it's another thing on how to react to it, once you recover from the initial moment of being caught off guard. That happens to all us , then what?

Posted by
15 posts

My wife and just returned from spending a month in Paris. I know there are pickpockets in crowded places. Knowing this, I have given up carrying a wallet and have an Eagle Creek around the neck wallet in which I carry two things: cash, zipped up inside and my atm card, also zipped up in a separate place. I also have my camera around my neck and also a Victorinox sling bag in which my guide book, map, and sometimes an additional lens for my camera is carried along with my cell phone in a zipped up pocket. During our month in Paris we rode the Metro all the time and were not victimized as it would have been just too difficult to get anything from us. I do warn people to avoid usually young girls trying to get you to sign petitions to help deaf children. This is just a diversionary tactic. They hang out at the Eiffel Tower and and on some the bridges. I also saw all kinds of beggars who seem to be disabled, but I do not believe they are. Another begging ploy is for a guy sit on the street with a small dog curled up at his feet. People like dogs and are more likely to give money to him. I did not.

Posted by
8293 posts

So you did not give money to a poor man, with a dog at his feet, begging for assistance. Did you not even feel pity for the dog?

Posted by
8927 posts

People like dogs and are more likely to give money to him.

There are a variety reasons you see dogs with homeless people these days. Sympathy is certainly a factor, another is companionship/security. But the primary reason is that it keeps the police at bay. The police are less likely to arrest a homeless person if they have a dog. It makes the situation very complicated as they have to deal with both the person and what to do with the dog. It's a sad situation all around.

Posted by
2106 posts

It's hard to tell who is a swindler and who is poor, with or without dog. I once saw s young man in Brussels with a dog who was begging. He had a look of complete dejection. The next day I saw him early in the morning when few people were around. He was talking to his dog looking quite happy. He spotted some people coming, immediately jumped to his knees, put his hands out, and put on the dejected look. I had to laugh, it was such a transformation. I assume most beggars are poor, but some have chosen this as a way to make money.

Posted by
11450 posts

Carroll.. this is such a sore spot for me.

Do you know in my city the average rent for a room in a house ( where you have to share a bathroom and kitchen with up to 3-4 other renters) is at least 500 dollars. Yet.. our welfare housing allowance is 375 dollars. So.. most have to make more money.

They have choices.
Begging is one choice.
Collecting cans and bottles is another.
Stealing and pawning stolen stuff is another.
Selling small amounts of drugs .
Selling their bodies.

Saying get a job is easy enough,, but keep in mind,, many have issues that make t it most likely they would ever be hired,, grade 9 educations, drug addictions, mental health issues.. I knew an 19 yr old girl who lived in foster care from the age of 11-17
. At 7 her drug addicted mother gave up her parental rights and she was sent to live with her father who she had never met. At 10 her father remarried and he and his new wife did not want her,. hence.. they signed off on their parental rights to her at 11. Foster care.. sexually abused in foster care. By 17 she was set up by Ministry of child services to live in an apartment.. by herself in a scuzzy area of town ( cheap) , a social worker visited her weekly though and the ministry did pay her rent. .. .there was no room in any group home for her.. they had to give the spaces to the younger children .She of course dropped out of school. worked at McDonalds.. but couldn't handle it.. was eventually diagnosed with anxiety and borderline personality disorder,, I could go on and on. I know this young lady fairly well.. ( I won't say how) but she is a sweetheart. and now at 23 she had made great strides in life.. but she did live on the streets for awhile.. ( she "aged out" of Social services for children when she turned 19) .. and in some youth shelters( only equipped to take kids for a week at a time )..

Anyways.. sorry.. went on .. but my point is.. beggers are not a problem to me.. as long as they are not rude or aggressive. and most aren't .

Begging is not the worst thing.. rather meet a begger then a pickpocket or scammer.

Posted by
31219 posts

This sounds like a variation of the old mustard / ketchup / pigeon poop scam. Using an oil based foundation make-up is nasty, as that's going to be difficult to remove without some kind of solvent.

Posted by
167 posts

I am familiar with the varieties of scams that are discussed on this forum and other travel forums.
I have seen some of those discussed, the tossing baby scam, stain on clothing, asking for donations scam, pickpockets on public transport or in any situation where there are groups of tourists.
The donation scam I observed in Verona. I knew what was coming when 2 young men with official looking lanyards, clipboards, set a table on the sidewalk. I got a table in a restaurant near the scam and settled back with a glass of wine to observe.The young men politely ask tourists passing by (in English) if they would like to sign a petition against drugs and HIV, and once a signature was obtained, ask for a donation.
What was amazing to me was how many people actually signed and then gave a donation! At no point were those scammed exercising common sense or thought as to how ridiculous their participation was.

This was ironic and sad to me, because although Verona has very little visible poverty, there were a few people begging on the street. A pitiful fellow sitting with a sign asking for money was ignored by the people who gave money to the scammers. I always gave him some money and/or food and water when I walked by. I always give money to people begging on the street, I really do not care if they are "legitimate" beggars or not. If someone is desperate enough to do this kind of activity they meet my criteria of being in need.
Yes I watch my back, am informed and cautious, but I know how lucky I am to travel and I spare a few Euros for beggars on my path.

Posted by
8293 posts

Nice to see some posting here who have a bit of compassion for beggars. One of my sons lived on the streets, far away from home and I look at the poor ones here who beg and always think they are someone's sons, too, and I drop some coins into the cup if can. There is a small old man who takes up a position near my building every morning, though it is beginning to get cold now so sitting on the sidewalk will soon be impossible. Anyway, sometimes I give him some money and sometimes I don't but he always smiles when he sees me, a big smile, and says " Bonjour, Madame! Ca va bien?" I think that civil interaction with another human being is as important to him as the loonie I may or may not give him.