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Paris Scams.....

I watched a 2014 version of the TV show Scam City last night, and this episode was covering Paris. A few interesting points revealed in the program (which many in the group here are probably familiar with).....

  • The host visited art stores to Montmarte and bought a painting. He was assured repeatedly that it was made by a French Painter in Rennes and was an "authentic" French product. He took the painting to an art dealer who informed him that without any doubt whatsovever, the painting was actually made in China (there are apparently some telltale signs of that). When he returned to the store to confront them, it got nasty.
  • The host allowed himself to be taken by the "friendship bracelet" scam, and the seller (who was from Ghana) assured him that it would help his "love life". (and of course he wanted a payment for the supposed benefits the piece of string would provide).
  • He teamed up with a famous local pickpocket named "Chistoph" so that he could film the pickpocket at work in the Louvre. He finally found a "mark" in front of the information desk (a young woman) and with a distraction was able to lift her wallet. The host of the show later returned it to her. The pickpocket insisted that his activity was not crime but "art".
  • The host observed a number of "Three Card Monty / Shell Game" scams operating in Montmarte. These guys wanted as much as €50 for people to play the game and they said they can make about €3K per day per team. They said there are as many as 10 in a team, and there could be six or more teams working a particular area. The people operating these scams were from Romania.
  • In watching the various street scenes, it appeared there was an increased police presence in many areas.
  • The final scam covered in the show was the "pick-up artists" that target lone female travellers. The host of the show enlisted the aid of a female employee and she was approached by one of these guys and a "date" was arranged. However, the pick-up artist got a rude awakening when the date turned out to be the host of the show. The PU artist was later wired with a camera so that they could observe him in action, and within 90 seconds he had received an offer from a Parisian girl to buy him a drink.

I realize that the show is made mainly for entertainment and all may not be as its portrayed. The "Prague" episode of this show apparently wasn't entirely factual. However, it provided an interesting and entertaining look at some of the scams I'm aware of from travelling in Paris.

Posted by
8008 posts

Interesting Ken, particularly about the pickpockets working the Louvre, and undoubtedly the other big and crowded museums as well.

While in Versailles last Sept with a RS tour group, the guide nodded to and acknowledged a guard as we entered one of the rooms of the Palace. He immediately came over to her to alert her to the presence of pickpockets currently working the room. She, of course, immediately relayed the info thru our listening devices. But it made me wonder if the guard could pick them out why weren't they being cleared out?

Posted by
4179 posts

Are people really that naive to fall for these? if so, they are just as much to blame. I really hate how these kind of posts feed into the fears of the timid. Paris (and Europe) is not full of people trying to scam.

Finally, why the need to mention the bracelet guy was from Ghana? As someone who lived in that wonderful country for 7 years, I feel that this detail helps to feed a false West African stereotype. Totally unnecessary detail.

Posted by
8924 posts

Are people really that naive to fall for these? if so, they are just
as much to blame.

It's not cool to blame the victim. All blame goes to the bad guys, not folks engaging in lawful activities like walking around.

In regards to the Amsterdam episode, the portion where the host was pick pocketed in front of Centraal Station was obviously staged. The hidden camera had a shot of the guy who lifted the wallet pass the wallet it off to a partner. Yet a few seconds later no one on the crew or the noticed the robbery, and they lost him. My BS detector went off immediately.
Having said that this series is a guilty pleasure of mine. I'm sucker for any show that depicts any travel (good or bad).

Posted by
4514 posts

Do people still try and sell the Eiffel Tower for its scrap value ...

Posted by
8293 posts

I totally agree with Emily's comments. As I have said before on this forum, not every unpleasant thing that happens to you is a scam. Sometimes it is an error of judgement (like buying an oil painting of dubious origin) and sometimes it is the eagerness to get something that seems a marvellous bargain, such as the 1500 euro handbag for 50 euro one poster here was offered .... and BOUGHT. The odds that such a transaction would be legal are slim to none.

Posted by
333 posts

I agree, it's not fair to blame the victim/s. When my daughter and I travelled to Europe for the first time, we knew to be aware of pickpockets in the cities, but we had no idea HOW to be aware (if only I'd have known about this website then!). We had several incidents happen to us, fortunately our radars were working and our mild preparations kept us safe. However, it wasn't until I came on this website and read about common scams that I learned how many scrapes we narrowly avoided!

There is so much that goes into travel. Sometimes it just doesn't occur to people that they are vulnerable. I come from a midwestern town of 200 people. Folks are nice and helpful here. If a stranger asks you a question, you answer it. If they fall, you pick them up. To not do so is rude! Naturally we take that philosophy to other places, not imagining it makes us a target. Scamming as a way of living or as an "art" is as foreign as France itself. If there aren't places like here where we can learn about these things and how to protect ourselves (even by something as simple as saying "No!", then we don't learn. Nothing I've read here has made me afraid, but it has made me a smarter traveler for the future.

Posted by
4179 posts

So people who play the street games are completely innocent? Please.

People who buy fake art think they are getting treasure? Please.

I hate to even breathe life into this thread as I think these scam discussions are so baseless. Again, Europe is safer than the U.S.; don't be a guillible loon and you'll be fine. I learned how to say "no" in elementary school.

Posted by
8924 posts

Here we go again Europe is a nirvana, with no social ills, the residents don't pass gas, and their you know what never stinks...please. Europa has the same social ills any other continent has.

...and for the record the show in question covers scams all across the world...including the US of A. So their not just picking on holier than thou Europe.

Posted by
4179 posts

Yes, Europe is perfect, as I clearly stated above. Please.

Posted by
12124 posts

Michael; sorry, you lost me. What doesn't stink in Europe? And it is a fact if you will something away hard enough, it will leave. Of course, then it just returns under another name.

Posted by
12124 posts

Crime happens so what's the big fear to discuss it.

I have known only one individual that has ever been pickpocketed in Europe (I have had two unsuccessful hits on me - both in Paris).

I have never met an individual that was pickpocketed in the US. Probably a lot of innocent reasons for that.

If I loose my wallet in NJ, no big deal as I have a support network in the US that I could rely on to complete my journey.

If I loose my wallet in Bulgaria its a different story.

So the ramifications are different which means my level of care is also different; again, no bid deal.

There are places in the US that provide great conditions for street crime against tourists and there are similar places in Europe.

If this were a US forum we would probably be discussing the US locations and scams, but as this is a European forum we are discussing the European scams.
I researched the statistics the last time this came up and there are a few places in Europe with simply amazingly high rates of street crime against tourists that can be pretty much mitigated if the tourist were aware and took some simple precautions.

Why does that scare some people?

Honest and frank discussion is always healthy and productive.

Posted by
1811 posts

I would imagine that most of Europe stinks in July & August. I was there this month, and I am happy to report that aside from the occasional funkiness in the Paris Metro or at various spots in Florence, all was well from an olfactory standpoint.

I will say that in my two days in Lucerne, Switzerland, I did not detect a single instance of an off-putting smell, or curse word, or panhandling, or nary a frown. I guess when you're politically neutral and the minimum wage is the equivalent of something like $24/hour, there's no cause to be swearing at the sky... :)

Posted by
8293 posts

The Swiss are too correct to frown, curse or panhandle and stinking is out of the question. I remember the tour guide in Switzerland who stated categorically, "There is no criminality in Switzerland." What a pleasing thing to be able to say.

Posted by
2348 posts

It's the cowbells. They repel criminals, and deodorize, too.

Posted by
11613 posts

The first time I stopped in Switzerland, I took one look around and saw an elderly man pick up a chewing gum wrapper with the point of his umbrella and chase down the person who dropped it on the sidewalk. I was afraid I would get Switzerland dirty, so I got back on the train and went to relatively chaotic France.

I've been back to Switzerland many times since, and as for crime, a friend who lives there had her wallet lifted at a commuter train station. One world.

Posted by
8924 posts

Back in 1997.....in one day I saw two women in broad daylight get mugged/purse snatched in Bern. Later I saw the police catch a third person in the act inside the train station. Also for reasons unknown I witnessed a teenager tackle an elderly gentleman to the ground; it wasn't a robbery..some sort of macho crap. Then when I got back to my hotel in the evening a Bollywood musical was being filmed in the lobby. It was a very surreal day. Switzerland has some drug abuse issues. In the cities there are junkies around desperate for cash so they can get their next "hit".

Posted by
12090 posts

I afraid I would get Switzerland dirty, so I got back on the train and went to relatively chaotic France.

Best belly laugh of the day, Zoe!

Posted by
24849 posts

Don't believe that there is zero criminality in Switzerland.

There's a reason that the lightbulbs in the train station toilets are that awful shade of blue. It is so that the addicts can't see their veins and therefore won't be shooting up in the privacy of the toilets.

They'll be somewhere else though, and the money for their addiction has to come from somewhere. Most of them won't be working a job, so....

Posted by
8293 posts

Nigel, my recounting of what the Swiss guide said ("no criminality" in Switzerland") did not mean I could possibly believe it. It was a day or two after she made that statement that I watched as a gang of thugs broke into a car and stole the shopping inside. In my opinion, that guide truly believed what she said but was quite deluded.

Posted by
333 posts

Several years ago, while riding the Paris subway system ( a delight in itself!) a group of 'musicians' boarded the cars and performed some music. Afterward, they very aggressively solicited donations from the riders. It was very unpleasant. At one stop, there seemed to be an unusually long delay in getting the doors closed and the train moving again that made the experience even worse. But, at the next stop three plain clothes officers boarded the train and took the musicians away. Apparently, the delay was needed to get the officers in place for the arrest.

Posted by
693 posts

No one has mentioned the group that are historically the biggest criminals in Switzerland. The Swiss banks.

Posted by
2 posts

We've been staying in Paris for a couple of months every year for 8 years now and have seen lots of scams but I think it happens in all large cities. You may think that you will know if someone is in your pocket but you will not. Use common sense, don't get distracted, don't open your wallet to strangers and keep valuable items somewhere secure, not in your pockets!

A friend had his iphone stolen in the Orsay museum. He didn't realize it for two hours and called the company to disable it. When he got home, he looked at his photos which posted from his camera to his computer and found that the last thing the thief did was take a selfie! The guy racked up $2000 of data charges in that 2 hours!

A scam which has been around for quite a long time is young Romani women pretending to be deaf/mutes (they are not, I've heard them talking). They tend to congregate at the steps of Montmartre and other big tourist spots. They walk around with clip boards and petitions asking you to sign. If you sign they try to get you to "donate". As soon as you open your wallet your money will disappear without your knowledge. A sympathetic friend lost 300 Euro this way. Now this group has stepped up their aggression. Last week when I was coming out of the Opera Metro stop I saw three on these girls, about 20 yrs of age, walking towards a Japanese male tourist. I thought it odd that the girls were are all carrying folded newspapers. They ran up to the Japanese man, surrounded him and started to wave the newspapers at him and tried to get into his backpack. He reacted quite quickly and was able to escape but he seemed to think that something was missing from his backpack.

Posted by
1 posts

I've returned from Paris. I am a middle aged woman, traveled alone, and I did just fine. I did see all the scams, but I don't want people being so frightened that they don't enjoy Paris. I read all the blogs, and followed the Rick Steves posts. When a woman tried the dropped ring thing, I simply looked at her dead on and in a firm voice said, "Non! Je ne suis pas une idiot" and she left. When I saw girls approach with a clipboard I looked stern and said "Non". They left. I tried to watch my location the same as I would in any American location. I wore a money pouch, and placed only a few Euros and museum pass and phone into a cross body purse that I wore in front under a jacket. If it's too hot just rest your hand on it. If you make yourself a target you will be a victim. No phones in back pockets, guys. No backpacks in crowds. The laws are such that teens can only be held a few hours, and pickpockets get a small punishment so until the government cracks down its too lucrative a crime to disappear. The Louvre had groups of teens who pickpocket and hand off the goods, so they are tough to catch. Just assume there are pickpockets and keep your valuables safe. They'll move on to the easy target. And sadly I saw plenty of easy targets. Seriously ladies, no open purses in the crook of your arm. Don't lay your phone on the edge of the table. And folks, don't accept the offer from the cute guy to take your photo for you on your phone. He's about to run off with it.

Posted by
12154 posts

@ rainier 98...A couple of years ago I was in Paris across the street from the Orsay Museum waiting for the light to change when this kid pulls the drop gold ring thing. I thought here it comes, so I shrugged my shoulders and looked at him. He didn't know what to make of my reaction and left. I could tell he was ticked.

Posted by
42 posts

A number of years ago I was in a subway station in Paris. I was approached by two gypsy girls, probably not more than 8 years old, holding out a sign for me to read while their hands, supposedly hidden by the sign, reached out for my pockets. I told them to go away [I speak some French], they laughed and spat at me while leaving. A few stations down I ran into a police officer and told him of my experience: he gave a Gallic shrug and exclaimed in exasperation, "They're everywhere!" Their parents turn them out so young because they know that at that age they cannot be held legally accountable. But don't think that such things only happen in Europe. When younger I worked in a discount store here in Canada and the shoplifters who disgusted me the most were the mothers who would conceal the stolen merchandise in the baby strollers then claim that their child must have taken it when they were not looking.