Scams, Annoyances and What to Avoid in Paris
This is a section of my website that I don’t enjoy writing about but my website exists in order to aid you in achieving the best experience possible, without all the research and footwork when savouring, exploring and discovering Paris.
Therefore this also means making you aware of a few scams and annoyances that you may or may not come across.
There is nothing to fear or become paranoid about but forewarned is forearmed and knowledge is power.
Below I have compiled a list of a few scams, accompanied by tips and tricks, which once you are aware of, hopefully you can avoid and get on with enjoying Paris unscathed.
The Gold Ring Scam:
This would have to be the most illogical scam in existence and yet people fall for it.
More often than not this scam takes place on the Pont des Arts bridge, the pedestrian bridge that leads from the left bank to the Louvre on the right bank although there are reports of it happening elsewhere.
A woman will approach you with what appears to be a gold wedding band claiming that you have dropped it and offers to return it to you with a big smile on her face. How gracious of her. After you insist that it isn’t yours, she wants you to have it anyway.
Here is the catch, to start with it is not a valuable gold ring but a gold plated piece of junk, which now she wants money for because out of the goodness of her heart, she found it and returned it to you.
I told you it doesn’t make sense. No matter how much you try to convince her it is not yours or that you don’t want it, she won’t give up without an easy fight and let me tell you, from experience, they can get quite aggressive. They also work in groups and have a caretaker male nearby watching everything.
Don’t make eye contact, don’t take the ring and don’t engage in conversation with them. A sharp no and keep walking is the advice normally given, although when I was approached last year for the very first time, I simply roared with laughter, she didn’t like that one bit and spat at me and called me a few unsavoury words in English as she stormed off to her caretaker.
The Clipboard Scammers:
These scammers mostly hang out around the big monuments; normally the Eiffel Tower and the forecourt of the Notre Dame Cathedral working in groups and scatter like rats the moment the police arrive.
They fall into two categories; the ‘sympathy vote’ and the ‘petition activist’.
Looking official with a clipboard tucked under their arm they will approach you, asking if you speak English, of course, if English is your first language you are likely to automatically answer without thinking.
The other is where they will simply shove a clipboard at you and ask you to read the document attached.
The ‘sympathy vote’ will have a heart felt story written on a piece of paper explaining how they don’t have a job or money and can you donate to their cause.
The ‘petition activist’ will have a list of names and signatures, encouraging you to join the fake cause and expect a ‘donation’. Simply signing and not donating will make for an angry scammer.
Don’t take the board from them, don’t engage in conversation and don’t give them anything, it is a scam. Again a sharp no or what I find even better still is simply to ignore them and pass them by. If you can avoid responding to their ‘do you speak English’ catch, that helps all the more. Don’t try to be clever feigning another language, the chances are they might speak several languages.
The String Bracelet Guys:
The String Bracelet scammers, usually loiter around the base of Montmartre, around the entrance to the funiculaire (the lift going up the hill), on the steps leading up to Sacre Coeur and around the Basilica itself.
Normally men, in groups and can be quite aggressive and persistent.
Their scam is to get the braided string bracelet onto you wrist. They are experienced and swift and when you can’t get it off, they want money.
Don’t engage or make eye contact and don’t let them at your arm. Also be aware that if they do manage to get it on your arm or you engage with them, their mates will gather around while you are distracted and pick-pocketing could take place.
Ignore them and walk passed them if they persist a sharp and firm no and keep moving.
Aggression or smart talking is not the key in any of these cases, your best weapon is a firm no or ignoring them altogether.
Slight of Hand Magic Trick:
You have no doubt seen this scam anywhere around the world in it’s various forms.
A ball or a coin under an upturned cup and the trick is to work out where it is after the magician moves them around. Of course, this is a standard magic trick and no matter what, you will not win.
A crowd will gather around to watch or gamble and some of the crowd will also be accomplices. When I took this shot on Pont des Arts, I observed these guys for quite some time. They were all in the gang and had spotters at either end of the bridge.
This situation is a bad spot to be for two reasons, you will not win and if you did manage to guess where the token under the cup or piece of cardboard hides, their accomplice will make sure you are distracted somehow, so you will still lose.
Another reason to avoid even simply being a spectator is as the crowd thickens you are leaving yourself vulnerable to pick-pockets.
There is so many wonderful things to see in Paris and this is not one of them.
The street sellers are not scammers and quite frankly I don’t even find them annoying.
Normally they hang around the Trocadero where you get one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower, in the Tuileries Gardens and opposite the Louvre near the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
They generally sell Eiffel Towers in varying sizes, which are either thread onto a large ring or they lay them out on a blanket where they can quickly bundle them up and run if the police arrive.
This practice is illegal, they don’t have a hawkers licence. If you do want to buy souvenirs from them make sure you barter well but with a friendly tone and you will probably get three small key-rings for around 1 euro.
If you are not interested, generally one simple non merci to them and they will leave you alone and walk away.
Automatic Money Dispensers:
This one is not only a scam but theft and one to be very careful of.
What these opportunists do is prey on unsuspecting tourists and Parisians withdrawing money. Normally a group of young men who will quickly distract you just before your money spits out, they grab the cash and run.
A number of money dispensing machines are located within banks and post offices and this is probably the safest place to withdraw cash. Try to avoid machines located in quiet streets and as always, be weary of your surroundings.
Adopt a Safe Routine
Another act of theft that tourists and locals fall prey to is mobile phones and cameras left lying around.
If you are sitting on a café terrace don’t leave your bag unattended, or your phone or camera gear lying around on the table for a passerby to grab and run.
Don’t carry your mobile phone in your back pocket, especially when you are in places with high volumes of people where you can be jostled. The crowded metro is the perfect place for pick-pockets to relieve you of your valuable items.
Avoid using your mobile phone on the metro. It is not unusual for a thief to snatch a mobile phone from a commuter’s hand right before the train doors close.
This post is to inform rather than scare the living daylights out of you. If you are aware of what the current scams are, have an idea of where they are located and what to look out for and how to react, chances are you won’t fall victim.
Tourists who travel on the metro with an expensive camera hanging from their neck, their wallet sticking out of their back pocket and fiddling on their mobile phone while talking loudly in their given language are prime targets. They may as well put a large sign on their forehead stating look at me, I am in a foreign country and I have loads of valuables waiting to be lifted.
Common sense and keeping your wits about you and a good safe routine with valuables is always a good practice.
I hope that this has been useful and armed with you with some solid tips for safe and happy travels.
If you have found this information useful please thank me by leaving a comment or following me on facebook, your feedback encourages me to continue to keep this site up to date. Merci.
Now let’s explore some of my secret places:
- Belle Époque BrothelsLavish brothels dotted around Paris during the Belle Epoque were easily identifiable, some relics exist today, if you know what to look for.
- Square de MontsourisA hidden jewel, begging to be discovered. Eclectic maisons wrapped in greenery, unseen by most tourists to Paris.
- Secret Garden Hôpital Hôtel-DieuA secret garden in an unusual location, right in the centre of Paris that thousands of tourists pass by each day without knowing it exists.
- La GalcanteVintage periodicals and books fill this small quirky, off the beaten path shop in a secluded courtyard where you may find the perfect Parisian souvenir.
- Lavirotte Building and Square RappExquisite Art Nouveau building with one of the most beautiful doors in Paris & a tiny square that offers a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower.
- Passage de l’AncreWho would know a delightful, tranquil little piece of paradise could be hidden away behind an unassuming crooked doorway in the heart of Paris.
- Rue CrémieuxA tiny paved street, that oozes charm, lined with pretty colourful houses that will take your breath away, still one of Paris' best kept secrets.
- Musée des Arts ForainsTransport yourself back in time. Ride spectacular antique carousels, play ancient fair-ground games and admire colourful memorabilia.
- Villa Olivier-MétraPretty cottages with colourful shutters line this serene leafy path with quaint personal touches added by residents who have a playful sense of humour.
- Bibliothèque Sainte-GenevièveA remarkable and historic reading room with its spectacular ceiling, books lining the vast long walls and rows of green reading lamps.
- St. Sergius Orthodox Theological InstituteHidden away on a leafy hill is the oldest Russian Orthodox Theological Institute in Western Europe.
- Restaurant Foyer de la MadeleineLurking deep in the cellars of L’église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine is one of Paris' best kept secrets, Restaurant Foyer de la Madeleine.
- An Angel in ParisSoaring high above, with it's delicate wings nestled under a fourth floor balcony and yet remarkably this rare Paris secret often goes unnoticed.
- Bibliothèque RichelieuMillions of books line the walls of this historic library under monumental ceilings and finally, it is open to the public.
- The Secret PassageThis lush and adorably sweet top secret passageway is a pure delight. Let me show you where to find it and how to gain entry. But sssh ... it's our secret.
- Passage BoudinCreeping vines, colourful flower boxes and an unusual semi-circular building that would be more at home in the Mediterranean is just some things you will find.
- Cité FloraleA secret micro village hidden away, in a small pocket, off the beaten path in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. Discover why it is called the Floral City.
- La Butte aux CaillesA secret hideway with cobbled streets, a sweet village square, interesting street art and friendly, affordable cafés, tucked away in the 13th arrondissement.
- Rue de MouzaïaOff the beaten path, Rue de Mouzaia will make you feel blessed that you discovered this secret hideaway and it’s surrounds in the 19th arrondissement.
- Rue des ThermopyleApart from locals taking a short-cut, or Parisians on a quiet stroll, what you will find here is a wisteria filled, rustic cobbled pathway.
- Square Saint-Gilles Grand VeneurHidden away behind the Hôtel du Grand Veneur in the Marais is a little known secret square with a surprising artistic connection.
- Salvador Dali SundialMany people pass this hidden gem by Salvador Dali tucked away on the Left Bank of Paris unaware that they only need to look up.