Paris Safety Tips

Leave Us Alone!

Paris is a relatively safe city, as cities go, and recently, I was having a discussion with someone about places to be wary about traveling to and was told that the only place in the world that they felt unsafe was in….San Francisco. (And they were from Naples!) So anything can happen anywhere in the world and petty crime sometimes occurs in places where you don’t expect it, like museums, hotel dining rooms, and restaurants.

Sometimes it’s just bad luck. Other times, it’s a lapse of common sense. For example, if you wear fancy jewels or tote a pricey handbag on the métro, there is probably someone on there that loves your gold Rolex as much as you do. On public transit, it’s especially easy to “grab and go” things because once the doors shut and the train pulls away, the damage is done. (If that does happen to you, notify the driver at the next station; sometimes they will call security for you and alert others on the train to be careful.) In cases where your wallet is stolen, they will sometimes remove the cash right away and toss everything else in the trash, or even on the ground, as it’s hard to prove that a wad of cash is stolen. So sometimes you do get your wallet back. (A friend had the wallet lifted from her purse, which was next to her in a restaurant. After the diner next to her quickly left before eating, when she realized what had happened, the waitress found her wallet on the ground just outside.)

Wily pickpockets blend in well. It’s easy to categorize people by how they dress or look, or their nationality, but pros know how to mix in. Someone who leads tours in Italy pointed out the pickpockets at her outdoor market, some posing as young couples on their honeymoon and I never would have suspected a thing. I’ve shooed away a few young women “tourists”, looking lost as they tried to read their maps in Barcelona, using the maps to cover up their hands as they rifled through people’s belonging. I’ve seen the same ruse in Paris and it’s a shame that we have to be careful when helping someone who is ostensibly lost.

Tourists and visitors can feel timid about raising a stink in public. But if you feel you are in a “situation”, don’t be afraid to be pro-active; in spite of their reputation, Parisians are very helpful and they hate scams and petty thieves too, and will often come to your aid. (Although that’s not always the case!) However if you feel in danger, it’s best to give up your wallet or whatever, to avoid things escalating. If you are a victim of a crime, you can file a police complaint online and they claim to contact you, but it’s probably better to go to the police yourself, especially if you need a police report to file an insurance claim back home. Bring along a French-speaking person if possible.

Found Ring

This is a common ruse in touristed areas, like the 6th, and happens on the bridges that cross the Seine as well as in places like the Place de l’Opéra and Madeleine. Someone walking in front of you will “find” a gold ring on the ground and pick it up, with a look of surprise. (I don’t know why they are so surprised, since they let it drop from their shirt cuff.) They will show it to you, ask if it’s yours, then after marveling at what a valuable piece of jewelry they found, they will offer to let you buy it from them for a great price. The ring is cheap brass – just walk away. (I usually laugh in their face and tell them “You’re kidding me – right?”, although I don’t recommend that tactic as some people have been spat upon.)

Métro

Crowded métros and buses are places to be alert. Be careful of people following you through the turnstiles. It’s a popular way for people to avoid paying the fare. But also, for some, as they push through, squeezing in behind you, they are lifting your wallet. If you see someone getting ready to lunge behind you, do as I do and stop, pretend that you forgot something, and stand there for a moment. They will quickly move on to someone else. You’ll notice that Parisian speak softly on public transit. Speaking loudly quickly identifies you as someone who is not a local and may be in unfamiliar territory. Cameras from your neck easily mark you as someone with something to lose. (As someone who often carries a camera with him, I’m acutely aware of that. I always keep mine in my rucksack.) If the métro is packed when it shows up and you have valuables, you might want to wait for the next one. Notorious métro lines are the lines 1, 2 and 9, as well as stations near Montmartre (including the Anvers and Barbès stations) and you should just be extra aware when riding those lines or entering or exiting those stations. No need to be paranoid – just pay attention.

Paris public transit is fairly safe at night but many lines that go to outer neighborhoods may be deserted at the later hours. While it’s more expensive, if you’re in an unfamiliar neighborhood and there aren’t a lot of people around, ask the restaurant to call a taxi for you.

Paris velo

Louvre

Recently the Louvre security guards went on strike because there were so many pickpockets and petty thieves patrolling the museum. And because children get in free, many of those scofflaws are kids. Everyone is looking at art and not concentrating on their personal belongings. So be especially aware while at the Louvre and if you someone is standing too close to you, move away. If shopping in the gift shop or buying a snack, be aware when you remove your wallet and put it away.

Petitions

Although some mainstream organizations send young people into the streets to get folks to sign petitions and ask for money to aid valid humanitarian causes, there are teams of young girls and boys with clipboards, clamoring for you to sign something. Often they are for organizations that claim to assist the blind or deaf. As the City of Paris advises, “Although they may seem to be acting on behalf of reputed associations and foundations, they are not. Their only aim is to get money from you, which will never be tranferred to these organzations but instead used to fund illegal organization and underground networks.” And in some instances, while one is asking you to read their papers, another might be checking out your pockets.

Most “real” signature gatherers wear jackets or t-shirts with logos on them. If you suspect otherwise, a good idea is to pretend you don’t speak English when they come up to you and ask, “Do you speak English?” Or just wave them away and keep walking. If you want to donate to a real charity, send them a check directly.

ATMs

Thieves scope out some ATM machines and have lightning-fast fingers. So once you enter your code, they will rush by, shove you aside, and hit the buttons for the highest amount of cash and run off with it. The way to avoid this is to use ATMs that are located inside banks whenever possible, during business hours. Or go with a friend and have them stand near you while you get cash out.

Open Purses

In restaurants, do not leave purses on the floor, hanging from the back of your chair, or on the banquette or seat next to you. One ruse is that a customer will come in (without a reservation) and slide in next to you. They’ll scope out the menu, then suddenly decide they’re not interested in eating there and leave…taking your wallet with you. Another ruse is to “stumble” when walking by a table, using that as a chance to rifle through a purse left on the floor. That happened to a friend who was staying in a small tourist hotel and a woman, who looked like just another hapless tourist, took a spill while they were having breakfast. She brushed herself off, assuring them that she was “Okay” – and kept on with her day. Unfortunately, my friend spent the rest of the day at the police station and the embassy, filing police reports and getting a new passport.

RER B

The RER train from the airport is fast and cheap. It’s also full of jet-lagged people, bleary from a long flight. If you take the RER B train from the airport, do not leave your luggage next to the door; I’ve seen people reach in just as the doors were closing at one of the stations, and grab a suitcase just as the doors were closing. (Fortunately the fellow acted quickly and wrestled his suitcase back just as the door were closing on him.) The “B” line goes through a variety of neighborhoods, and passes by the stadium and a major exposition center, which can mean crowded conditions. They are currently renovating the transit cars on that line which will be a welcome change, and there is talk of special “express” trains to the airport that are cleaner and presumably more secure as well.

155 comments

  • I’ve heard that a lot of Americans are now scared to travel to Paris, yet they’ll happily head to Barcelona, London, Rome, etc., where many of these same problems exist. I know the crime in Paris has gotten worse, but it always pays to use common sense when traveling (and living!) in big cities and visiting unfamiliar places.

  • I’ve been scammed by the petitioners (collecting money for a deaf mute facility supposedly) in the supermarket.

    I was furious to encounter an Australian tourist on the Champs Elysée one day having a friendly chat with a ring scammer. The Aussie was so pleased to have been targeted by this famous scam that he negotiated to buy the ring as a souvenir!! As if they need that sort of encouragement! I could have thumped him!!

    We’ve also been jostled on the metro by well dressed teenage girls in groups of 3, who carry their coats over their arms and get up close to you so they can rummage in your backpack. If you know to be alert for this sort of thing they usually don’t get anything.

    • I was walking down the Champs-Elysée the other evening and noticed there were no patrols or security, which was odd considering it’s a pretty common area for petty thefts. Probably they are plainclothes? But it’d be a nice service if banks had a security officer is popular areas near their ATMs, although I suppose that’s an additional expense. So I advise folks to use the machines inside the bank if they can.

  • Great tips for tourists. I have to say, I’ve been living in Paris for 6 years and I have never been pickpocketed. If you are aware, discrete (i.e. don’t draw attention to the fact you are a tourist) and generally use your common sense, you won’t have any trouble. I am genuinely quite stunned by Jennifer’s info about people fearing Paris. I feel a lot less secure in London, in my home country, than in Paris

    The only problem I ever had was once I was harrassed by a young man at Chatelet in the corridors in the RER because I spurned his advances… I pleaded for help to the passers by, but no-one helped out. The Parisians can be really terrible sometimes.

  • Oh, this post hits so close to home after the recent theft of my handbag. To all these excellent tips, I would add the following:

    1) If you’re in a restaurant or café, always, always, ALWAYS keep your handbag on your lap at all times, and if you get up from the table, take it with you. DON’T leave a friend to watch it, unless that friend is hanging onto it for dear life.

    2) On long train journeys, be careful about falling asleep. Try to keep your luggage at your feet, not in the overhead rack. And try to keep all valuables tucked close to you. While waiting at the US Embassy to replace my passport, I heard terrible stories about people’s bags being stolen and picked as they napped on the train.

  • Great post! I hadn’t thought of the RER B trick – I’m glad I know now!

    I have pictures of most of the scams in action – the ring trick in Tuileries, the petition trick along the Seine and a few others. I’ve even see them scurry off to check out the contents of something they lifted before returning to their thievery (thank you long bus waits!). Maybe one day I’ll get around to publishing a post using them but I hesitate.

    I see the café trick the most often – around the Starbucks, Pain Quotidien and other joints offering casual dinning experiences with free WiFi (life of a student!). It’s the same group of kids no matter which arrondissement I’m in – from the 3rd to the 8th and down to the 6th, and everywhere in between. The kids quickly enter and circle the café looking for cell phones and sunglasses on the tables to lift before darting out the café. They are usually in groups of 3 or more, and around ages 8 to 13. They move so fast!!!

    Overall I think it’s important for people to be vigilant and street savvy, but also not to let worrying about getting pick pocketed to ruin the trip.

  • Having made two international trips in less than 6 months which is kind of unusual for me—the first to Italy ( just outside Naples) to visit family in the military there, and the second to Israel ( with a group), I have followed a few simple things that so far have proved helpful. I always empty my wallet at home of things that I don’t need to use overseas ( or traveling anywhere). And the camera that I use is small enough to be kept on a long lanyard type around my neck under the jacket with my hand on it. I only take it out from there if and when I decide. And I try to dress like the locals hopefully. And the jewelry stays home, or if I decide to take anything with me, it is a minimal amount and inexpensive costume. Better safe than sorry. Other than that, I don’t travel much because I can’t stand my knees under my nose with someone else’s head in my lap on the plane!

  • Almost all the pick pocketing children are Roma’s. These people always tend to be up to no good and should be avoided.

  • Another scam – while going through the Les Halles metro, hauling suitcases up a staircase. A “blind” man (sunglasses, white cane) was coming down, He veered to head straight into me. I yelled to my husband behind me as he served again to try to bump into him.
    I’ve been making annual treks to Paris for the past 13 years and have been lucky to never have lost anything. I carry most of my cash, credit card and passport in a money belt under my clothes. Better safe than sorry.

  • On a recent trip to Barcelona my brother had his wallet lifted on th metro. The thieves moved in around him and separated him from the rest of us as we got on the metro. After they got his wallet (out of a zippered pocket) they got off at the next stop. People who have been to Barcelona also told me stories of how they looked away briefly at an outdoor restaurant and had their purse stolen while it was sitting in the chair beside them. Or one said the thieves went through 2 zippers of her backpack to get her wallet. Another had her purse stolen out of her car at a traffic light! A girl at our hotel had her iPhone stolen out of her hand. In Paris we experienced both the ring and the survey scam — ugh. But other than the loss of a lot of euro, both credit and passport cards, it was a wonderful trip.

  • David, you know everyone is going to weigh in with their stories of being pickpocketed in Europe now! I have my share, though I haven’t been to Paris.

    In Barcelona, when I was lugging my suitcase up some mysteriously non-operational escalators at one of the main Metro stations, a guy came up from behind and tried to stick a hand into my messenger bag. Fortunately I heard him as I’d specifically chosen a bag with velcro flaps, so he didn’t get anything. My Belgian friend was not so lucky – he was walking alone down one of the narrow side streets off Las Ramblas, drunk, when an excited reveller gave him a hug and jabbered excitedly about the football. About ten minutes later he realised that his wallet and passport were gone. We also encountered some teens near the zoological gardens who tried to get us to sign a petition. They were hanging out inside a secluded pavilion so the whole thing just stunk to high heaven.

    In Lisbon, we watched a dodgy guy on the number 28 tram (famous tourist tram) with a denim jacket slung over his shoulder make a couple of moves. Don’t think he got anything though.

    I wouldn’t have thought Paris would be nearly as bad as either of these places. Here in Australia there is nothing like this. My recent holiday in Japan was so much more relaxing…

  • I studied in Paris for a year and never had anything stolen, however once while at a parade around the Bastille that turned mob-ish, a group of girls came up to me and another girl. They asked if she wanted her picture taken with her camera. The girl said no, but the other girls kept insisting and finally tried to take the camera by force. I shouted at them, and they left quickly once people started staring.

  • The irony of me answering the question, “do you speak English”? with “no, I don’t” always seems lost on the young women that ask me. I’ve lived in Paris for 20 years and I do believe the problem has gotten worse. There are more groups of kids working the crowds and they are better organized and better trained by their “bosses”. Here is a very good report that explains why the French police have an extremely difficult battle on their hands.

    http://www.france24.com/en/20120615-reporters-romania-roma-mafia-exploitation-network-police-paris-petitions

    The best thing to do is be prepared for possibility of getting pick-pocketed. Follow tips given above and provided by the American consulate (such as have a copy of your passport and a list of your credit card info and contact numbers to report stolen cards accessible). Be vigilant and street smart. The sad fact is that if you are in a touristy area you can count on it that you are constantly being checked out as a potential victim.

  • My friend experienced the following:
    She was sitting on a bench at the Eiffel tower. A “tourist” asked her to take a picture of him. She stood up to take the picture, he was moving away so she was with her back to the bench (were was her bag). While she took the picture, someone else (his companion) stole her wallet. So, be aware to take your stuff with you when someone asks you to take a picture of him/her.

  • Last September we were “victims” of the found ring trick, just outside the Musée d’Orsay – but to the thief’s dismay, a gendarme was walking past just as she pressed the ring into me hand! I caught his attention and told him about the “found valuables” (with him and I both knowing of course that there was nothing valuable about the ring I was holding) and the thief scarpered. Had a good laugh about it with him after she’d vanished.

    I am often approached on the street in France/Italy, I think it’s because I look very Anglo-Saxon, but replying in French/Italian often throws them and I am left alone.

  • David,thank you for your post.So very useful as I tend to relax and not be very vigilant while in Paris.I felt awful when first reading this post as my first reaction was “first world ” problems.I then realize that because I live in what is officially the most violent country in the world and am only to grateful that no one is hurt or murdered during a crime that any crime is just that, a crime,and leaves the victim feeling upset.

  • Thanks for the tips! super helpful. I’ve shared this post with my sister, who is going to be studying abroad in Paris this fall. Love your blog.

  • Merci, David. Your cautions are why I have invested in PacSafe wallets, purse, backpack, and suitcases. http://pacsafe.com/ I also love this item because I’m so paranoid about losing my iPhone: http://www.iphonechain.com/

  • Friends visiting Paris last year were riding the Metro. The wife had told the husband that his wallet was too obvious and he should put it elsewhere. As they were holding onto a support, a young man behind the husband tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “I think you may lose this,” handing him his wallet. The young man then scolded him for being careless while his wife laughed. There are some quite thoughtful Parisians out there; the encounter may just be a bit odd.

  • The ring scam happened to us in February crossing the bridge to the Louvre. After the older woman asked if I had dropped it I knew she was scamming me. I started walking and she said she’d ‘give’ it to me. I looked around and saw her younger accomplice and just smiled. Last year in Barcelona I got body slammed by a woman in her early 20’s and again knew immediately so I grabbed hold of my bag and glared at her.

  • Growing up in NYC I have averted being mugged twice (when I was 8 and 15), but only once did I have my wallet picked from my backpack while riding the bus to school. It was the last.

    I have traveled a fair amount (the Americas and Europe) and I find that oddly NYC seems quite safe in comparison. I tend to be a touch on the paranoid side when carrying my wallet, etc., often clutching my bag at my chest. In London I once called out loudly as someone approached me in a way I found odd, “HEY, WHAT’S UP WITH YOU?!?!”… they quickly retreated because they either got scared-off or they thought I was weird- either way that was ok with me.

  • This is a great post! My father had his wallet lifted not once but twice on the same vacation to Paris. Both times, it happened in crowded areas of public transportation as you described. I’ve had my share of run-ins too, as a young student in France, mostly at bus stops. It’s easy to look like a vulnerable tourist there if you go out wearing shorts, for instance, or stop often to peer at a map. I’ve found that using a map book is more discreet and less likely to invite trouble than using the big fold-out kind of map, which is like wearing a sign on your head that says ‘tourist.’

  • Our group of 4 always used body safes. Once while riding a bus in Milan, I was standing and holding onto a strap for balance, I happened to put my hand into my left pant pocket and guess what I found in there…..somebody elses hand trying to pick pocket me. Since I carried nothing there he quickly removed his hand and walked away. I was incredulous.

  • Hey David,

    Didn’t see this in any of the above tips and thought I’d pass it along… I interviewed a pick pocket one night after my husband’s wallet was stolen in London… this guy wasn’t our thief, but he’d been brought in on suspicion, it was a busy night, he was bored waiting for someone to question him, and I was fascinated -the guys who took my husband’s wallet were wicked fast…

    So straight from the horse’s mouth…

    1. Never go to an ATM machine alone. Have someone stand behind you while you’re getting your money. The current ‘ruse’ is that after you leave the ATM machine, someone will bump into you or bursh past you – putting a quick chalk mark on your shoulder or back – this tells the pickpcket’s companion that you just left the atm machine, and they can follow you and grab your cash when the timing is good…

    2. Outside of museums, or when crossing big squares – never have your handbag or bacpack dangling from your arm… Pickpockets on roller skates, skateboards and even bicycles will zoom past you and cut the straps using a boxcutter or straps, and they’ll be gone faster than you can run after them!

    3. Metro-grabs for purses – don’t stand near the door beore your stop – and again, don’t dangle your purse over your arm – the trick is for someone standing close to you to accidently bump you just as the train comes to a stop, slice through the straps of your bag, and be gone before you realize it.

    Other people mentioned the other things he told me. I think one of the most important things is just not to look or act like a tourist, and not to be afraid to speak up or move away if you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable…

    • I never heard of the chalk-mark from the ATM! I was talking to someone the other day that was standing by the métro door, and just as it closed, someone reached in and grabbed her wallet, which was in her inside jacket pocket. It happened so fast, she didn’t know what was happening (and she lives here.) I agree that speaking up is usually a good idea. People feel self-conscious, but I know someone who was getting money from an ATM and a young girl snuck up..and an elderly man started hitting her with his cane to shoo her away!

  • We have been lucky to have not lost anything during our many trips. This is in spite of my husband’s insistence on keeping his wallet in his back pocket! We just pay attention to our surroundings as you would anywhere.

  • Great post.
    My rule of thumb is to NEVER use a backpack-an open invitation to picking, ESP. On Metro…always use cross-body bag (hands-free) with both inside zipper and flap snap closures.
    It is glued to the front of me at all times and holds small camera, passport, credit cards, $$, all safe all the time.
    Sacre Couer, Eiffel Tower & Pompidou pit always seemed doggiest areas to me.
    Thanks again for the post and tips.

  • One more thing to worry about if you rent a car: last month we were on our way from Granada to Barcelona and while we were stopped for a quick lunch, thieves used some kind of scanning device to replicate the code of the keyless fob, opened the door/trunk, stole our luggage and contents of the car and then locked it again, so it was not immediately evident until we got into the car and realized things were gone. According to the police, this is the latest technology in thievery.

  • Walking to the Eiffel Tower, my husband and I had the “found ring” scam attempted on us three times in about 20 minutes – comical!

  • @Naomi : lol ! The wife might not have laughed so much if she had realised that the ‘helpful’ Parisian was the thief himself, whowas returning the wallet after rifling through it !

  • Great post! We got hit with the ring scam on Pont des Invalides last week. My husband (a cop) and I (security) got a great laugh out of the attempt – glad we didn’t get spit on!! This was the only awkward experience on an otherwise awesome (and safe) vacation.

  • I still kick myself when I think how stupid it was to open the car trunk to get the camera out before setting off for an excursion in Marseilles. When we returned, several hours later, all our suitcases were gone and our vacation was ruined.

    We went to the police and what was their advice? (1) Go to the flea market, you may see your belongings there and you can buy them back! (2) Don’t drive a car with Paris license plates.

    That was thirty years ago, and even now, even back home if I need something from the trunk, I do it several blocks from where I’m going to park. Oh, and I wear my backpack in the front when in crowds or riding the public transit.

    • I know a number of people, including friends that live nearby, have their cars broken into in Marseilles. It’s too bad because it’s such an interesting city.

  • My husband and I were in Paris last September. Because of research ahead of time (and a great guide who also gave us some info) not once did we have any issues with any of these things. My husband did use a money belt and only kept a small amount of money handy at any time. I carried a small PacSafe purse (similar to this http://pacsafe.com/www/index.php?_room=3&_action=detail&id=56) that I could strap on and keep in the front. Thanks to a lot of its features, it would be very difficult for someone to pickpocket it.

    But honestly, since we are often in Chicago, we tend to walk in ways that I think make us less vulnerable. We are always aware of our surroundings and walk with purpose. We often checked maps and things ahead of time, before leaving our hotel, so that we knew where we were going and how to get there. While others in our group had the ring scam pulled on them when they had their free time to explore, we never did. And sometimes we were in the same area as they were at that time.

  • We are leaving for Paris tomorrow morning — being very excited and wanting to look glamorous in the city, I had packed my Chanel purse, Cartier ring, etc. Now I am leaving all that at home! Thanks for the tips — I’m feeling a little paranoid now, but I’ll just try to be aware and careful.

  • Instead of considering pickpocket paradise, the rather outrageous RER B train from and to the airport, make a reservation with an airport shuttle taxi – must be made at least 24 hours in advance – usually a shared minivan. Will pick you up at airport and drive you to your Paris address whether this be an hotel or apartment.
    Going to airport from Paris, use the same means of transport even if you are
    picked up at your door 3 hours ahead of flight.
    It is 26 euros if you are single and if you are two 38 euros, one way.
    I recommend http://www.paris-blue-airport-shuttle.fr
    In Paris a safer way of travel is using the excellent local bus system.
    And never ever hesitate to take a taxi, inexpensive and very reliable. I love them.
    If you do not speak French write your address on a piece of paper including number of your arrondissement and show the driver.
    And never ever forget that the first thing to say to him is “bonjour monsieur”.

  • My friends and I encountered a potential phone thief at a café in Paris last June. It was near the Louvre – the three of us were sitting at an outdoor café table when a swarm of children approached. One of the children thrust out some sort of paper, as if trying to show us something. He was really covering up the phone with the paperwork and trying to grab it with his other hand. Luckily, my friend still had her hand on the phone and felt him trying to take it, and grabbed it back. Just as that was happening, our waiter (and VERY handsome young guy named Xavier) ran out of the café and yelled at the group of kids. He told us it happens all the time and as soon as he saw the kids around us, he knew what was going on. It was all lightning fast though.

  • It bothers me that articles like this will single out a particular city. This is all common sense wherever you live or travel. If you wouldn’t do it in your own city– dangle your purse from a shoulder strap, walk around with your iPhone in your hand, wear expensive looking jewelry out on the street, or hand your camera to a total stranger — don’t do it in Paris (or Barcelona or Lisbon or Venice). In a half dozen trips to Paris, traveling as a single female, I’ve not had anything happen, except for the ring scam attempts which are so well known as to walk away from. I’ve had more trouble in suburban shopping malls here in the US. I believe much of it is in one’s own behavior – if you look like a tourist — holding your guide book or metro map and staring up at the Sacre Coeur — you’ll be a mark.

    • Since I live in Paris, I try to write travel tips that will help people get the most out of their visits to the city from time-to-time. Many of the tips are applicable to other cities, but some are specific to Paris. (Since as the problems at the Louvre.) I do know a number of locals and long-time residents who have been pickpocketed so while “looking like a tourist” may make you more attractive to petty thieves, it happens to others as well.

  • I feel lucky. I’ve lived just outside Paris and worked in the city for nearly 5 years and never ever had a problem. I’d add to the tips above: never listen to music when travelling an unfamiliar route. You need to keep your wits about you and having headphones in will not help. Also, remain alert when purchasing tickets from machines in train stations – not only do you risk people trying to pickpocket you while you are distracted by the purchase, or people trying to flog you tickets they have already purchased at a profit, but you also risk beggars coming up to you trying to beg from you at close range. A sharp “go away” (in English) or “va-t-en” (in French…or “casse-toi” if you are feeling especially aggressive) usually does the trick.

  • I’ve spent about six years of my life in Paris and fortunately never had problems with pickpockets. But another annoying issue in Paris is sexual harassing, which in metros is fairly common, ladies should be aware. If someone is getting uncomfortably close, make noise!

  • an American friend of mine, seems naive but when you are dealing in a foreign language you are a target.
    Whilst withdrawing money at the ATM machine, a young fellow managed to steal her card so quickly that she was not sure it had been stolen or gulped by the machine. Then a second fellow came and as she seemed puzzled , told her to dial her pin code , that the card would come back !!!! She did it… They had the card AND the pin code. You think you would never be so naive ?

  • It’s important to be aware of and up to date on the latest scams. Rick Steve’s site is good for current gossip from recent travelers. On my last trip to Paris I carried my cash, passport and other important items in one of these anti-theft wallets/bags:

    http://www.travelonbags.com/anti-theft?dir=asc&limit=all&order=price

    Maybe not perfect, but the straps can’t be cut nor can the bags be slashed because of thin steel wire mesh inside the nylon material.

  • To Bianca and Anna,

    we had an au-pair once who said the same thing, could not get rid of some young guys trying to talk or touch her in the metro or the street.
    France is a Latin country, guys do not pretend they don’t see you, they do not pretend you are not attractive. Some even think it is a praise to tell a woman she is nice and sexy.
    So we told our au-pair to dress a bit more classic and as Bianca says if one was insisting to say loundly ” casse toi tu pues ” she said it was efficient and years after she still laughs about it.

  • I’ve seen groups of young girls being questioned by cops at Metro Bir-Hakim (the Eiffel Tower stop). They look identical with pony tails and colorful hoodie tops. I wish there were more cops on the beat in Paris. It’s the visibility factor that’s changed New York and made it safer all around.
    The transit system may suck but there are plenty of cops everywhere.
    Here it’s the opposite…

  • The alternative to RER B, if you have time and traffic’s not an issue, which I like is 17 Euros on the AirFrance bus http://www.easycdg.com/1/ground-transportation/airfrance-coaches-paris-cdg-airport-charlesdegaulle/
    or the Roissy bus for 10 Euros which goes straight to l’Opera http://www.easycdg.com/1/airport-access/buses-and-coaches/roissy-bus-paris-cdg-airport-charlesdegaulle/

  • I’d say that globally Paris is quite safe but as every large city, it has some risks that you can avoid with some basic hints valid all over the world :

    – Never open a trunk showing the you are leaving stuff in it. Organize it before parking several blocks away.

    – Never leave a cell phone on a table : gipsies are well known to be quick on stealing everything on a table : I even saw them once, drinking someone’s soda. They are provocative, aggressive, with no respect at all… all over the world.

    -Never stop when a group of girls pretend they are deaf and mute and want you to sign a petition. They will attract your attention while another one is stealing your purse. if they try just say loudly ” police, police” they will run away….

    – Never wear your wallet in your back pocket

    – Never put all your important documents and money in the same place, same bag.
    leave your passport where you live- rental or hotel- and just carry a copy. I learned this lesson 23 years ago in Boston.

    – Make sure when you withdraw money from a machine, that nobody is staying too close. I often tell people to back up , that I need my privacy and that it is very rude to stay close. Sometimes they don’t like it but I don’t care “reculez s’il vous plait, respectez la distance de sécurité. “

  • I am the proud owner of a brass ring and I like it :0) …albeit I did reluctantly pay 5euros and the woman spat at me afterwards

  • Being aware that my actions may make me or my car/belongings a target is important. I don’t leave my purse in the grocery cart, take or leave items in the trunk of my car unless I drive away, put a code into any ATM, etc. without shielding my hands with my body and bag, wait for my car to lock the doors–as soon as I’m in the car I hit the lock all doors button. I never make donations on the street, even in front of a business I know well. I never sign up for giveaways on the street that require more than my name and phone number. I am not paranoid; I don’t believe in offering temptation to those unable to resist. I was taught all these things more than 50 years ago by my parents although we lived in a tiny village. There is no place on earth where people are incapable of exhibiting both the worst and the best of behaviors.

  • Martina, your phrase Google translates as “case you you stink.” If I use the phrase, what will I really say?

    By the way, I am of the firm belief that knowing a few rude phrases in an appropriate language is a useful antitheft tool!

  • People, please, leave your passport in your hotel room. Take only what cash you need for the day and never all your credit cards in one place This way if the “worst” happens, it is not the worst. Crime is pretty much everywhere so prepare for it and be happy when you avoid it.

  • Yes, it is much better to leave your passport safely in your room.

    The Roissy or Air France airport buses are far nicer ways to get to the airports than the RER.

  • Cara and Ken: Yes, the shuttles and Roissy bus are nicer than the RER. I did take a new RER once (which surprised me when I got on – it was clean, and ventilated!) So the new ones I hope are going to be similar. The problem with shuttles and other ground-transportation is there can be a lot of traffic in Paris, so folks should give themselves additional time when using them.

  • My husband and I went on a trip to France with my parents. Somebody “bumped” into my dad while he was waiting in the center aisle herd to get off the plane on return to LAX and removed the wallet that he had returned to the usual location in his back pocket.

  • I travel a lot for work, both domestic and internationally and since I am a woman I feel I have to be extra careful as I like to do a lot of sightseeing on my own. Here are a few tips that have served me well thus far:

    – Dress like the locals (fellow Americans, I am talking to you). In Paris specifically that means dressing up a bit more than we do in the States. Don’t bring your sneakers, the baseball hat with your American sports team’s logo and do not wear shorts. You will stick out from a mile away and in European cultures only little boys wear shorts so imagine how you look to the other adults :-) On our first trip to Paris together, I bought my husband ‘proper’ walking shoes and a nice scarf so he would blend in.

    – I do not carry a purse or handbag at all, it’s just too easy to steal. I only bring what is necessary, which is cash, one credit card and a photo copy of my passport. I leave my passport in my hotel/apt in a safe place. I also do not wear any jewelry, except for simple earrings and only wear a cheap silver wedding band. Leave your good stuff at home.

    – My favorite ‘trick’ is to go to a local convenience or grocery store and get a lot of bottled water, gum and other snacks to ensure that I get at least 2 or 3 bags from that store. Then when I get back to my hotel/apt, I put all of the stuff I need for the day (camera, lip balm, gum, other random items) in one of these bags. I double or triple-bag, though, since sometimes the bags can be a little transparent. It seems that if you are dressed like a local and are carrying a local grocery bag no one is interested in you or your items. So far it’s worked well for me. I even use these bags when I buy stuff from nice stores. As much as I’d like to keep the pretty bags and tissues it just makes me stand out more so I put everything I can into the grocery bags until I can get back to my room.

    – I think women tend to get approached by strangers/pick-pockets more if they are alone. That definitely happened to me in Amsterdam and made me feel uncomfortable. I’ve found that, if you’re on your way to a museum or whatever that it’s good to walk quickly and ‘with a purpose.’ I’ve had plenty of scam artists decide they didn’t have time to approach me because I blew right past them and ignored them when they asked if I spoke English.

    – If you’re renting a car (Americans, I’m talking to you again), do not rent a typical mid-sized vehicle unless it is absolutely necessary. Most cars in Europe are tiny and not only will you blend in better but it will be easier to park. Americans are notorious for renting larger than usual (for that country) cars so you will make it easier for thieves to pick you out of a parking lot full of vehicles even when you aren’t in the car.

    Hope that helps someone, especially the ladies. Now I’m missing Paris again…

    • It’s funny because we were taking the métro home late last night and my (Parisian) partner said, “All the young people are dressed like Americans!” And sure enough, most 18-26 year olds were wearing shorts, sneakers, etc.. so interesting that in the old days, folks could instinctively tell people were Americans by our sneakers. (One friend who goes to Morocco a lot said he carries around a French newspaper; he’s American, but said that people think he’s French so he doesn’t get hassled so much.)

      Of course, women do need to be extra alert sometimes when traveling. I just saw a news report on hotels that specifically have sections that cater to women, ie: female servers to deliver room service, separate wings of the hotels with women guards watching over things, etc.

  • Ah David, just in time for this review! I arrive in your fair city on Friday. Thanks

  • Thanks for the airport RER warning, David. I advise friends to spend a few extra euros and take a cab, especially after a long flight. If there are two or more people traveling together, taxis are relatively economical. Also, taking the RER to Metro, maybe a transfer to a different line (pulling baggage), then walking to your street destination is less than fun at the end of a journey. Potential added bonus: some taxi drivers move like retired Grand Prix racers and the ride into the city ends up being one of the highlights of your trip.

  • There are some nifty security solutions out there for bags, phones, computers. I use them alot, even at home. I lock bags during the summer – which is usually pick-pocket-season wherever. I take care with stuff like laptops while travelling (been travelling quite a bit lately). Some of the trick is also not to look too touristey.

  • My affinity with these security solutions came after my backpack was actually SLICED open on a trip and emptied out of valuables. Luckily, passport etc., was locked away at the hotel.

  • I just returned from a short visit to Paris and had my wallet stolen out of my handbag in a crowd at Gare St Lazare or upon arrival in Vernon on the way to Giverny. The saving grace was that I had only one credit card in my wallet and a small amount of money in it. My advice is to keep credit cards and passport on your body and walk around with very little in your handbag. Better yet, avoid carrying a handbag and carry everything in a waist pouch against your skin.

  • Fourteen years ago during my first trip to Paris I caught a kid trying to pick my pocket on the metro. I grabbed his hand and was bending his fingers back almost to the breaking point when I realized Imhad no idea how I would explain the incident anyone let alone les flics. So I let him go and started pointing to him and saying loudly almost the only word I knew in French whic was, “non.” everyone on the car knew something was up and gave him a wide berth. Since then I have had no trouble and follow most of the rules stated above.

  • @AJPeabody ‘Casse-toi’ is ‘get lost’ or ‘bugger off’ (if you’re British, loL)

    I DESPISE the people who try to jump through the metro turnstile behind me! I either stop and count to 3 and hope the doors close on them or (if they’ve given me a little space) stop as if I’ve forgotten something before I put in my ticket and walk away for a bit. Logically I know that I shouldn’t be getting upset, because honestly they would be the one in trouble if they got caught, but I feel like they are stealing from me personally, albeit just the cost of a metro ride.

    A month ago I had that happen, I stopped, counted, the dude didn’t get through and I turned around and said, “Bah….NON!” Then he was on my metro car. I was slightly alarmed (was he aggressive?), but the car was full, but not overcrowded so I felt pretty safe. Then I saw him trying to put his hand in some girl’s coat pocket. I had had enough of this guy and went, “HEY!” really loud. He panicked and got off at the next stop, the chick never had a clue. I turned to the lady next to me and said, “Vous avez vu?” (to make sure I had actually seen what I thought I had seen)she said, “oui!”

    Afterward I realized that it may not have been the smartest thing I’d ever done, but I was really frustrated at this guy’s moxie…

  • Thanks for the very helpful info and tips, David! We are probably very lucky not to have had any untoward incidents happen to us, the many times we’ve been to Paris although we’ve seen much of what you’ve described i.e. the petition scam, the teenagers jostling people in the metro, the “lost” asking for directions. We’ve always just walked on or moved away. As a rule, we make it a point to 1) carry no more than 100 euros at a time 2) use only simple, point and shoot cameras 3) never carried our passports but just a colored copy of the passport and visa 4) brought along just one credit card each day we are out 5) never wore jewelry.

  • Great tips, thanks.

    I am guilty of being less vigilant than I should be in Paris which resulted in my wallet being lifted from my zipped purse in the metro last summer. From that experience I learned a couple of things:

    1. Keep a second credit card and cash back at the hotel/apartment (along with a list of credit card numbers and phone numbers to cancel cards from abroad – not 800 numbers). And of course only keep a copy of your passport in your wallet (thankfully I did not lose that).

    2. The police told us that many iphones are taken from restaurant tables …. patrons set them on the table during a meal and kids will run in from the street and grab them.

  • David! Thank you for this wonderful post! I will be in Paris in October and am trying to learn as much as possible before I go!

    I’ve traveled extensively and am very careful with my purse, bags, etc. I do have a question about getting a taxi from CDG to my hotel. I will be staying not far from CDG, is it fairly easy to catch a taxi from the airport without prior reservations?

    Thanks!

    • There is a taxi line at the airport and it’s no problem getting a cab. If your hotel is close to the airport, you should ask the hotel if they have a shuttle service, which might save you a bit of money.

  • I live in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and feel totally fine here running alone at night – but was totally freaked out when I stumbled into the Tenderloin. To each their own…

  • As for me, I’ve had some security issues here and there throughout the world, and I’ve basically been all over the world. Some was due to me being naïve, in other cases the ruse was just really sophisticated. My sliced open backpack did not happen in France but in Italy, I also experienced some stuff in Asia. During that particular event, people around me were extremely helpful, eager to make me feel better and more at ease. Common sense will get you a long way. Also, it’s important to remember that most people are nice, some aren’t and I try to go from there. Where I live, in Sweden, there are some very sophisticated stuff going on during the peak of tourist season (which is the summer). However, if you try to warn people as to the ruses that are going on, the people committing them can become rather hostile and threatening.

  • My Italian friend told me that he can tell who the Americans are just by the way we walk–as if there is plenty of room to move, and that we smile and are friendly–all sins.

  • There are new RER cars, David? Wow. That could be pleasant. I’ve taken the RER from Paris to the airport, but I’d rather not take it when I arrive all jet lagged.

    Jessica points out a pretty common practice of thieves using razor blades or box cutters to just open the bottom or side of your bag and take what’s inside. That’s one reason I like the PacSafe bags. Lightweight stainless steel mesh is sewn inside and it’s pretty much impossible to cut.

    Before leaving on a trip I send myself an email with my important credit card, passport and emergency phone numbers. It’s also a good idea to make a photocopy of your passport and keep it separate from your real passport. In case of theft I understand that it’s a lot easier for embassy staff to help get a new one if you can show them the copy.

    I’m not suggesting that anyone start a fight, but growing up in New York City, whenever I was out at night walking alone I tried looking as deadly serious and sure of myself (in body language, etc.) as possible. Even a liitle crazy. Most of the time, a criminal wants the easiest prey, not someone who looks like they’ll tear his lungs out through his throat.

    And if someone persists in getting too close to you, remains in your face or starts grabbing you, don’t be afraid to bash their nose in as hard as you can. That is, if no one helps you when you start yelling “Secours!” A bruised or broken nose will definitely disorient them enough for you to run.

  • This is a good and useful piece, to which I’d add one other vital caution: Be extremely careful about using your cellphone in public places. I live near the major department stores and have witnessed at least a dozen phone thefts during the last couple of months. If you have to take a call in the street, step into a doorway and stand back to a wall so that no one can take you by surprise. As the policewoman who took my theft report when my phone was stolen in the Metro wisely observed: “Paris is a relatively safe city, but it’s no where near as safe as people think that it is.”

    • So many cell phone get swiped in Paris. It’s interesting they are testing new outdoor bus stops that have USB ports so that you can recharge your phone (and that they are making some of the métro lines WiFi-accesible) when, on the other hand, the authorities warn folks not to use mobile devices while on transit.

      Interestingly, when I was in NYC last summer, a lot of people were using reading tablets on the subway. I was really surprised; you never see anyone do that in Paris and wonder if NYC has the same rate of phone/tablet filfering as Paris?

  • This was a very timely post for me. I’m planning a two week trip to Paris in the beginning of November. I will force my husband to read the comments about wallet placement because he always keeps it in his back pocket. I think I will avoid the metro if possible.

  • I wish we had had this advice when travelling in Spain recently. Make sure, that when you are jetlagged in a taxi, keep a hold on your baggage and get it out of the taxi before the taxi driver speeds off. (madrid) and if arriving at a place late and night, hold each and every bag tightly as you fumble to find the address in a dimly lit street, and the apartment on a dimly lit board. If anyone comes near you, don’t engage in conversation. For all those people saying ‘it has never happened to me, I’m always careful’, don’t be too cocky. We are VERY seasoned travellers who have never had problems until Spain. The thieves there are good, very good.

  • i was in nice, france with my brother. we were walking under the gallerie lafayette arcade when a good looking young woman came up to us holding a map in her and . she moved close to my brother and asked directions. he was flattered by her attention and moved closer to assist her. instantly i knew something was wrong and i whacked the map out of her hand and yelled a good old fashioned american obscenity at her. . at first he was angry with me and then he saw that his belly pac’s zipper was undone and he realized that i had acted swiftly and wisely. the moral is don’t let yourself be flattered and always be aware. i have traveled in bonn, berlin, barcelona, milan, paris, rome etc and have never been pickpocketed. i dress like a native woman-no jeans, no sneakers and no visible map. one can enjoy traveling abroad if one is careful and cautious. this also goes for our american cities

    • It’s too bad because asking directions is really a French thing. People do it all the time in Paris and it’s just a common way to converse and people just ask each other directions all the time, and I hope that doesn’t change. I do give directions if I see someone looking around, lost, and so do many others. I don’t take out my iPhone to use it to show people how to get somewhere, unless I am pretty sure they are legit. Fortunately most people are and I just point them on their way.

  • The young, pretty, chattering, and of course ever-clever gypsy girls got my wallet out of my tight jeans front pocket during a scrambling, crowded (by them) entrance to a metro car. Then they vanished as fast as they appeared. The interesting thing was that after all was said and done with the Paris authorities, card companies, etc., that about two months after I returned to the USA I received my wallet in the mail with my drivers license and other stuff (less $$), sent to me by an organization (forgot the name) associated with the US French Embassy, who provide this service to theft victims — if there is anything recoverable. Quite nice indeed, and I sent them a good reward. The explanation was that cash is what they are usually after as [cancelled] credit cards with pin #s and other incriminating evidence are useless/risky/dangerous for thieves. Someone found my wallet in the gutter and turned in…nice, again! Thanks David for all your excellent/interesting blogs.

    • Yes, I hear a lot of wallets get recovered (great they sent it back to you!) as the credit cards and other items are worthless to folks who filch wallets – they just want to cash, and want to move on.

  • After 25 years of visiting and living in Paris, I must say things have changed. I experienced the ring scam firsthand a few weeks ago as I spoke English with my friends in front of the Musee d’Orsay. I have never ever had a problem, personally, but you have to be aware; I always tell friends to leave the big wallet at home and bring just a few cards and keep change handy, keep a copy of your passport (digital or paper) and leave the real one in a safe place. And be like a Parisian, walk with a purpose, and a straight face.

  • For those of you who never have been “taken” by these thiefs…don’t get too cocky.
    I have always traveled with a 4 zippered compartment fanny pack.The outmost compartment carries directions or maps; I pin the next 2 zippers together making it harder to access the contents of those compartments. . My money is always in the back zipper compartment closest to my body. On a very crowded metro one time I noticed several young kids push their way onto the train. I was immediately suspicous. When the doors opened at the next stop,we were all momentarily distracted by a man on the train screaming at a young boy who had taken his wallet and chasing him out on to the platform. When the doors closed, I was shocked to find the outmost compartment of my fanny pack unzipped by the young girl who shared the metal train post with me for support. She exited with the young boy as soon as the doors opened, but I venture to say, they both probably got on the next train and tried their skills on the next target. I also must say they have very nimble hands….I never felt a thing!

  • Excellent advice for avoiding the Paris-specific scams. For avoiding general pickpocketing-type crimes, I always use a cross-body bag but also rest one hand on the zip tab. That becomes a habit and then you don’t have to worry about it . In fact, so much of a habit that sometimes security worries follow you home. A Christian friend I once travelled with said that after we got home, when she went to church and hung her coat on the pew she kept turning round during the service to make sure her Bible was still in the pocket!

  • When travelling to Paris for the first time several years ago I used Google StreetView to “map” our way from the nearest Metro station to our apartment in Paris before we left Australia. It meant that once we (me and 2 teenagers) arrived in Paris, I knew exactly which way to head when we walked out onto the street from the Metro and that I could recognize that we were heading in the right direction. Even though we were carrying backpacks, we walked purposefully and looked like we knew where we were going (which we did!) so we didn’t attract any unwelcome attention. Using StreetView was great preparation and I plan to do it again the next time I’m overseas.

  • I had my purse snatched while at Gare du Nord but I was able to run down the thieves and snatch it back. I’d never seen two people look more surprised as I got in front of them, took hold of my bag, called them a couple of choice words and sprinted back to my friend who had no clue what had happened!

    Best pickpocket attempt I’d encountered was in Rome’s subway. The would-be picker was able to open two of my jacket pockets without me feeling. I had zipped them closed because they were vent pockets and it was a chilly breezy morning — fortunately there was nothing in them.

  • I am feel a little bit strange when reading this. I lived in Koln, Seattle and worked in NYC. I have been to several other cities like Amsterdam and was in areas of Berlin that didn’t even have electricity in some buildings.
    I have never felt like anyone was going to steal from me. (I am a larger guy.. but still)
    I have been in parts of cities that I just walked around and didn’t feel anything bad.

    Kinda makes me wonder about parts of Europe then.

  • My husband’s iphone was targeted by a Roma teen at dinner in Paris last year. Luckily just as she palmed it (while distracting us with a piece of paper and mumbling at us) I saw her lift the phone and I snuck my hand in under hers and flipped it out of her hand. We got lucky that time. Having traveled all over Europe, Paris was the a petty theft attempt that ever happened to us.

  • A few years ago a friend and I spent 6 days in Paris at the end of a several week vacation. We kept our money/ credit cards/ passport in those little bags you keep under your clothes which got old quickly. It gets embarrassing to keep digging in your pants to pay for something. The last full day in Paris we went to the flea market at Porte de Clignancourt and my friend had just made a purchase and put her cash in her purse, as we were walking a guy brushed past her and pretended he had brushed his cigarette against her sweater, as he was brushing it off and we were looking to see if it was burnt his accomplice was on the other side snapping open her bag and helping himself to the cash. The whole thing lasted about 20 seconds and took us a few minutes to realize what happened. But all in all I felt safer in Paris/London/Rome than I do in Baltimore, Md near where I live. It seems in those cities they only want your cash, not your life.

  • Ages ago, I started carrying a backpack in NYC just for all the stuff you need when out of the house for the entire day. I found that a medium-sized one can very easily be worn in front, like a marsupial carrier. In fact, I often unconsciously would embrace it. I did, however, get some weird looks from people when they realized I was not actually holding a baby.

  • Wow, perfect timing! We are leaving for Barcelona in a couple hours, and while we’ve been told by locals here in Mallorca to be very vigilant of thieves, it’s great to read about the specific scams so that we can avoid them. Thanks David!

  • Many women in my neighborhood which is not a touristy one (in the 12th), have had their gold necklace snatched from their neck. I hear it’s become a common crime in Paris as well. So disturbing.

  • This article offers some really good advice for all travelers. I’ve been living in Paris for the past 10 years and have experienced all the tricks used by scammers/thieves described here. I find that tourists bring problems on themselves through carelessness and naivete. I’ve seen some falling for the ring/jewelry scam by thieves on the Pont Alexandre. Pathetic!

    Paris is a fabulous city where one need not be paranoid if one follows some basic rules of common sense. One should be very wary of anyone who stops you to ask for directions. Just say ‘no’ and keep moving. Don’t engage in conversation. Keep your pocketbook/wallet on your person at ALL times. Pay more attention to your backpacks and cellphones.

    Use a ‘sixth sense’ when in social settings, such as museums and restaurants, and especially on the metro and buses. In restaurants or cafes in areas known as ‘tourist traps’ be aware of what’s around you. Don’t give money to people soliciting for social causes on the street.

    PAY ATTENTION when you visit Paris and all will be well!!

  • Paris obviously doesn’t change – it was the same when I lived there, 40 years ago! The then Chaplain at St Michael’s Church had his pocket picked on the Métro one day and was amused rather than otherwise – “Now I feel like I *really* live here!”

    I always – all the time, not just when travelling – wear a handbag over my head and shoulder, not just on my shoulder, and hold on to it – to my embarrassment, I found myself doing that at my daughter’s house on Saturday. Ooops!

    But one major cultural difference – and David, if you come to London again soon, go down the Underground and you will see what I mean – is that everybody, but everybody, on public transport is using a phone or tablet or Kindle. It’s actually quite rare to see anybody reading a dead-tree book! You don’t have a phone signal in the deep Tube, of course, and Wi-Fi only at stations, but people are playing games, listening to music, reading….

  • You didn’t mention handbag theft… those who either grab your bag while they’re on a motorcycle or scooter, or those that park it, run to you, grab your bag, and flee I unfortunately experienced the latter one night in a chic suburb, and was lucky (or stupid…) because I screamed my head off, and held onto my bag There were two of them, they ran up from behind me, and had helmets on so even if I’d had pepper spray it would have bounced off the helmets into… my face. After 50 seconds they gave up. I had a lot of black and blue marks, and I filed a complain anyway because this particular suburb, St. Mandé, prides itself on low/no crime. Advice? obviously check your surroundings (I did, but I think it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time) and if you find yourself walking in an isolated area, at least, try to keep your bag on the side facing the buildings (I didn’t).

  • When traveling by bus or metro in Paris I figure out my routes and connections before I leave my hotel room/apartment and write them down in a small notebook. (stops/changes/directions/etc.) I can refer to the notebook very easily and without drawing attention.

  • The ATM – theft happens in Brussels too. Caution at all times.

  • Thanks, David!
    There were a couple of new ones there and valuable info.

  • Great article. I’ve only been hassled once and consider it totally my fault. I’ve taught my husband and kids not to speak English on the metro and let me do all the talking in French (with my awful Australian accent). But we were speaking English in the tunnels on Christmas Day. The musicians busking heard us, and followed us onto the train. They tried to take my husband’s wallet, but he yelled very loudly and they ran.
    So rule no 1: Don’t talk in the metro tunnels, nor the trains.
    Rule no 2, Don’t catch the metro on Christmas Day, the only people there are tourists and thieves.
    Also, I use a Longchamp Pliage bag in Paris. It’s light, blends with all the French women and has a good zip. In crowded areas or on the metro I clench the zipper end in my hand.
    PS, I still love Paris after 30 years of visiting there and consider it my second home!

  • Having just dealt with a stolen wallet and being hit for almost 10k in 20 minutes ( replaced thankfully) I am now much more aware of those around me. And more protective. Did you know you can lower your debit card Point Of Sale amount and raise if if you plan to use it for a larger purchase. Then lower it again. Because your debit card can be used as a credit card without a pin you can be cleaned out quickly. Also, you can lower the daily amount you can withdraw at an ATM. So the thief can only get a little and if they try for more, they will be rejected. Small inconvenience but does provide some protection. The investigating officer told me that he never carries a debit card, just a credit card and a small quantity of cash.
    I am still nervous in the store where I was targeted by these slick people whom I never noticed. A cross body bag is quite safe. Make sure it closes well with a flap and tucks under your arm. And it doesn’t have to be leather and fancy. Just practical.

  • This is so interesting! I am sure this sort of thing happens in the states as well, but I guess I was never aware of all these types of scams. I’ve never had anything lifted that I know of, and I lived near Los Angeles. Of course, I did blend in, but even still, I can be quite careless with my purse sometimes. The only types of scams I’ve encountered are ones that have single adults with a pen and a “subscription” in the grocery store. They ask if you would support a cause and then you receive a newspaper subscription in exchange…except the subscription never comes. These people aren’t even allowed in stores, but they sneak in. They are quite obviously scams though, and most people can spot them a mile away!

  • Luckily, I’ve only been victim to attempted pickpocketing. Once in Barcelona, just as the metro doors were closing I felt a hand leave my pocket. Same at a busy outdoor market in Buenos Aires. I didn’t have anything in my pockets to begin with, but in Argentina, my friend quickly noticed her camera had be swiped. It had been in her coat pocket. The woman pretended to be crowding us to look at scarves. Thanks for all these valuable tips David!

  • It’s a rare thing for me to read all of the comments to one of your posts, David. I am plain curious about all of the tactics thieves employ wherever in the world.
    One thing I read that I would advise against: Sending your credit card numbers to yourself via email. Anyone who wants to can read said email and while you are on vacation somewhere in the world, your cards could be in use somewhere else.
    Fortunately, most crime is “petty” and rarely involves bodily harm. The kind of thievery that gets me most, is when the thief is a well-dressed, apparently well-meaning, friendly person. That throws me.
    My dad tells stories of going to the fairgrounds as a kid and lining his backpocket seams with fishhooks (ouch!). Don’t know if that’s really true and it wouldn’t really help much.
    One technical scam here in Germany is at ATMs where the keypads record your PIN and another contraption keeps your card. So be wary of any suspicious-looking ATM keypads.

  • My friend got her money ripped out her hands at an ATM in the 6th. The guy sort waved a newspaper in front of her and another guy took the money while she was distracted. She yelled and people chased them and actually got her money back, but she did spend several hours at the police station filling out forms. Take a buddy for a lookout when you use the machines.

  • The only time I’ve ever had a problem (having lived in London, LA, and NY and having traveled extensively) is having had my wallet lifted in a “crush” of people trying to get into a subway in Madrid (just a little old woman ruining my day). I realized just before the doors closed when another American (or Canadian) saw it happen and shouted out and flung my wallet back into the subway just before the doors closed. I was down $40 American, but with the exchange rate in Spain then, the woman didn’t really make out too well.
    But, yeah, just because you’re confident in one city doesn’t mean you should be stupid and walk around with your purse unzipped in another.

  • You also might try “Fiche-moi la paix” or “Fiche-moi le camp” both of which mean “Clear off” or “leave me alone (in peace)”.
    The second is a bit more forceful.
    I have had the ring scam tried many times. But fortunately I speak decent French. I can usually see it coming a mile away and had to warn my wife who had never seen it before.
    The first time though, was a revelation! It was on the champ de mars and some young girl tried it. I insisted it wasn’t mine, but gave her 2 euro just get rid of her.
    When she complained it wasn’t enough, I grabbed the 2 euros back from her, dropped the ring on the ground, switched to English and told her to “Piss Off”

  • Last month I had my watch (very old calculator watch with a metal clasp) stolen on a packed metro car. But the good news was that the usual precautions we take (zipped inner pockets, safety-pinned bag/purse zippers, bags clutched close to the body with openings toward the body, money belts, etc.) kept our really expensive belongings safe. On our last day in Paris the BBC ran a short piece indicating that Paris and Rome are now tied behind Barcelona as the European cities with the biggest pickpocketing issues. The consultant said that the best defense was space. If your plans permit, avoid the metro at busy times (ask your hotel when those times are). We got on the crowded train on which my watch was stolen because we wrongly assumed all the trains would be packed, but the trains come so often during peak times that waiting, as David said, is a sensible strategy. We later saw that trains behind packed ones were often less crowded. It’s really hard not to look and sound like a tourist when you’re on vacation, so don’t take stuff you don’t need on day trips, definitely use a money belt and apply extra security (which can be as simple as a safety pin) to bag openings.

  • When I was in Europe in 1991, the worst city by far for pickpockets was Rome. It was so bad {attempts to rob us occurred at least once an hour} we cut our time there short. My traveling companion was wearing a waist pack, which was pretty much the equivalent of wearing a neon sign saying, “Come and get it!”

    My favorite memory was sitting on a stone wall looking at a map when a gang of girls descended on me. I stood up and screamed “STOP!” in Italian, and then threw in a long string of very very ugly Italian curse words, shouting as loudly as I could. They slunk off, hissing. I felt victorious until I saw the shocked faces of a group of elderly nuns standing nearby.

  • I have been to Paris many times over the last 5 years and I am always amazed by the ring scam, and I once interrupted one being pulled on a unsuspecting Russian tourist. As an American I was willing to scream “Voleur” and wave my umbrella in a hulking Roma’s face. He ran.
    In Paris they usually run away. In Spain they are more likely to be dangerous.

    I have always found the French very willing to help.

    The petitioners have invaded the airport as well and near the RER B entrance.

    A way to read these people is look at their eyes. They appear to be smiling and helpful with an evil twist. My advice be aware.

  • Timely advice, as I’m heading to Paris in two weeks. Thanks for the heads-up.Completely off-topic, as a former pastry chef (until the knees gave out!) I was wondering if there was anywhere I could leave you a small parcel of New Zealand goodies. No, I don’t want to meet for coffee or be your new best friend; just wanted to leave a small token of appreciation for all the good stuff I get from your blog.I was thinking if there’s a store or cafe that you go into frequently, I could drop something off with the owner(maybe Le Petit Fer a Cheval?or G.Detou?). Back when you lived in S.F. my friends Alberto and Willum were always trying to get us to meet, but I shied off as I’m a bit shy and the timing was never right. I’m not commercially associated with any of the things I’d like to bring, just proud of some of the wonderful products that NZ produces. Anyway, Cheers from the South Seas, Karen Brown, Wellington, New Zealand

    Thanks for your offer to bring something. It’s always a challenge to get things, even if dropped off – so appreciate the kind offer anyways. Have a good trip to Paris! -dl