Some simple tips on spotting some common scams in Paris and how to avoid them so you can enjoy your time in one of Europe's most beautiful cities.
Despite the slightly “Clickbait” heading this isn’t going to be a blog aimed at scaring you or causing you to second guess you trip to Paris for even one second. Hopefully it will do the opposite and help you to feel more comfortable and confident during your travels.
I’m an Australian that has been living in Paris as an expat for almost a year now and I think it is one of the most energetic, beautiful and welcoming cities you will visit in your life (A little overwhelming at times but amazing all the same). Paris is also one of the safest places I’ve lived and despite my absolute lack of local language I have always managed to navigate, communicate and enjoy my time here.
Most of the scams I’m going to outline here are aimed at people just like you and me, new in the city and maybe a little naive to how it all works. They are very opportunistic and aimed at making you part with whatever small coins you might have in your pocket.
As the old adage goes “Forewarned is Forearmed” and so with that in mind, I am simply going to try and help you spot these little scams a thousand miles away and give you some simple tips on making your trip to Paris safe and scam free..
1. The Airport Taxi
Taxis in Paris are expensive but they can be even more expensive than necessary if you aren’t careful. One couple recently found this out the hard way getting hit with a rather unexpected 247 Euro fare for their short ride.
How do I make this as simple as possible for you?
If you have just cleared the arrivals gate and are immediately accosted by someone in a dark leather jacket whispering under their breath “Taxi, Taxi?” They probably aren’t legit.
DON’T EVER take a taxi from the arrivals area. They are not official and can charge you what they want. ,
Don't fret or get overwhelmed though, you do have a few options at this point;
Follow the signs to the official Taxi rank. It is well signed from the arrivals area and usually only a short walk. Official Taxis in Paris are subject to a flat rate to and from the airport. For Charles De Guille you can expect it to cost between 50 and 60 Euro and for Orly 30 to 40 Euro depending on what part of the city you are staying in.
Uber. Use this app to arrange a pick-up from the arrivals area. I have used this a number of times for airport pick-ups and the waiting time is usually not more than 5 - 10 mins. The cost is about 40 - 50 Euro from Charles de Guille and if you select the “pool” option and don’t mind potentially sharing your ride you can save even more.
Bus or Metro. These aren’t always the most convenient when trying to deal with luggage, kids and tired spouses but they are considerably cheaper and if you are travelling light they are a good option. It is literally as easy as using google and Typing “Charles de Guille Airport to Paris” or vice versa and it will show you the options.
2. The Golden Ring
I’ve personally seen this one several times, in particular at the Louvre Museum and surrounding area. The first time I saw it I actually didn’t immediately clock it as a scam, the person was so natural and smooth with their approach it took me a while to catch up and I can easily see how they could catch an unsuspecting tourist out.
It’s quite simple and involves a person walking towards you and when they are close they will bend down and apparently notice something on the ground. They then present what looks like a simple gold ring. They will ask you if it is yours and then in some turn around try to get you to give them some money for it. I have also heard (but never seen) that they will sometimes use this time when you are distracted to have an associate pick your pockets.
Avoiding this one is quite simple, if someone approaches you with something, smile and keep moving. Keep your wallet in your front pocket and never in the outermost pocket of your backpack.
3. Shell Game (3 Cup Shuffle)
You’ve seen this one before on TV. The guy puts a small ball under one of three cups and shuffles them around. You try to guess which one it is under and inevitably fail.
This is no different in Paris. I’ve seen this scam in action near the Eiffel Tower (Between the Eiffel Tower and Bir Hakeim Metro) and also most recently on the steps of Trocadero. What is different about this one is it is a bit more organised than the other hustles in Paris. Usually you will see the guy shuffling the cups and a small group of 4 or 5 people around him. You will see them talking and people smiling as they hand over crisp 50 Euro notes sometimes winning and sometimes losing.
The thing is, everyone there is in on it. Some are working as lookouts for the police, some are plants to make it look like winning money on this game is super easy and potentially some are there to help part you with your wallet while you are distracted by the moving cups.
I actually like standing about 10ft away from this one and watching, you don’t see a lot of scams of this level of involvement on the streets of Paris and it is fun to watch from a distance. You will start to very quickly see how obvious the scam is.
"You won’t win, save your money for literally anything else. Even the cheap souvenirs being sold on just about every corner will bring you more joy than a game of 3 cup shuffle"
4. Mute / Deaf Girls
I’ve seen this one at the metro near the Louvre, on the steps of the Sacre Couer and also in the Jardin Tuiliries.
It’s usually a group of 4 or more women with an A4 size card or paper in their hands. They approach you with a smile and a wave of the hand trying to get you to read what is on the card they are carrying. They will show you a list of hand written names with sums of money donated to their cause. Sometimes they pretend to be dumb, deaf or mute. I guarantee you they are not supporting any Parisien charity and your money will not help the needy.
On the steps of the Sacre Couer recently you will even see them standing in front of grafitti saying in English “Pickpocket Girls”. If you were looking for a sign of a scam this one is literally written on the walls.
Again like the gold ring, smile and keep moving. Don’t take the card and keep an eye on your posessions. They are pushy and persistent but usually leave you alone pretty quickly when they realise you are on to them.
If you want to give money to a worthy cause in Paris have a look at this article by The Local.FR https://www.thelocal.fr/20181123/readers-tips which has some really good information and links.
5. Friendship Bracelets - Montmartre
This one is fairly benign as far as scams go. There are a group of gentlemen that stand at the bottom of the steps in the Park of the Sacre Coeur. The are generally happy and friendly guys that will approach you and ask you to put your hand out. Before you know it you have a colourful wool friendship bracelet on your wrist and their hand out looking for some coins.
I just don’t like how they catch people off guard and prey on the fact that people don’t generally want to make a scene and will give them some coins to be done with it. If you want a bracelet and choose to approach them that is a different story.
For me I just avoid them and again save my money for something or someone more deserving.
6. The Metro Purse Snatch
This is the only one on my list that is even remotely aggressive but definitely a scary. I’ve only ever seen it happen once (And even then it was so quick it’s hard to say I saw anything).
I was riding the metro, there was a young lady with her purse and mobile phone sitting on one of the seats directly next to the door to the train.
The doors opened, I heard the usual warning in 4 languages about watching for pick pockets and then the familiar alarm indicating the doors were about to shut again.
There was a noise that was a little out of the ordinary and a small sound of surprise from the young girl. As the doors were closing someone had reached in and tried to snatch her purse from her lap. She had her bag wrapped around her wrist so they didn’t succeed but she was understandably a little shaken by the experience.
This is again just very opportunistic so all I can say is keep your bag close to you on the metro. Pay attention (Without being Paranoid) and try to keep some of your valuables separate in case someone does succeed with this snatch and grab tactic.
“So that’s it, scared yet? Of course NOT. Like I said, Paris is an amazing city and you will walk away with literally thousands of wonderful once in a lifetime memories, Be aware, be smart and the only thing you will have to worry about it trying to pick which amazing location to visit next"
Only use official taxis, Uber or Paris’s extensive public transport networks to get around.
Keep your passport in the Hotel safe and use your drivers license as ID.
Keep a credit card or some cash in the safe too in case you lose your wallet.
Don’t put your purse / wallet in your backpack. Keep it in your front pocket when in public.
Enjoy and tip buskers - Smile and keeping moving past fraudsters / scammers
Know where your embassy is - https://en.parisinfo.com/practical-paris/useful-info/useful-addresses/embassies-and-consulates-in-paris
112 is the local number for Police
If it seems to good to be true it probably is.
When it comes to souvenirs, tours and other Paris experiences you get what you pay for (Paris isn’t cheap, you are better planning a couple of really nice experiences that many cheap ones).
If you are travelling on a budget though free walking tours (Tips only) are offered all around Paris and are an excellent way to get a general feel for the city - https://www.discoverwalks.com/tour/city/paris-walking-tours/