Everywhere you look in Paris there is art; certainly in the museums, but don’t forget about artfully arranged boutique windows artistically wrapped purchases, wildly imaginative graffiti art and the art of living well, something which Parisians have turned into, well… an art form.
Something else has been elevated to “art” in Paris and you won’t find it in any art guides: the “art” of the scam is something as old as the Mona Lisa herself. Never violent, but extremely annoying, street scams have been pulled on visitors to Paris throughout its long history. Travelers beware! You should be on alert and have your personal radar set to be on guard for scammers:
The Bracelet Guys: Hovering around tourist sites and mostly found right around Sacre Couer in Montmartre (18th arrondissement), fairly aggressive, but never violent, these flirty young men will stop you and try to engage you in conversation all the while attempting to place a string bracelet on your wrist. The bracelet is a piece of junk and soon you’ll find yourself with something utterly worthless and a few Euros lighter. Avoid these men completely by walking right on by!
The Petition Girls: Also hovering around tourist sites particularly Notre Dame and Opera Garnier are cute young teen girls who will wave a clipboard in front of your face to get you to sign their “petition.” Once you sign, they then insist you make a donation. No one knows what’s really on their clipboard, all you need to know is this is a scam to fill their pockets (maybe even with your stolen wallet). If you see them, cross away from them and do not make any conversation.
The Gold Ring: This one is used a lot and can be very distracting. A person will cross into your path, bend down in front of you and present you with the “gold” ring you lost. As they attempt to give it to you, they will ask for money or as they are chatting with you, their partner attempts to pickpocket you. They mill around tourist sites, but I’ve also seen them on small quaint streets preying on unsuspecting tourists. Ignore them completely.
The Dapper Gentleman Helper: Beware of anyone who might be finely dressed offering assistance at Metro and train station automated ticket booths. They look like they would really be helpful, except that they are helping themselves to your wallet. For their assistance, they will demand a monetary reward. I fell for this scam many years ago on my very first trip to Paris. Always look for official looking transportation personnel only. Better still, go old fashioned and use a manned booth.
Luxury Bags: Street vendors hawking counterfeit luxury bags and suitcases are plentiful in Paris. These did not fall off the back of a truck making a delivery to the famous department store, Galeries Lafayette. They are NOT originals. And often are not even good fakes. While tempting to purchase, they are poorly made and often made with child labor. What’s worse, they may be confiscated by customs officials at the airport. Lookout for pickpockets while you are distracted by that lookalike Chanel! Buyer beware!
Do You Speak English Scam: French society on the whole is still pretty formal, so it’s doubtful a local person will stop you to make idle chit chat. It’s just not done. While there may be a legitimate tourist who comes up to you asking you for directions, be aware of anyone who is persistent in asking if you speak English. Beginning a conversation with such a person opens the door to “I lost my wallet” or “I was just mugged please help me” money scams. Don’t even say the word “no” as that acknowledges you understood the question; eye contact is a big no-no. Say nothing and just walk on by.
The Apartment Scam: When selecting an apartment as a lodging choice, be sure to only use reputable agencies and owners. Never send money via Western Union and triple verify the address of the apartment. Make sure you have at least 5 legitimate reviews of the apartment. It’s been known to happen that weary travelers arrive in Paris to an address and apartment that does not exist. Try to Google the address or go to the French yellow pages, www.pages.jaunes.fr, type in the proposed address of the rental under ou’ (where) and search! If it shows up, then click vue impressive and you can see the building and street.
All in all, these scam artists are not unique to Paris, but uniquely disheartening when you come to one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and are confronted with its dark side at many tourist stops along the way. If you do get scammed there’s not much you can do but chalk it up to experience and be content in the knowledge that you are now a “seasoned traveler!”
Robyn Webb is an award-winning cookbook author, nutritionist and culinary instructor who has written 17 cookbooks, sold nearly a million, and toured the world. Her 18th book and debut travel book, The Paris Vacation Apartments Guide: Where to Stay Without Getting Overwhelmed, Ripped-Off or Scammed went to #1 on Amazon’s French Travel downloads, #9 for Amazon’s French Travel books, and #1 in New York City’s Times Square (see photo here). Combining her love of food with her love of travel, this globetrotter has been to almost every continent (Antarctica is on her to-do list), nearly 70 countries and every state in the union. Her favorite place on earth: Paris, of course. Follow her at: @robynwebb