The Paris Pickpocket: How to Recognize and Avoid Them

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The Paris Pickpocket: How to Recognize and Avoid Them

Paris is known for its glamour, its cuisine, its romance, and of course, its fashion. Unfortunately, it is also known for its pickpockets. The city attracts over 33 million tourists a year, so it’s no mystery why it’s a hot spot for sticky fingers. Recently, the French police dismantled a family-run pickpocket ring that was stealing up to 4,000 euro a day at our beloved Eiffel Tower by employing tried-and-true strategies that afforded them to live luxuriously off of tourists’ hard-earned vacation money. Here is what to look out for and what you can do to avoid falling prey to the infamous Paris Pickpocket.

Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour Eiffel) by Duncan Hill/Flickr

Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour Eiffel) by Duncan Hill/Flickr

The Ring Scam.

What it is: This is one of the oldest scams, but for some reason it has remained somewhat of a constant in the pickpocket toolkit. How it works is this: The pickpocket pretends to pick up a gold ring off the pavement, presents it to you and asks if it belongs to you. If you lie and say that it’s yours (shame on you!), the thief will engage in conversation while their buddy robs you. If you say that it is not yours but like it anyway (which is strongly advised against), they will negotiate a price to sell it to you while their buddy robs you. Their game is all about distraction. Most targets are puzzled and have no clue what the scammer is talking about, so they end up distracted and a target to the accomplice who is lurking in the shadows.

What to Do: Say nothing or simply nod your head that it is not your ring, and walk away. You didn’t really like the ring anyway.

Sign My Petition!

What it is: I have to say, I have no idea how and why this one actually works because it is pretty basic as far as scheming goes, but like The Ring Scam, it must work because this is another “classic” for the Paris pickpocket. This one functions similarly to The Ring Scam, but in place of a ring is a petition for some noble cause that you are asked to sign. While you are signing your name, giving out your email address, guess what is happening? Their buddy is robbing you. The first time I was asked to sign a petition I was on the lower level of the Passerelle Solferino in front of the Musée d’Orsay. While I did not stop to sign it, I got so freaked out by the approach that I started running. My already-stretched out ballet flat slipped off of my foot, dove through the slats of the stairs, and sank down to the bottom of the Seine. I had to hobble on one shoe to the nearest restaurant to have them call me a cab.

What to Do: For the love of all things French, do not sign the petition! And don’t run away like I did. Just be on your way.

The Eiffel Tower by Alex Lecea/ Flickr

The Eiffel Tower by Alex Lecea/ Flickr

The Paper Distraction.

What it is: Picture it: It’s a gorgeous spring day. You’re on a terrace at a Parisian café, people watching, soaking in the sun and enjoying a glass of rosé. Next to your glass is probably a small bowl of peanuts, maybe an ashtray, the check, and your phone that captured this Instagram-worthy moment as you watch the “likes” pour in. But hold on. Now there is a piece of paper obstructing the view of your table, there are people hovering over it speaking to you, and you have no idea what is going on or what to say. Before you know it, it’s over and they’re gone. Guess what. You just got robbed. The paper (which is sometimes in the form of a petition) is used to distract and confuse you while the thief slides his hands underneath it to grab your phone or worse, your wallet. He is gone before you even acknowledged him. (Note: This scheme also happens at ATM machines, so always have someone on watch when you retrieve cash.)

What to Do: Don’t leave valuables on café tables.

Sacré-Cœur by Merve illeux/ Flickr

Sacré-Cœur by Merve illeux/ Flickr

The Grab and Run.

What it is: I would not exactly call The Grab and Run a scheme, as it is pretty primal as far as pickpocketing goes but it is the most common in Paris. A thief will prey on someone mindlessly playing on their phone or blithely listening to music on the métro, and just before the doors close at a stop, they grab your phones right out of your hands (which I imagine for those wearing headphones would incite quite the shock) and run off the train. You may be thinking: But I’m fast and I can run after the little rapscallion and safely retrieve my property. My husband thought this too. But what my husband did not know was that the thief had a friend on the train that was already anticipating this kind of bravery, and slickly extended his leg that tripped my husband who ended up on the floor in need of dental work.

What to Do: Keep your phone confined in your bag at all times. If you need to access it, do so from the bottom of your bag before closing it shut. It’s just not worth the risk.

The Intentional Tourist.

What it is: This one is somewhat new in the assortment of pickpocket strategies. It involves thieves dressed up as tourists carrying around selfie sticks, wearing fanny packs, and some really commit to the role by even wearing socks with their sandals! They seem harmless, just another family on vacation in Paris, when in reality they get you when your defenses are down, and they are—you guessed— waiting to rob you.

What to Do: Keep your wits about you and your valuables out of your back pocket, and these sneak attacks are less likely to happen.

Photo credits: Paris: Sacré-Coeur by Craig Booth/Flickr; Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour Eiffel) by Duncan Hill/Flickr; The Eiffel Tower by Alex Lecea/ Flickr; Sacré-Cœur by Merve illeux/ Flickr;  Eiffel Tower- Version 2 by David McSpadden/ Flickr

Eiffel Tower- Version 2 by David McSpadden/ Flickr

Eiffel Tower- Version 2 by David McSpadden/ Flickr

Lead photo credit : Paris: Sacré-Coeur by Craig Booth/Flickr

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Lisa Czarina Michaud is a native New Yorker who followed her calling for wine, cheese and beards five years ago when she moved to Paris on a whim. Her work has been published in Marie Claire UK, xoJane, Huffington Post Travel and France Passion Magazine.


  • Dan
    2017-07-14 06:03:53
    As already suggested, best place is to have money, phone etc. in an INSIDE jacket pocket with a zip. Try to get a jacket that has such a pocket and keep the front zipped up. As others have said take photocopies/photos/scans of passports and send them to an online email account, so if you do happen to mislay your passport at least you have access to the passport numbers etc. Try to keep a small amount of cash only for paying for day to day items in a normal front trouser pocket, e.g. 20 Euro or 2 x 20 Euro etc. This means no need to remove wallet from zipped pocket. If you are a couple, split the cash & credit cards & phones between two people, again in an inside zipped jacket pocket, so if you mislay one, you still have some money and cards and phones. I use a flat 'fanny pack' type UNDER my t-shirt with essential passports and large cash notes, although it can be uncomfortable. All popular tourist locations are prime for pickpockets in all cities. In Europe, Paris, Barcelona, London are popular with USA visitors so the thieves are there. If you can leave your passport somewhere safe and do not carry it with you. It is probably safer in the hotel room than in your pocket. Carry some other form of ID such as drivers licence. Replacing a passport can take a week. I was robbed in South America in a bus station. We read before hand bus stations were prime targets, so I was watching the bags like a hawk, sitting down laying my hands over them. My partner went to the information desk. Someone behind said "did you drop this" pointing to a credit card on the ground. At the same time another person went the other way, grabbing one of the small bags. The good news is all they got was our bag of dirty clothes, a brace for teeth, and a credit card that was cancelled within 4 minutes of it being stolen. Remember if you card is stolen you are liable until you report it to the card company. Try to have the emergency number (which is written on the card) in a different bag to the card. In our case we had split the cards between two people and the number for the other card was the same to cancel it. We used a payphone outside to cancel the card, even before we notified the bus staff we had been robbed. The poorer the country the more likely you are to be robbed and in Brazil they recommend to not carry your passport on the street and only take enough cash for the day. I heard of one person who was mugged and just carried on as normal afterwards, a waste of time going to the police. If your passport is safe and you have access to more money, then it is not the end of the world. In Brazil they call it a "tourist tax"