A Guide to Avoiding the Biggest Scams in Paris
Sometimes the reality of Paris gets lost behind the romance. The picturesque city of lights, the sparkling Eiffel Tower, the outdoor terraces and the expensive restaurants are all alive and true, but, as an unfamiliar tourist, it is important to remember that Paris is still a city. The best way to protect yourself is by being aware of some of the biggest scams in Paris.
Where’s the ball?
If you walk near the Champs de Mars and Tour Eiffel, odds are you may see a group of people gathered around someone shuffling cups, one of which contains a ball.
After the man has finished shuffling, he will give the crowd a chance to pick which cup the ball is under. If you are correct, you get double your bet.
From the outside it may seem straight and fair but there is a catch. The man shuffling the cups is not alone.
Sometimes up to six crowd members are in on the trick and will purposefully choose the wrong cup, leading you to think “well I knew that. If it was me I would have just won 50 Euros!”
After watching different people lose their money on obvious mistakes you are finally tempted to try your luck. When it is your turn the man either goes too fast or switches the ball at the last moment, thus leading you to choose the wrong cup and lose your money.
The one and only way of avoiding this is by not playing. It is fun to watch, but it is much less fun to watch your money be pocketed by the men who make their living off of unsuspecting tourists.
Is this your golden ring?
This one is the “Freebird” of con-artists. Movies romanticizing the art of the conman are constantly portraying this scam in one way or another. Remarkably, it still works.
Coming up to you she will ask, “is this your golden ring?” After telling her that unfortunately, no, it is not your ring, she will suggest that you keep it and give it to your wife as a present.
If you accept, she will mention that she is short on money and that, in compensation for the ring that she have given you, you should fork over some change. After you have fished through your pockets they begin asking you for more and more money.
The ring is obviously not gold, but is instead a cheap knockoff with platinum plating. The best way to avoid this scam is to either refuse to take the ring or, if indeed it would make your partner happy, thank them profusely for finding your lost ring and end it there.
Do you want to see a magic trick?
It is difficult to say “no” to a magic trick but, if you are near Montmartre, it is best if you decline.
After succeeding in getting your approval to see their magic trick the scammers begin to tie a bracelet around your wrist. Once it has been fastened they demand money for their gift. Often times they can be pushy and difficult to put off.
This same scams come in different variations. If there are two of you, one of the scammers may offer to give a bracelet for free to one of you. Then, believing yours is free too, they explain that only one was free and the other must paid for.
My advice: take your new bracelet, give it to another unsuspecting tourist and try to turn a profit.
Keep your hands in your pockets.
This one is rather sinister. Recently there was a video released of a couple trying to be swindled by a fake taxi coming from the CDG airport. The man in question was eventually caught and sentenced.
While there are very few fake taxis on the streets of Paris, it is still good to be watchful. Paris is also in the process of cracking down on the fake taxi scam.
Be careful when searching for taxis on Google, as the first few search results will often be ads from companies that pay to appear, rather than those that have been deemed credible.
I have taken a taxi in desperate times when my Uber application was in crisis, and a journey that should have cost between 6€ – 10€ became one of 40€. I was told I could only pay in cash, and when I did not have enough on me I was told to go to an ATM. I declined this and so he locked the doors of the car. Shout a bit and they will usually let you go eventually…
Things to look out for:
- No taxi sign
- Battered or damaged car
- No meter
- No Eftpos machine
- “Over friendliness” of the driver
- When at the airport, head directly to the official taxi line outside of the airport. Be extremely careful if you are approached by a lone taxi driver.
Deaf and mute charity
On warm, sunny days next to the river there is a high probability that you will be accosted by a group of young women carrying petitions. Often times these petitions are for the “deaf and mute.”
At first they will simply ask you to sign your name on the petition. Then, after you have signed, they ask for a ten dollar “signing fee.” People tend to feel hypocritical if they do not pay after signing.
This is a scam. They are not deaf and mute. If you wait around long enough you can see them chatting it up before turning to a tourist and beginning to mutely miming for the tourists to sign.
Don’t get roped in.
Personally, I have never had an experience with pickpockets. People seem to make it sound commonplace in Paris but, after two years, I have nothing to report. Still, it does no harm to be cautious.
The most common places for pickpockets to pick pockets is at congested tourist destinations, such as Le Louvre, Notre Dame and Montmartre, or on densely packed metro rides.
People say that it is best to keep your wallet out of your back pocket and turn your backpack to the front of you.
Frequently pickpockets work in teams. One of them might come up and distract you by trying to get you to sign a petition while the other fondles your purse. Sometimes street performances are used as a distraction by pickpockets.
Some words of comfort
Once you are aware of the types of scams occurring in Paris it becomes easy to avoid them. Don’t get paranoid.
It is good to be on the watch but realize that with millions of tourists visiting Paris each year, only a small amount come in contact with scams and even fewer who fall for it.
It is much more likely that you will find yourself paying 8 € for a Coca-Cola at some ridiculously over-priced tourist trap. Make sure to check the drink menu before ordering.