Pickpockets in Paris: How to Stay Safe
Paris is known for its beauty, architecture, delicious cuisine, culture, and romance. Sadly, it is also known to be a major hub for pickpockets. Pickpocketing is one of the oldest and most widespread crimes in the world and is an epidemic in the French capital.
The city of light attracts over 33 million tourists a year, meaning plenty of unassuming visitors become the target of these criminals in the streets, shops, and on public transportation. I can assure you it’s not a very fun experience, either.
The number of pickpocket thefts in Paris has drastically increased since the beginning of the year. According to Le Parisien, the police have seen a 33% increase in crimes related to stealing, especially on the capital’s public transportation.
I’ve been the target of pickpockets not once, but twice. Let me share with you my experiences, how these pickpockets operate, and some advice on how to stay safe to keep this from happening to you.
The first time was on the metro in the 13th district. I had been in Paris only a few weeks and was unaware just how many crimes take place on the metro. I simply was not paying attention and was therefore an easy target. Add to that the fact that my cross-body purse was unzipped and the metro car was packed, it was really a recipe for disaster.
I walked up the stairs nonchalantly, exited the station, put my hand in my bag to look for my key and realized my wallet was missing. My stomach dropped when I immediately started getting text alerts from my bank. Someone sneakily stole my wallet from my bag and was now using it to go on a shopping spree. The thief was able to steal over $600 from me in a span of 30 minutes! The silver lining of the story is that 1.) at least he didn’t get my phone, and 2.) I learned the lesson to remain vigilant and aware of my surroundings. You live, you learn!
The second time was in Montparnasse. I was with my family who were visiting from the states. My mother had a backpack full of water because Paris was hot this summer and it’s important to stay hydrated. “Mom, it’s really not a good idea to be carrying a backpack in this city”, I warned her. I had already learned my lesson. She reassured me that her valuables were in her front purse, so if the thief wants to steal something the only thing he’ll find is some H2O.
Low and behold, moments later while crossing the street, a woman suddenly pushes my mother out of the way, screaming “attention!”, which is French for “be careful!”. She pointed at the thief standing next to us, and told us he was trying to steal from my mother’s backpack.
Of course the sleazy criminal acted as if he hadn’t just tried to commit robbery, looking at us with a blank, perplexed expression. Instead of running away, he actually tried getting closer to us. My immediate reaction was to yell obscenities at him, to which he responded by spitting on me. Second lesson learned? Don’t antagonize a criminal.
How to Stay Safe:
- Thieves may be recognized by carrying large shoulder bags, which they use to carry stolen items. Their strategies may differ; some choose their target at the station platform, wait for them to get on the metro, then use that moment to pickpocket and go out before the doors close. Many of these thieves are adolescents, since it is extremely difficult for minors to go to jail here!
- Be sure to always zip up your bag. If you don’t have a zipper, try to put your most valuable items in the inner pockets of your bag and keep an eye on your luggage at all times!
- According to the U.S. Embassy, the first rule of thumb is to not have more in your wallet than you are willing to lose. Try to keep only what is essential: one credit/ATM card, one piece of identification, and no more than €40-50 cash.
- Listen to the Metro drivers, who regularly make announcements to passengers when they detect gangs of pickpockets entering a train car.
- If you’re in crowded spots such as tourist attractions or the metro, try to keep your phone and valuables zipped up in your bag and have your bag in front of you. Try to avoid keeping your phone in your hand, as thieves will sometimes grab them out of your hands and run off. I’ve seen this happen! For men who don’t carry bags, put a rubber band around your wallet and put it in your front pocket. That way it will be extremely difficult for someone to get it out without you knowing.
- Pickpockets usually act in groups, so beware of their methods. One might try to ask you something, to distract you while another takes your belongings. They might also try to push or bump into you, to distract you from the weight of their hand in your pocket. It may sound intuitive, but if a stranger approaches you and asks you if you dropped something, or asks you to sign a petition, chances are they may be trying to rob you. Remain vigilant and don’t put your trust in strangers, especially crowded areas.
- Don’t leave your belongings out on cafe tables. We all do it, take our phones out at dinner and leave them on the table thinking nothing of it. It only takes 3 seconds for someone to pick it up and run away.
I hope you read this and learn from my mistakes, and take the precautionary steps to avoid being a target. The most important thing to remember is to keep your items zipped up, in front of you, and to remain aware of your surroundings! Stay safe, everyone!