How To Avoid The Most Common Paris Scams

What are the most common Paris scams?

I like to think I am too seasoned a traveler to fall for scams but, with hindsight, it was not too long ago that I fell for one of the most classic scams in Bangkok for which I ended up paying an extortionate price for a boat ride to see the floating market. 

While some scams are easy to spot and oh so obvious that unless you are completely naive or in good faith you will manage to stay away from them; others inevitably attract your attention, and you may fall for them.

Paris scams are no different. Some are blatant and in your face and you will know to stay away. In other cases, you will fall for them before you realize it’s a scam. The good news is that none will a big loss of money. However, the inevitable feeling after you are the victim of a scam is anger – which may end up ruining your vacation.

I have seen scams in Paris unfold in front of my eyes, in various locations around town. So I thought I’ll do my best to warn you against them.

Most scams in Paris occur in the area of the Eiffel Tower, Pont Alexandre and the banks of the Seine River, and around Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre. 

Paris scams
Bridges are a favorite place for scams in Paris

11 Paris Scams You Must Avoid

The 3 cups game

This is one of the most common scams in the French capital, especially seen in the area around the Eiffel Tower and Champ de Mars, as well as Pont Alexandre. It’s obviously a scam, yet so many fall for it.

Here is how it works.

A man pulls a small rug on the floor. He places 3 metal cups which are turned upside down and a ball under one of them. He challenges passersby to bet that they can discover under which cup the ball is after mixing the cups around. You have to put money on it. Chances are there is already some money on the floor – aptly placed by an accomplices. Most of the small crowd – 5 or even 6 people – you see around him is accomplices.

Other accomplices are further down the road, just in case the police comes by.

The game is fun to watch, for some reason. The guys playing (the accomplices) never seem to get where the ball is. But you are pretty certain you can. And that’s where the trick is: you are so sure you can win that you bet some money, and the man mixes the cups. Only this time he mixes them about 10 times as fast as he did before. And you can’t follow the ball. In no time, your money is lost. 

The best way to avoid this scam is simply not to play. In fact, don’t even stop to watch as chances are that another accomplice (team work!) may pick pocket you while you are distracted. 

Pantheon Paris
Scams often happen near tourist attractions

The friendship bracelet

This is one of the trickiest scams – you may come across this one in other cities in Europe. 

The area where I have seen it happen the most is the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre. Among the myriad of vendors selling cheap souvenirs placed on blankets they can quickly lift to flee if the police shows up, there are others – men and women – who instead don’t appear like they are selling anything. 

These people are just standing around, smiling. They see you from a distance, walk towards you with their hand out, ready to give you a handshake (whatever for?). What happens then, when you shake hands? 

They will quickly tie a few strings around your wrist, or finger, and starts braiding what they call a friendship bracelet. They keep smiling, chatting, and hinting more or less openly at a small compensation for their efforts. If you try to walk away, they will start nudging you compulsively until you give them money. 

This is honestly one of the most annoying Paris scams. It doesn’t even cost much money, but first of all you should never have to pay for something that you haven’t even asked, and secondly, you just lose trust and that hurts just as much. 

Other than never shaking hands with a stranger, one way to avoid this scam is to walk with your hands in your pockets whenever you see these kind of people approaching. If you forget to do so, a polite but firm no and a threat to call the police work wonders. 

The golden ring

This is one of the most annoying scams in Paris and it targets tourists in such an obvious way that it sickens me. I have seen it along the banks of the Seine where tourists love to go for a walk. 

Here is how it works. 

As you walk around – taking photos, reading your guidebook or map, or whatever else – someone not far from you bends down and (seemingly) picks up something off the floor. He then approaches you to ask if you have lost that golden ring. Chances are you will say no, it is not yours. Then he will observe it closely, say it looks like good quality, suggest he can’t keep it but why don’t you take it?

The minute you touch the ring, they will ask for money. But the ring is not valuable. 

The best way to get out of this scam is to say a firm no.

Latin Quarter Paris

The kind stranger at metro or train station

Another scam that happens all over the world! It obviously targets tourists that seem a bit lost. You may be at a vending machine trying to get your train or metro ticket, fiddling with change, your suitcase near you making you an obvious target. That’s when a kind stranger approaches you offering help to purchase the ticket for you. Seems innocent enough, right? 

Chances are they will purchase a child fare for you (it certainly doesn’t help you can’t speak or read French to see what he’s doing) and then pocket the change. Or he may even demand for a tip for having helped you. 

The best way to avoid this scam is to refuse any offer of help. Alternatively, instead of buying tickets from the vending machine, head straight to the ticket counter. 

Jardin du Luxembourg

The taxi scam

Taxi scams are common all over the world. Thankfully there aren’t many unofficial taxis in Paris and the most common places to see these Paris scams are train or bus stations and airports. 

The things that should raise your attention that the taxi may be a scam are:

  • The driver approaching you, offering you a ride – official taxis can be found at the taxi bay, whether at the airport or at the station. 
  • The car not having a taxi meter or any other taxi sign. 

The best way to avoid taxi scams in Paris and elsewhere is to only opt for official taxis or to use Uber or other taxi apps. Using a taxi in Paris is completely unnecessary, as the metro system works really well; it is much faster and way cheaper. 

It’s also worth noting that the official taxi rate from Charles the Gaulle airport to Paris is €50 if you go to the right bank, and €55 for the west bank of the city. It’s a flat rate, so refuse to pay anything more than that. 

Paris scams
The area under the Eiffel Tower is where you will see lots of Paris scams

The charity or petition scam

This is one of the Paris scams you may fall for if you have a soft spot for causes, charities, petitions. It can be seen around the most popular places to visit in Paris.

Here is how it works. 

Someone will approach you with a sheet of paper that looks like a petition, saying that they are raising funds for a cause (I was asked to donate for deaf people, and the girl who stopped me made a show of using gestures and not ever saying a word). Names and signatures on the sheet will make it appear genuine. You will be asked to sign and make a donation. 

Needless to say, not even a cent goes to the cause. 

The best way to avoid this scam is to say a polite but firm no and then walk away. If you really want to donate to a charity, there are tons reputable ones that you can look for online. I support the work of Emergency. They do amazing things. 

The rose scam

This is one of the Paris scams that annoys me the most. It usually happens in restaurants, inside or – even better – outside. It preferably targets solo female travelers or couples.

This is how it works. 

You are sitting at a restaurant waiting for your meal or eating, and suddenly someone shows up and offers you a rose. The minute you accept what you think is just a gift, you will be asked for money. 

You guessed it! Just say no. 

The salesman scam

This is one of the weirdest scams you may hear of. It catches you by surprise and starts so innocently that it’s easy to fall for it. 

A polite and stylish looking man driving in his car may stop you to ask for directions to a specific place, claiming his phone is dead. If you don’t know your way around, it’s easy not to fall for this. But some of us are always eager to help others in need. You pull out your phone, look for directions and be as helpful as you can. It should end there and then, with this man driving away. 

But instead, he offers you a small compensation for your efforts. It can be anything really – typically (counterfeit) designer clothes he’s delivering. Do. Not. Take. It. Really. Because that will trigger more questions, and climax to the demand of some small cash for expenses such as gas.

Do not give cash to improvised salesman that stop you on the street. Ever.

scams in Paris
Scams are common in Montmartre too

The police scam

We are generally raised to think we can trust the police. But one of the worst Paris scams is perpetrated by men and women pretending to be police officers undercover. They stop you and ask for your documents and demand to check your wallet for counterfeit bills. 

Never take your passport out in public, and never hand it to anybody. Ask for official identification and if in doubt, ask to be taken to the nearest police station.

The ATM scam

This is one of the nastiest scams I’ve seen in Paris. While you stop to get cash from an ATM in any street, someone may place a cardboard piece over the screen and try to intimidate you until you give them cash, while an accomplish clicks on the buttons and steals your cash. 

The best way to avoid getting yourself in such a situation is to get cash in residential areas, or in those ATM that have doors. Always make sure nobody is near you when you are using an ATM.

scams in Paris
Even in Les Marais you may be a victim of scams

Pickpockets

Pickpockets aren’t scams proper, but they cause pretty much the same anger and frustration that scams do. They usually operate in crowded places, such as metro stations and even on the metro. They typically work in a team of minimum two, where one distracts you while the other one strips you of your valuables. 

Avoid flashing any valuables that will make you an easy target. Make sure to wear a bag that you can wear cross-body like this one and always zip it close. You could also get an anti-theft backpack like this one.

Don’t open your bag in crowded places – carry some small change for things such as metro tickets in your pockets. Don’t carry too much cash with you, and keep various bits of cash in different places anyways. Avoid taking out your phone in public – pickpockets around the world will take their chances and try to steal it from your hands. 

Beware of people stopping or blocking your path, and even more of those you accidentally bump into – the bump is a distraction technique! 

If you are a victim of pickpockets, go to the police to file a report and immediately cancel all your cards. It may be worth checking the trash cans in the area where you have been pickpocketed to see if your cards and passport are there – pickpockets are after cash and not after anything that can be traced.

Further Readings

If you are traveling to Paris, you should definitely read these other posts:

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Read this post to learn about the most common scams in Paris - via @clautavani

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