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.
The thing is, 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 – those are the trickiest ones, the ones you may fall for.
Paris scams are no different. Some are blatant and in your face. Others are not so easy to identify and before you know it you have already fallen for them. None of them generally results in a big loss of money. Yet if you fall for a scam you may end up feeling bad, angry with yourself, and it will likely ruin your vacation. We don’t want this to happen.
Paris is just too beautiful and I want to make sure you enjoy it as much as I do. Since I have seen many Paris scams happen in front of my eyes (and have experienced a couple of attempts), in various locations around town, I thought to put together this post to raise your guard against the most common scams in Paris.
GOOD TO KNOW: Though scams happen throughout the tourist spots around town, most Paris scams can be seen and experienced in the area of the Eiffel Tower, Pont Alexandre and the banks of the Seine River, and around Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre.
11 Paris Scams You Must Avoid
The 3 cups game
The 3 cups game is one of the most common Paris scams. I have seen it in various places around town, but one of the main hotspots for it is the area around the Eiffel Tower and Champ de Mars, as well as Pont Alexandre. It’s obviously a scam, yet so many people fall for it still – I think many do because they want to unlock the mechanism and unmask the scammers.
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 placed under one of them. He challenges passersby to bet that they can discover under which cup the ball is after mixing the cups around. It’s not a free bet – you have to put money on it. Chances are there is already some money on the floor – that’s been placed from one of the accomplices who is pretending to play the game. In fact, most of the small crowd you see around him is made up of accomplices. It can be a group of 5, even 6 people.
There usually is a couple of other accomplices further down the road, waiting around and sending warning messages in case the police comes by – I once sat not far from such a scene along the banks of the Thames River in London, called the police to see what would happen and man, let me tell you: they flew fast!
Anyways – the whole point is that this game is fun to watch, for some reason. You will see that the guys playing (again, let me say they are 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.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: 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.
The friendship bracelet
This is one of the trickiest Paris scams, though I shall point out that I have seen it in other big tourist cities such as Rome too.
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?). Now, if you are a little bit like me you will never fall for this – I am not one to shake hands of random people in the street. But others may be a bit less vigilant and fall for it.
What happens then, when you shake hands?
This man or woman quickly ties a few strings around your wrist, or finger, and starts braiding what he calls a friendship bracelet. He keeps smiling, chatting, and hinting more or less openly at a small compensation for his efforts. And if you try to walk away there and then, he will start nudging you compulsively until you give him some 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 have never even asked, and secondly, you just lose trust and that hurts just as much.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Unless you are like me (ie, never shaking hands of strangers in the streets), 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. It happens in the streets, but I have especially 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 or she then approaches you to ask if you have lots 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 take the ring, they will ask for money. Of course the ring is not valuable.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: The best way to get out of this scam is to say a firm no. Once again, a no works wonders!
The kind stranger at metro or train station
I haven’t personally seen this scam in Paris, but it happened to my friends when they visited and it also happens all over the world. So it’s better you get prepared for it and once you know how it works, you can also react.
This scam 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 his help to purchase the ticket for you. Seems innocent enough, right?
Chances are the person who is so kind to help you is going to purchase a child fare for you (it certainly doesn’t help if 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.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: The best way to avoid this scam is to refuse any offer of help. Again, that firm no will be very helpful. Alternatively, instead of buying tickets from the vending machine, head straight to the ticket counter.
GOOD TO KNOW: There is a twist to this scam that doesn’t necessarily involve tickets. The most common targets are women, best if traveling alone, or elderly.
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.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: The best way to avoid taxi scams is to only opt for official taxis or to use Uber or other taxi apps (I am a fan of Gett and Cabify). I honestly also think that using a taxi as a way of transportation 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. It’s a flat rate, so you should refuse to pay anything more than that.
The charity or petition scam
This is one of the Paris scams I may have fallen for, because I have a soft spot for causes, charities, petitions. But somehow something told me that a real charity wouldn’t go about petitioning to tourists.
This scam can be seen around major tourist hotspots – I have seen it around the Eiffel Tower, but it’s also a thing near Notre-Dame.
Here is how it works.
As you walk around minding your own business, someone will approach you with a sheet of paper that looks like a petition. The sheet will say that they are raising funds for a cause (the one I was stopped for was deaf people, and the girl who stopped me made a show of using gestures and not ever saying a word). The names and signatures on the sheet will make it appear genuine. You will be invited to sign and to make a donation.
Needless to say, not even a cent goes to the cause.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: The best way to avoid this scam is – once again – 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. To be fair, I see it happen everywhere – it’s a common scam in Italy, and I have even seen it in Tel Aviv in January. It usually happens in restaurants, inside or – even better – outside. It preferably targets solo female travelers or couples (I was having a drink with a friend when it happened to us, but worry not: we didn’t fall for it).
Anyways – 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. Rest assured that the minute you accept what you think is just a gift, you will be asked for money.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: You guessed it! Just say no.
The salesman scam
This is one of the weirdest Paris scams you may hear of. It catches you by surprise and it starts so innocently that is easy to fall for it.
Basically 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. Now – 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. So what happens? 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 after having thanked you.
But instead, he offers you a small compensation for your efforts. It can be anything really – usually it is designer clothing he’s on the way to delivering (and which you can bet are counterfeit). Do. Not. Take. It. Really. Because that will trigger more questions to you, and climax to the demand of some small cash for expenses such as gas. And if you do give that cash, he will magically speed away.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Do not give cash to improvised salesman that stop you on the street. Ever.
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, who pretend to be police officers undercover. They stop you and ask for your documents and demand to check your wallet for counterfeit bills.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: 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
One of the nastiest Paris scams I have seen is the ATM scam. 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.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: This is trickier than most as it catches you by surprise. 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.
Pickpockets aren’t scams proper, but I thought I’d include them in this post as they cause pretty much the same anger and frustration that scams do.
Pickpockets usually operate in crowded places, such as metro stations and even on the metro. And they usually work in a team of minimum two, where one distracts you while the other one strips you of your valuables.
My tip for avoiding pickpockets – anywhere in the world – is always the same. 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 – make sure to always 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.
By all means, 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 about Paris
If you are traveling to Paris, you should definitely read these other posts:
- 33 Incredible Places To Visit In Paris
- Seven Smart Ways To Get Versailles Tickets And Skip The Line
- Seven Smart Ways To Get Eiffel Tower Tickets And Skip The Lines
- Nine Smart Ways To Get Tickets To The Louvre And Skip The Line
- Eight Incredibly Smart Ways To Get Musee D’Orsay Tickets And Skip The Lines
- 27 Cool Things To Do In Montmartre, Paris
- A Week In Paris Itinerary: What To See And Do
- A Wonderful Itinerary For 5 Days In Paris
- A Fantastic Itinerary To See Paris In 4 Days
- Paris In 3 Days: A Great Itinerary To Make The Most Of It
- A Fabulous Itinerary For 2 Days In Paris
- The Perfect Itinerary To See Paris In A Day
- 15 Amazing Day Trips From Paris
- A Guide To The 5 Best Cities To Visit In France