Travel in Paris safely & securely by being aware of common scams targeting tourists & travelers. This Paris safety & security guide focuses on scams run by fake ticket sellers, pickpockets and thieves in and around Paris Metro (subway), Paris RER, and intercity trains and Paris train stations.
If you have a story you’d like to share to help others avoid the same scam, please contact [email protected].
Scam: Ticket purchase help
Where: At Metro / RER ticket vending machines, especially at Gare du Nord train station
How: Scam artist, often wearing fake ID badges, offers to help you purchase tickets using his bank card/credit card. After purchasing the tickets he asks you to pay him in cash for the tickets, but at an amount much higher than what the ticket is worth. Variations include:
- helping you purchase multi-use day passes (20€+ each) from automated ticket machine using their payment card, then using sleight-of-hand to give you a (valid) single-use ticket (2.50€, which they’ve previously purchased) then asking for Euro cash from you after you’ve passed through the fare gate using the single-use ticket
- suggest that you use Euro notes to pay and simply stealing the tickets from the ticket collection tray after purchase is complete
- person offering help may be young (children) or old, male or female
- never offer cash for tickets to anyone not behind a ticket counter, regardless of uniform or badges of ID
- buy tickets from a ticket window
- buy Metro/RER train tickets from ticket machines using your own bank/credit card/cash/coins
- bank & credit cards with a chip, taking 4 digit PIN numbers from most countries will work fine
- politely refuse help from apparently good samaritan locals
- do not purchase from a ticket vending machine when a stranger is too close. Legitimate customers will wait a respectable distance and not bother you. Go to a ticket window or another machine if approached.
- the only place where train staff help you purchase tickets at ticket vending machines is at CDG airport train stations or Orly airport (OrlyVal train station). Nowhere else! These staff will be dressed in official looking uniforms.
Scam: Boarding Separation / Distraction Pick-pocket
Where: Chatelet les Halles, while boarding Metro trains.
Target: Individuals / parties with luggage.
How: A team (of 3-4 people) will jostle & separate you from your party & luggage during train boarding pretending to rush onto train. While bumping & pushing into you they will try to pickpocket you. If you confront any of the team members they will loudly argue with you (in French) to create a spectacle / a confrontation to distract onlookers and yourselves from another team member who will try to pickpocket you.
- Move up & down along platform.. While waiting for your train to arrive, look around your immediate area. Are there any groups of people who have a suspicious interest in you, your luggage, your pockets or purses? If you spot any suspicious people, move further up or down the platform to another boarding position. It’ll be comically obvious if anyone attempts to stay with you as you move up and down a platform so they can board with you.
- Let a suspicious group board before you.. If a team tries to keep close to you to follow & crowd you onto a train car, don’t board before them. Step to the side of the train car door and gesture to let them board first. If they board the train, simply don’t board the train and take the next train, which should be only a few minutes later. If they don’t board the train (even more suspicious) exit the platform and return to the ticketing / fare gate area where there are train staff. If they’ve followed you up off the platofrm, have a chat with train/ticketing staff while pointing out the suspicious group.
Scam: Luggage Pushing + Pick-pocket
Where: CDG – Paris RER B trains, in standing areas nears the ends of carriages and in aisles betweens seats where people stand with wheeled baggage that can be moved easily.
How: The thief will pretend they’re just trying to move past you by pushing/pulling your wheeled luggage while bumping against you to distract you from the pick-pocketing of your wallet/purse at the same time.
- Pocket only a small amount of cash & a credit card, not a wallet.. A wallet is easily visible as a bulge in a pant pocket or jacket pocket. That is an easy target for thieves. A couple bills and a payment card has a much thinner physical profile and is more difficult to locate. And if you are pick-pocketed, at least you won’t lose your entire wallet
- Keep a hand on your wallet/purse.. If you need to have your entire wallet contents in an easily accessible pocket, then keep your hand physically gripping the wallet/purse any time your pockets are open to access.
- Use zippered pockets. Not a robust solution, but adds an additional barrier the pick-pocket has to overcome to access your wallet. Your pocket must be either unzipped (usually requiring two hands) or cut open to access.
Scam: Distraction + Bag Snatch from Seat
Where: Inside Metro / RER trains with bag placed beside or above you (i.e. not wearing it)
How: If you’re not physically holding or wearing your bag (backpack/purse/anything easy to carry) you’re a target for a distraction + bag snatch followed by escape out closing train doors. The distraction comes from one partner, a few moments before train car doors close. While you’re not looking at your bag, the other partner grabs your bag and escapes out the closing doors while you’re stuck on train as it leaves the station.
- Dropping coins/phone/anything making noise & movement on train car floor, causing you to momentary look at the noise
- Knocking on train car window where you’re seated causing you to look outside. Can be someone pointing at their wrist asking for the time, someone saying “hi” or making a face, anything to get you to look out the window for 2-3 seconds.
- Hold your bag, tightly while the train is stopped at a station. While in motion, you can relax a bit, but never stop holding your bag when train is stopped. Heavy suitcases are usually safe as they’re too bulky/cumbersome to move quickly out of a train. But backpacks, purses, etc. are a perfect target.
- Put your backpack/bag between your feet, not on either seat beside you, regardless of aisle or window seat. A bag on a window seat is easily stolen from the row of seats behind you. Especially if you’re sitting next to the doors. The thief will simply reach over the back of the seat and grab your window-seated bag while you’re not looking.
Scam: Pick pocket teams
Where: Train car doors and anywhere a small bag is placed (open seats, overhead storage, at your feet)
How: Distraction / diversion / attention-getting + snatching wallet/bag.
Example: Helping pick up coins or something dropped in several pieces. Usually two-person team. One is a decoy attempting to distract you & expose your wallet or divert attention away from your bag. He often stays on train. Partner picks pocket/grabs bag & gets off train as doors close. I had this attempted on me on the Barcelona Metro, but the method works anywhere. One member waits to get on train at a 45º angle in front of you (keeping you in his peripheral view). When the train arrives and doors open, passengers exit train, then you and pickpocket move towards door. He enters just ahead of you and drops something on the floor of train. A mobile phone in pieces, coins, etc. The point is to get your help to bend over and pick up the pieces with him, exposing your back pocket & your wallet. His partner then picks your pocket while leaving train and walks off. After picking up pieces, the original pickpocket stays on train and plays innocent, offering himself to be searched for your wallet.
- Don’t help to pick up items dropped.
- Keep your wallet in front pants pocket.
Scam: Unregistered Taxi / Limousine Rides
Where: Near train station & airport passenger pickup stands for taxis, limousines, etc.
How: Illegal taxi or limousine offers you a ride to destination of your choice at discount or flat rate because their reserved passenger has been delayed. After driving begins the car takes you to an unsafe neighbourhood and demands extra fee or they will eject you into the unsafe area.
- Take taxis from designated taxi stand areas at train stations and airports.
- Take taxis that have an illuminated roof sign (green light) and a meter on the dash (that works)
- Only take taxis from reputable/recommended companies which includes:
- Taxi G7
- G7 Horizon
- Alpha Taxis
- Les Taxis Bleus
- ABC Taxis 93
Scam: Bag Placement & Pickup
Where: Anywhere you put your hand bag down
How: When you put your handbag on floor at your feet, thief puts their bag down beside yours, stops, bends over and ties her shoes. When done, she picks up her bag and yours and walks off.
Avoidance: when you put your purse down, put bag between your feet, not on your left or right sides of your feet.
Scam: Mobile phone theft with closing doors
Where: near train doors as they’re closing
How: As you talk or text on your mobile phone, holding it up near your face in plain view with a weak grip, the thief will wait until train is about to depart and doors are about to close. He will grab your mobile phone from your hands and escape through the closing doors and run out of the station.
- Use your mobile phone after the train doors are closed and train car is in motion (no escape route).
- Don’t text or talk on phone when the train doors are about to open or close.
- Don’t sit immediately in front of doors (minimizes distance to escape route).
- Hold onto your mobile phone like an orange (hand wrapped around it), not like a Christmas card (holding bottom edges, exposing phone, easy to grab).
Scam: Asking you to take photo of them using their camera/phone
Where: train platforms, near columns, in dark areas
How: The team (working in two or more) will target single/lone travelers, usually with baggage, that they can move into darker areas, close to columns. They will have one person ask you to take a photo of them using their camera or phone. They will ask you to take pictures of them in poorly lit areas, usually around poles or columns on the train platform. From this area they will try to position you for a bump/pickpocket from their team member or to separate you and your luggage using the column, where the second team member will make off with a light bag or backpack or purse that’s on your suitcase.
- Politely refuse taking photos of locals using their phone. (Say your a terrible photographer / have shaky hands, etc.)
- Do not separate yourself from your baggage.
- Stay out of poorly lit areas where security cameras cannot see well.
- Keep your eyes on your bags.
- Wear your backpack on your front, not on your back.
- Keep your wallet in your front pants pocket, not your back pocket.
- Don’t be distracted by others in this station either to be helped or being requested to help others.
Simply go about your business of arriving and leaving this station in an efficient manner and you’ll be fine.
Enjoy your trip and stay safe!
(If you have a story you’d like to share to help others avoid the same scam, please contact [email protected]).
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