As soon as we emerged from the Charles de Gaulle Airport, a middle-aged woman approached me and my friend and tried to communicate using sign language. She was deaf, I thought, which was supported by the piece of paper on a clipboard that she showed us. I caught the words “deaf” and “petition,” as the woman handed a pen to my friend. As he was signing, I excused myself and took photos of the airport for this blog. When I came back, the woman was already demanding money from a friend. Too bad for her, we didn’t have cash and our ticket to the city was already settled even before we exited the airport terminal.
It was one of the many tourist-targeted scams that have been rampant in Paris. Four days later, as I was having dinner at a house of a local friend, I was told that that most of them, if not all, are not really deaf. They just pretend to be able to swindle gullible tourists. It’s just one of the many scams in the city. Here are five of them.
1. Petition Scam
Something I’ve seen first-hand, as stated above. But it’s happening not just in Paris but in other major European cities as well.
Their goal: To steal your wallet or phone, or force you into making a donation.
Their usual spots: Airports, train stations, and other touristy areas.
Their MO: Someone, often a woman pretending to be deaf, approaches you and asks you to sign a petition. While you’re busy signing, someone else is busy stealing your wallet or phone. Sometimes, they don’t pick pockets but they force tourists into paying them money by revealing that the petition is actually a donation pledge.
In other cases, they approach tourists at a restaurant or cafe. You see, the petition is usually on a clipboard and there’s a reason for it. It also blocks your view of whatever it is they’re trying to steal. One of my friends who visited Paris last year was dining at a cafe when he was approached by a woman who put the clipboard on the table, where his mobile phone was on. He didn’t realize it immediately but when she picked up the clipboard from the table, his mobile phone was with it. He just failed to see because of the clipboard.
How to avoid: Simply ignore them when they approach you. (But always make sure you keep an eye on your valuables whenever you go out of your hotel.) If they insist, tell them you know what they’re trying to do.
2. The Teenage Girls Group Scam
Something that another friend experienced.
Their goal: To steal your wallet or cellphone by distracting you.
Their usual spots: Touristy areas, but my friend was victimized on the train.
Their MO: They will distract you while one of them fishes your wallet or phone from your pocket. How they do it varies. Sometimes, they employ the petition-and-clipboard approach. Other times, they will talk loudly, make funny movements, or one of them would pretend to pass out just to steal your attention while one of them picks your pocket.
How to avoid: No manner of catching your attention will work if your valuables are in a secure place. Make sure your wallet or phone is in a hard-to-reach part of your coat or bag. I personally prefer the inner pockets of my jacket or coat, which is often zipped up nicely so no other person can touch it.
3. The String Bracelet Scam
Didn’t happen to me, but it’s something I have witnessed myself when I was at the steps of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. I caught one on video. Will upload it soon.
Their goal: To coerce you into paying for an overpriced string bracelet that you never wanted to buy.
Their usual spots: Touristy places, but most common at the staircase leading to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica.
Their MO: You’re walking to the basilica when a man with a bunch of string bracelets in one hand approaches you. He will try to get your attention, most likely by asking you if you want to see a magic trick, by raising a hand for a high-five, or by telling you that he’s giving you a bracelet for free (a GIFT!). Whatever it is, his aim is to wrap a string bracelet around your wrist. The whole thing takes time but they’re sweet talkers. Once you have the bracelet on, he will charge you for it and demand an excessive amount. If you refuse, the other string guys will approach and intimidate you into paying.
How to avoid: when they approach you, just ignore them. They’re annoyingly persistent but they’re not really gonna hurt you.
4. The Gambling Game Scam
I spotted this on my recent trip to Paris, on the sidewalk of the road that connects the Eiffel Tower to Trocadero.
Their goal: Fool you into betting more.
Their MO: You see a group gathered around a man playing a little gambling game with three cups and a ball or a pea. Some of them make bets (on which cup they think contains the ball). And if you stop and watch, one of them will probably win to encourage you to place a bet too. But that guy is an accomplice; he’s part of the act. In some instances, they will let you win at first to get you to bet bigger next time. But it’s a losing game because they’re cheating.
How to avoid: Ignore them when you see them in the streets. They’re not gonna force you to watch.
5. The Did-You-Drop-This Scam
Their goal: To guilt you into giving money in exchange of a good deed.
Their usual spots: Touristy places.
Their MO: A woman will get your attention and ask you if you dropped something, usually a ring. If you say no, she’ll tell you to keep it for good luck. And then she asks for money.
How to avoid: DON’T TAKE THE RING and just walk away.
Many of these scammers aren’t really dangerous. They’re not gonna point a gun or a knife to get what they want, so the best way to avoid them is to simply ignore them and if necessary, tell them that you know what they’re trying to do.
Also, aside from scams, pickpockets are everywhere in Paris especially in touristy areas, so make sure you always keep an eye on your valuables.