Paris is a remarkably safe city and, relative to the US, your chances of being the victim of violent crimes is incredibly low. You will even find that, in most neighbourhoods, walking around alone at night is perfectly safe. That said, there is a pretty substantial amount of petty crime here that, if you don’t know what you are doing, can be somewhat easy for tourists to fall victim to. Fortunately, you have ParisByM here to teach you the ropes… with some common sense and a degree of caution… you will have nothing to worry about.
1. Blend In
By far the easiest way to avoid being targeted by the pickpockets is to avoid looking like the tourists that they prey upon. For starters, this means dressing like a Parisian… Sorry everyone… No fanny packs, sun visors, tennis shoes with white socks, Sperrys… Remember that, although stereotypical, Americans have a tendency to stand out when they travel abroad and as a result are often targeted more frequently than others.
To blend in, one of the easiest things you can do is dress like a Parisian. For both genders, this means neutral, muted colours like brown, grey, black, and depending on the season… perhaps white. Additionally, leather shoes, jackets, and scarves will go a very long way here.
Additionally, avoid walking around with a camera or a selfie stick… basically anything that identities you as a tourist. Instead we recommend walking around with confidence, acting like you know where you are going (even if you don’t), and taking pictures with your cell phone.
2. Keep Your Bags Zipped Shut
Bags that can be sealed shut with a zipper are an absolute must here in Paris. Pickpockets look for easy targets and by having this one small additional obstacle for them to come… you can dramatically reduce your risk of being pick pocketed. Big wide bags that do not shut are a huge no no as they are easily accessible. Should you decide that you want to bring an open bag though… we strongly recommend you keep it in your lap and in front of you at all times… especially when in crowded places!
3. Keep Valuables In Front Pockets
Nothing is more attractive to pickpockets than an iPhone or wallet protruding from one’s back pocket, especially when you are in a crowded metro or museum and people can easily brush up against you without raising any eyebrows. For this reason… we recommend that you place all valuables in your front pockets or in your bag with a zipper.
4. Learn Basic French
An easy way to catch the pickpockets off guard is if you show them you aren’t some average tourist walking around Paris (even if you are). Learn a few basic phrases that will let them know you are prepared for them. “Va-t-en” is a great one as it means get lost. If this seems a little bit too rude for you, a more polite way of letting them know you are not interested is by saying “Non Merci, Je ne suis pas intéressé”. We personally recommend a slightly more firm tone however as this is most likely to drive them away.
5. Know The Tricks Of The Trade
While most pickpocketing simply happens in crowded places when you aren’t paying attention, many pickpockets here in Paris can be very creative in how they try to approach you. Many work together in small groups to distract or otherwise trick unsuspecting tourists.
Below we have outlined some tactics commonly employed
1. “The Ring Scam”– In this scam, a pickpocket will approach you with a ring and ask if it belongs to you. When you tell him or her no they will ask if you would like to keep it. Now… the unsuspecting tourist might do the following. He or she would accept the ring and then discover that the pickpocket would like you to give him 30 euro… or worse… someone else might steal belongings from you while you are distracted. But fortunately, with your ParisByM briefing… you are no ordinary tourist! To avoid this scam simply shut it down before it even starts. Don’t accept things that don’t belong to you from any strangers on the street. If you even look like you are considering taking the ring the pickpockets can be quite aggressive. Just say no and keep walking.
2. “The Friendship String Scam”– For whatever reason, I see this manoeuvre being employed most commonly up at Sacré Cœur and in Montmartre. That said, it can happen anywhere and for that reason knowledge of it is very important. In this scam, a group of individuals will approach you and ask you if you would like a friendship band. They will attempt to tie it around your hand, sometimes quite aggressively, and after they have done this they will demand money. Even if all they do is intimidate you into giving them 5 euro, there may be someone behind you slipping your wallet out of that back pocket (see not putting things in your back pockets up above). As with any pickpocket scam… its easiest to stop the maneuver before it begins. Just say no.
3. “The Do You Speak English Scam””– The people running this trick are not beggars but rather organised criminals. They will simply try to approach you by asking if you speak English. Often times, it will be obvious to a native English speaker that these people are foreign to the language making their request quite unusual. They will try to tell you a long sad story and at the end they will ask you for money. As always, just simply say no and keep walking.
4. “ATM machine scams”– ATMS are normally quite safe in France, however, we recommend using ones located inside of banks during operating hours, especially if alone. The reason for this is that it is possible for pickpockets to take advantage of people withdrawing money on the streets. They might stand a little to close to you and watch you enter your cards pin number… after doing this they could swipe the card and run for it. To avoid this, just hide the pin pad from peaking eyes with your hand.
Additionally, a more complex ATM scam is for criminals to hack into the machine and cause it to retain your card and record your pin number. The machine will tell you that the card was withheld for entering the incorrect pin number. Later when you have left, the card will be removed by the pickpocket and they will withdraw money from your account with their newly learned pin number. This is significantly less likely to happen in a secure banking facility during operating hours.
6. Speak Quietly
The French in general speak much more softly than foreigners. This is particularly true in the case of Americans who, culturally, are much louder on the whole. For this reason, we highly recommend speaking softly, especially when conversing in English, as this will significantly reduce the chance of someone identifying you as a foreigner.
7. Leave Your Valuables In The Hotel Safe
An easy way to avoid being wiped out by the pickpockets is to simply not carry that much around with you in the first place. Leave most of your money, passport, computer and all of your valuables in your hotels safe or secure locker. It may even be a good idea to leave your credit/debit card at home and just take out what cash you will need for the day and leave the rest. This way, if you are targeted, you will not be in serious trouble. Having just 80 euro robbed from you can be enough to sour a day… why risk losing even more and souring your trip?
8. Walk On The Sunny Side Of The Street
As cliché as it may seem, criminals do not want to be noticed and as a result tend to hang out in the shadows. We recommend walking on the more well lit part of the street during the day time where pickpockets are a little less likely to be. Even if this is erring a little on the side of caution, a stroll in the sun is much more pleasant anyway. It’s a win-win situation for you no matter what!
9. Do Not Walk Around With A Map
Nothing will label you a tourist faster than appearing to be hopelessly lost. When you open up a metro map, you are immediately labelling yourself as an easy target. Instead we recommend that you plan out your route either in advance from the comfort of your hotel room or just use the giant maps posted everywhere around the city and in the metro to help you get around. These maps are much more commonly used by experienced tourists and locals alike and they will allow you to keep your hands free and guarding your belongings.
10. Spread The Wealth
Literally, when travelling with cash it is a very good idea to avoid keeping all of your money in the same pocket/purse compartment. Instead, you can put some of your money in your left pocket, some in your right and then some in your bag. For the really cautious, you may even want to consider investing in a money belt that is worn underneath your clothing but outside of your underwear. This is a really easy way to keep your money safe as no one, not even a pickpocket, will be looking to stick there hands down there!
With all of these great safety trips, your visit to Paris is sure to go smoothly. Just use some degree of common sense, be award of your surroundings, and err on the side of caution whenever possible and the pickpockets won’t stand a chance against you!