Paris: Smart tourists know these 3 scams

Posted in: Paris Planning


Watch out for bracelet "sellers" on the steps of Sacre Coeur. Photo by Liz Webber.
Watch out for bracelet "sellers" on the steps of Sacre Coeur. Photo by Liz Webber.

Sure, we all know Paris is a big city with it’s fair share of petty crime – even the announcements in the Metro stations warn tourists to “faire attention aux pickpockets.”

But aside from just generally watching your wallet or purse, there are a number of scams typically used on tourists in Paris. They should know it’s not so easy to con a Cheapo!

Here are a few of the most typical scams to watch out for:

1. “Free” bracelets at Sacre Coeur

Most days, as tourists start to walk up the steps to reach Sacre Coeur, they face a veritable gauntlet of men trying to trick them out of a few euros. This scam involves someone tying a string bracelet onto your wrist and then refusing to let go until you “pay” for the souvenir.

While these men can be aggressive, they are fairly easy to avoid. Often if you speak French they just leave you alone – a simple “non, merci” should do the trick. (Read more tips for visiting Sacre Coeur.)

2. “Did you drop this gold ring I just found?”

I don’t really understand how this one works, but it must, because so many scammers still do it. It starts like this: as you’re walking along the street, someone approaches you and asks, “Excuse me, did you drop this gold ring?” When you say, no, that’s not mine, the person then tries to foist the ring on you, saying it must be worth a lot of money.

Since he or she is in the country illegally, the person can’t possible sell the ring, but you as a respectable tourist should have no problem. Can you just give him or a her a little money (not even the value of the ring)? Of course, in reality the ring is worthless. Be on the lookout for this scam in the Jardin des Tuileries and the Champs de Mars, near the Eiffel Tower.

3. “Do you speak English?”

As foreigners in a strange land, we’ve all needed to ask for assistance at some point. So when someone asks if you speak English, the logical response is: “Yes, I do! How can I help?” However, the next step on the part of the asker is to hold up a card with a poorly written sob story asking for money.

This isn’t so much a scam as a clever way to engage with tourists before begging for some spare change. It’s up to you whether or not to part with a few euro coins. These alms seekers can be found in pretty much all the major tourist districts, and are especially abundant in the square facing Notre Dame.

Don’t panic!

As the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would tell you, don’t panic! Like in any big city, it is important to remain on one’s toes in Paris, but that shouldn’t prevent you from having a good time. Just keep on eye on your belongings and use common sense and you should be fine!

Tell us your scam story

Have you witnessed or been the victim of a scam in Paris, or in any other city while traveling? Tell us about your experience–and what you’ve learned from it!

About the author

About the author: Liz Webber is a freelance journalist living and working in Paris. She has previously worked for the International Herald Tribune and Budget Travel.

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72 thoughts on “Paris: Smart tourists know these 3 scams”

  1. We got the bracelet trick at Sacre Coeur. I’m a 23 year old Kiwi lady, and my two friends were German and French (also female). 7 or 8 of them swamped us and did the hooking onto the finger thing. They make it despite you saying that you’re not going to pay for it and you don’t want it. Once my guy was finished, another one came over pressuring me to pay for it (surely if he was that bothered about it, the guy who made it would have asked?). He went on about how he had just made this beautiful thing for me and what it means in [African country they were from].

    I just walked away. Bad idea, he grabbed my wrist quite hard… I was having none of it, so I told him to let go of my fucking wrist right now. He cut the stupid thing off and walked away, but I couldn’t believe what just happened. None of them got any of our money though (as soon as they started approaching us we all moved out bags to where we could see them!).

  2. Last Fall, it wasn’t a bracelet, it was a ring by the Eiffel Tower, An Indian gentleman was trying to pull the scam on two teen girls. He wasn’t too happy with me when I told the girls it was a scam & they left. Otherwise, I had no problems, and I was a 50+ gal traveling alone. I Love Paris!

  3. How come the scammers at Sacre Coure get away with it, we were there last week and they spoilt our visit by forcefully tying as a rubbish string band……now I know why they are hated, I refused to give them any money and with silly courage I said hwat you gonna do about it and walked away……Immigration is gone wrong in France and Thank God Australia has tough rules, now I know why!

  4. Hi all,

    I have just come back from Italy and I noticed the following scams at Florence station.

    1. When you buy tickets at the machine, there are people that come and pester you for money. I do not know how they do this, but they managed to take my credit card details in the past and buy a hotel room and a train ticket, so do not let them get near you.

    2. There are also groups of people claiming they want to help you carry your luggage to the train. Once on the train, they will pester you for money. Unless you do want to give them money, do not let them help you, they are very persistent and big family fathers can be very threatening just with their presence.

    Both scams also happen in other cities, I saw this in Florence.

    1. As an update, Florence station now has surrounded ticket machines with metal bars to prevent people from watching you while you buy your tickets. Not sure whether this has solved the problem. I have seen the suitcases scam in Rome on the airport train. Be careful, as in Rome station the machines that are used to stamp your ticket do not work and people “volunteer” to go and stamp your ticket for you. They then run away with your 14 euro ticket and resell it.

  5. I’m in Paris now and I had a young woman try the petition scam on me on Champs Elysees the other day. I had no idea of this scam so I was not prepared. Fortunately, I am from New York and I never sign petitions on the street. I also had a jacket with the pockets zipped and my bag was zipped shut and tight to by body. It went like this:

    Loser Scam Artist: Excuse me, Madame, do you speak English.

    Me: Yes (taking a step back)

    Loser Scam Artist: Can you please sign this petition?

    Me: (taking another step back) I have no idea what that is.

    LSA: It’s for the deaf mute.

    Me: (slowly walking away) I don’t live here. I don’t want to get involved in local politics.

    And then she was gone in a flash. She disappeared into the crowd. I was not thinking at the time that it was a pickpocket. I thought she was a student.

    1. I wish I had seen this web site! I was in Paris last week and was shocked by the goings on. I was with my wife who is 5 months pregnant and had hoped to see Paris while we are still able to do so. I have travelled all over the world, Africa, South America, South East Asia and have never seen the behaviour that I was exposed to in Paris. I am from the inner city in Dublin and I am well used to junkies, smack heads and scumbags who are all out to rob you and would consider myself street smart and well able for what is out there.
      We arrived into Paris de Nord from London(civilisation) to the madness of PDN. I have never felt so threatened, either in Zambia, Zimbabwe or South Africa. Our hotel was quite near by and the receptionist suggested that we take a walk up to a cathedral that over looks the city, it was a real tourist spot but I never got it’s name. It was only about a 6 min walk from PDN station. As we approached the steps I spotted a group of Africans near the steps and straight away took a detour for the other side. This was just instinct and nothing racial in case the PC brigade are reading. We were then accosted by two African men with the string trick. I said quite forcefully that I was not interested, he then grabbed my hand to try get the string on but I did not know at the time that this is what he was trying, he would not let go of my now clenched fist. I then shouted and no release came. I dropped my left hand to try release the grip whilst raising my right on instinct to strike and only then did he let go. It was very very disturbing. I was sick that my wife had to witness this crap. Please be aware of the lengths they will go to to trick you. I am 6ft tall, have a full on beard, run regular marathons and am very fit and street smart. I work in construction and am used to the hard life and I’m still shocked that I could have been a victim. On the way down another bunch tried the same but it was hand in the pockets and get lost time, only then did we notice there was about 7 of them, we did not stop to hang around.
      We then went to take the bus tour from beside the opera house where the Romanian gypsies were doing their scam with the “do you speak English” and the “sign the petition scam”. I’m used to these from home but never knew the scam so I instinctively just blanked them.
      Then at the bus stop a girl comes up saying she found a “gold ring”. Now I feel like such a dumb ass for not pinging this. I knew it was fishy as the ring was a brass 3/4 plumbing ring or an olive to any plumber. I knew she was Roma but very well dressed, she kept pushing us to take it. She eventually got the message and buggered off, I wish I hadn’t been so polite.
      So 3 scams in 16hrs in Paris, I’m no dummy so please be mindfull. There are no police around in these areas, this isn’t an episode of Spiral and Gilou will not be there to save you, it’s Paris and we won’t be returning. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this crap. We weren’t conned but it was close, the aggressiveness of the string man was only met by mine and they backed off. It may not be wise to react like this but these people only know one way. Don’t be a victim. Please be aware and play the game on your terms.
      On the plus side we went from Paris to Ghent, pure heaven ;)

      1. Hi everyone,
        Yesterday, I have lost 200 Euros in a shell game (hidden ball trick). It was being played on the bridge near Eiffel Tower. I came back in my room and goggled it and found an article on Wikipedia. I am a poor fellow and was charmed by lust.
        I intend to go back and search for these guys again on the same very spot or nearby. Make a video and then ask them to return my money otherwise I’ll handover the video to police. Or follow the person to his place and inform police.
        It was huge money for me. My heart breaks when I think about falling into this trap.

      2. Police nearby doesn’t seem to prevent the scams. I was sitting in the Tuilleries when someone tried the ring scam. Police walked by 5 minutes later on their normal patrol but the scammer was long gone.


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