Pickpockets in Paris: How to Avoid Becoming A Victim
The first rule of thumb is don't have anything more in your wallet than you are willing to lose. Try to keep only what is essential: ONE credit/ATM card, ONE piece of identification, and no more than €40-50. A hair brush can be easily replaced, but something like your passport or your social security card is much more difficult and its loss can cause much grief. Make a copy of your passport, and front and back of everything that you have in your wallet. In case something happens, you have all the numbers and contact information to cancel your cards and replace your passport.
Ladies, only carry purses that zip. Carry your purse tightly under your arm and slightly in front of you. If you have the backpack-type purse, swing it around so that it is slightly in front of you as well. We don't have eyes in the back of our heads, so keep your purse where you can see it. Gents, put a rubber band around your wallet and put it in your front pocket. This is going to make it extremely difficult for someone to get it out without you knowing.
The most likely places to get pick pocketed are close to major tourist sites: like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Champs-Elysées. Americans in Paris should be particularly alert to thieves who commonly work near tourist attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, hotels, beaches, trains, train stations, airports, subways and target vehicles with non-local license plates.
Most, but not all pickpockets work in groups. They are often adolescents, since it is extremely difficult for minors to go to jail here. They can be groups of young girls or boys and of all races.
If you do have your pocket picked, start yelling for the police immediately. If none respond, go to the local police station (commissariat) and file a complaint. Don't chase down whoever you think stole your wallet. Remember if they work in groups, your wallet was most likely handed off before you realized it was gone. If you chase down and grab who you think is the culprit and he/she doesn't have your wallet, you could get into deep trouble, fast. Find yourself a police officer and make an immediate report.
Here are some of the tactics the pickpockets use:
On the metro: The most popular is the crush and grab. You will be swarmed by several people all trying to get on or off. While they are pushing you, they are also picking your pockets. Another trick is to grab the purse of someone sitting right by the door and to hop off just as the doors are closing. To avoid being a victim, try to find a seat away from the doors. If you can't sit, back yourself up against one of the sides. Try to minimize access to your pockets and purses.
On the street: The most frequently used tactic here is the distraction technique. Two or more people will approach you and ask for directions, try to sell you stuff, or just crowd you. While you are occupied with one person, another is picking your pocket. Another technique is to have something thrown or spilled on you, like water or ice cream. Someone will approach you and offer to help clean you up. Another person then picks your pocket while you are distracted.
ATM scams: Most of the ATM's here in Paris are safe. Just make sure you use one that is well lit, at a reputable bank and not down some dark, deserted alley. If the ATM sucks in your card and does not give it back, go into the bank IMMEDIATELY! This is not normal and most likely the ATM has been tampered with by thieves. Don't talk to anyone while you are using the ATM. Walk up, get your money and then get on your way. Recent tactics include people walking up and asking for directions while someone is using the ATM. While they are distracted, the crooks get the pin and card numbers and can then come back and empty your account. Also, put your hand over the pin pad while you are entering your code. That way, no one can see the numbers you enter. If the ATM appears to have been tampered with, DON'T use it.
Pickpockets target many of us because we stand out and look like we have money. Just be aware of your surroundings and your belongings at all times. If you know you are going to a particularly touristy spot, leave as much at home as you can.
The Embassy Can Help
The Consular Section of the Embassy has an information sheet on how to replace certain items (such as credit cards and airline tickets) which have been stolen or lost. If you have lost all of your money, we can give you information on the most rapid means for money transfer, and can assist you in contacting family or friends. If your passport was stolen, we can issue you a replacement. Please review our guide for reporting losses for more information.