Europe, especially Paris, is known for having a concentrated amount of pickpockets in its touristy areas. While I have never been successfully scammed myself (knock on wood), I have experienced and witnessed attempts. Here are three types of pickpockets/scams that I’ve seen during a couple trips to Paris that you should be aware of:
Metro Ticket Machine Men
Beware of men (or women, but I encountered men) who offer to help you purchase your tickets at the self-serve machines. Some of them might have tickets already that they want to scalp while others will try to pay for your tickets with their credit card and receive cash from you in return.
When I visited Paris, a man dressed in a suit kept bothering me and trying to press the ticket machine screen, so I decided to ignore him and purchase tickets in person from the ticket booth instead. As I was waiting in that line, I noticed several other men in suits standing around the station, preying on tourists at the ticket machines, and even yelling things to each other across the station. While I couldn’t figure out their exact method of pickpocketing or scamming, it was pretty clear that associating with them would not result in anything good.
Figuring out how to use those machines can be difficult, especially in a hectic train station – to be safe and avoid suspicious people trying to “help” you buy tickets, I suggest purchasing them in person.
As I was walking to the metro ticket machine where I encountered that shady gentleman, a couple kids came up to me with newspapers, asking me if I spoke English. I had heard about this method before (children shoving newspapers in your face while they take your belongings out of your sight), so I knew to keep walking.
You may be shocked by the boldness of these kids, but don’t let it faze you. Avoid eye contact, walk quickly (and with a purpose), and just say “NO.”
Around tourist hot spots like the Eiffel Tower, you’ll may run into someone (or a group of people) asking for petition signatures for some charitable or worthy cause. I’ve seen women doing this before, but luckily avoided them well enough for them to leave me alone. I’ve read online that the petitions actually have written in French that if you sign, you owe that person X amount of money. As with the other scammers, do not fall for their feigned helpfulness or helplessness and firmly reject them.
There are lots of other horrible scams, the worst I’ve heard being the “baby” trick – someone comes up to you in a panic, throws an actual baby into your arms, and takes everything in your pockets/bags before running away. Seriously?
Also, note that pickpockets aren’t only in Paris. Barcelona, especially one of its main streets called La Rambla, is also filled with scams, many of them operated by a pair or group of pickpockets. Wherever you travel, be aware that you will likely stand out as a tourist and are a pickpocket’s prime target. Do your best to be alert and firm and you’ll be able to save yourself from a lot of trouble.