Last Updated on 22nd January 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Paris is easily one of my favourite destinations in the world. However, before you visit the French capital city, it’s important to know about the most common Paris scams that you’ll likely encounter, especially so if it’s your first visit and you’re a tourist in the City of Light. Included in this roundup are the ring scam, the cup & ball scam, fake petitions, and more tips, tricks, and practical advice for avoiding tourist scams and Paris pickpockets.
Of course, while fear of travel and these Parisian scams should by no means put you off visiting, it’s important to bear them in mind when visiting so that you don’t fall prey to some of the most common Parisian tourist scams.
Before we delve into the article, some top Paris tips I would give you would be to dress to blend in and walk with purpose wherever you’re going, even if you feel a little lost! As when travelling anywhere, be sure to bring multiple forms of payment and keep them in different places (for example, keep €50 or €100 in your main luggage).
Having lived in Paris for just over a year, I’ve seen all of these cons in action in action (apart from pickpocketing- but I do know a lot of people who have been pickpocketed). You should know about these tourist scams as, after all, it’s important to remember that there are people willing to take advantage of the fact that you don’t know the city all that well, and that you’re most likely an honest person!
People offering to ‘help’ you purchase metro tickets – Commonly practised in Gare du Nord and other major Paris train stations
How it works: You’ve just stepped off a long flight to Paris, caught the RER B and you’ve finally made it to central Paris. Now what? Well, you’ll probably be heading to the metro station to purchase metro tickets (side note: if you’re planning to see plenty of Parisian attractions while in the city, you may want to consider buying the Paris Pass, which also includes public transport- check for more details here).
When you’re finally at the ticket machine, someone in normal clothing (i.e. and ‘unofficial’ metro helper) will approach you and offer to ‘help’ you buy tickets. These people are usually scammers and what they’ll do is simply purchase a child’s single fare when offering to help you buy a ‘carnet’ (10 metro tickets) and pocket the rest of your money.
How to avoid the Paris metro scam: The easiest way to avoid this Parisian tourist scam is simply to decline any offer for help. Only purchase your metro tickets at valid machines (you can operate these in several languages, including English) or at a proper kiosk/ ticket desk. For more information on tickets, check out my complete guide to Paris metro tickets.
Paris Taxi scams – Commonly practised around the Parisian airports and main central train stations
How the Paris taxi scam works: Thankfully, there aren’t too many fake taxis on the streets of Paris. However, there are still a few and so you should always be aware when hailing a cab. Official taxis will be in the proper taxi bay and will not try to approach you for business. Other warning signs to look out for include no taxi sign, no taxi meter, and no Eftpos machine.
How to avoid fake taxis in Paris: It’s easy enough to avoid fake taxis by taking several precautions. Firstly, it’s worth noting that, more often than not, the easiest and fastest way around the city is to take a metro or the bus. If you do want to hail a taxi, then Uber is available.
However, I would not recommend taking an Uber to and from the airport as there are official rates that licensed Paris taxi drivers have to abide by. One time I took an Uber to the airport and due to traffic it cost me much more than a taxi would have done. The official rates are Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport and Paris “right bank”: €50 and Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport and Paris “left bank”: €55.
The Fake Petition scam – Commonly practised around Notre-Dame and Île de la Cité
How it works: Usually an adolescent, child or young woman will approach you asking you to sign a petition. The paper will already have signatures on it and be for a seemingly good cause, although it is actually a fake. Once you’ve signed the piece of paper, the scammer will demand a considerable money from you- none of which will actually go to charity.
How to avoid this scam: Just say no, don’t sign any petitions and walk away if they persist. Once I was in the line waiting for a Parisian attraction when I was approached. All I did was politely say no and the petitioners soon moved on to speak to other people.
Gold (or Silver) Ring Scam – Commonly practised around the bridges along the Seine, where you’ll find the Paris Bouquinistes
How it works: A man or woman will have left a ring on the sidewalk and be waiting around the corner. Once you’ve picked up the ‘valuable‘ ring, they’ll appear. They’ll say that you can keep the ring ‘for good luck‘ and demand money from you in return.
The ring is fake. I have to admit, the first time a lady approached my ex-boyfriend when I arrived in Paris at 18, I’d never even heard of this trick and it seemed weird but it didn’t even occur to us that it was a scam. Obviously, we didn’t hand over any money but the ring will even be ‘stamped’ with a gold mark- as fake as the gold ring itself. So bear this in mind.
How to avoid: this scam Just say no and walk away. Note: This scam doesn’t necessarily have to involve a ring and can include other valuable looking items such as jewellery pieces. However, the most commonly used prop is certainly a gold band wedding ring!
The String Trick Paris scam – Commonly practised around Montmartre and the steps of the Sacré-Coeur
How it works: A group of men and women will be standing in a group. They will offer you a friendship bracelet, seemingly out of generosity. Once you’ve got the bracelet tightly fastened to your wrist, they’ll only let you go once you’ve paid them a certain ‘fee‘.
More often than not, they won’t even offer you a bracelet but try to tie a piece of string around your hand or finger. This one scares me the most as someone has literally grabbed my arm before; there were few people around at the time and so I just shouted at him until he let go of me.
How to avoid the string bracelet scam: Just say no firmly and walk away quickly.
Cup and Ball scam – Commonly practised around Montmartre and Trocadéro
How the cup and ball Paris scam works: This is one of those Paris scams aimed at tourists in which is you are genuinely led to believe that you have a chance of winning some big money. Basically, there will be a man or a woman with a little mat, a ball, and three cups.
They’ll place the ball under one of the cups and mix the three up. The way you ‘win‘ money is by guessing which ball the cup is under. Bets can go as high as €50 and you’ll be offered the chance to win double your money if you correctly guess which cup the ball sits under.
The cup and ball trick? The game master will have accomplices posing as tourists in the crowd. These people will be allowed to win a number of times (by guessing the correct cup the ball is under). However, when actual tourists start playing, they’ll never win and lose their money.
How to avoid this scam: Just avoid playing the ‘game’. Like many of the other deceits and Paris tourist scams, the best way of avoiding losing money or valuables is just to say no and simply walk away! Don’t be tempted as this is a scam and is a surefire way for you to lost money.
Paris Pickpockets & leaving your valuables in plain sight/ leaving your bag open
Okay, so this final point isn’t necessarily one of the ‘Parisian tourist scams you should try and avoid’ but being aware of pickpockets is a good point to bear in mind, nonetheless. My number one tip would be to not flash your valuables in plain sight as this will only mark you out as an easy target. I personally love these backpacks, but always wear them over my shoulder so that I can see my bag and its zips at all times!
How to avoid Paris pickpockets
Always make sure that your bags are well fastened/ secured. If you’re travelling with a handbag, then make it a cross-body one. Make sure your bag has a zipper and walk along while holding the fastened bag. Crossbody bags are not only stylish but they also allow for you to keep an eye on your belongings at all times.
Your best bet for avoiding Paris pickpockets is to not even open your bag in crowded places, like the Paris metro. If you’re simply carrying a wallet, then don’t leave it in your back pocket. Pickpockets in Paris often work in groups so be sure to be extra aware if someone stops to block your path, even if they’re seemingly doing something innocuous like tying a shoelace.
Often, you won’t even realize you’ve been pickpocketed until sometime later. Normally the ‘pickpocketing’ part itself actually happens when someone ‘accidentally bumps‘ against you in a rush for catching the metro or trying to pass down a busy street.
This seemingly innocent distraction is actually the thief distracting you while simultaneously robbing you of your valuable possessions. More commonly, thieves will quite literally steal your smartphone from your hands and run off, so be sure to keep an eye on your phone at all times as well!
The ‘free’ rose scam – Commonly practised in tourist restaurants and on terraces outside bistros across the city
How the Paris rose scam works: Typically, you’ll be sat with your partner enjoying a wonderful meal in a French restaurant when someone will approach you offering you a ‘rose’. This can also happen when you’re wandering through the more touristic parts of town (i.e. in Le Marais and in the Latin Quarter). As soon as you’ve accepted this seemingly ‘free’ gift, you’ll be asked for money.
How to avoid this scam: Of all the Paris scams, this is one of the easiest to avoid. Simply decline the offer and walk away (or stay seated if you’re at a restaurant). The rose sellers are used to people declining their offer and will typically leave after a firm ‘non’.