What are common scams in Paris?

A common scam is bonneteau (a.k.a shell game).
One dice and three little downturned cups, the dice is under one of them. The guy shuffles the cups and you must bet and find the dice. First you win, you bet more, then you lose..

Another one is:
You are queuing to buy metro tickets. Someone comes to you and offers to sell some to you. Problem is they are discount metro tickets only available for students with ID.
If you use them you will be fined…
Of course they are sold to you at the full price.

On the bridge leading up to the Eiffel Tower, there is a lot of Three Card Monte being played. It may seem like easy money. Do not – I cannot stress this enough – do not play. The only people who win at that game are shills they brought with them.

Don’t think, well, forewarned is forearmed, I can beat them at their game now! No. You cannot. They do this all day, every day; you’re a tourist. They have ridiculously honed abilities. You’re just a mark to them. Even if by some miracle of luck and skill you manage to catch them out, there are still options for them: act as if the cops are here and run away with everything on the table, or – this is obviously less good for you – have one of their guys escort you away to demand their money back, or – this is even less good – have somebody tail you as a high value target for robbery.

A recent visitor added

The Wine Scam (witnessed Summer of 2013)

This is a scam I discovered while traveling through France one summer  with some friends (we’re American born, although I am a dual citizen of France and the U.S.). Luckily we managed to turn it around and have a great time!

Here’s how it works:
You’re hanging out on the lawn of the Champ de Mars, admiring the lit tour Eiffel and chatting with the many other tourists during the early evening. All around you are vendors selling little trinkets and souvenirs. At some point, a whole group of vendors show up, packing buckets of ice with…. beer and wine!

‘Awesome!’ you say, and soon enough one comes up to your group.

‘Sir, would you like to buy a cold beer? Or perhaps a lovely bottle of red wine?’

‘Oh we’re in France, lets have the wine. How much?’

‘Oh, this bottle, this bottle is truly lovely. Here have a look. It’s only 45 euro for you.’

My friends and I (all students) say no, no thanks.

‘ok, ok… 30 euro?’

‘No thanks’ (We’d been buying 5 euro bottles all trip)

‘hm, 25, and that’s the lowest you’ll get. Cheaper than the store!’

Eventually he realizes just how cheap we are, and decides to leave. Soon after, another wine seller shows up. Same deal.

I decide that these bottles are probably worthless, and decide to play a game. Let’s talk them down to a ridiculous price. Like 5 euro.

‘OK man, cut the crap. I’ll pay 5 right now (shows him the bill)’

‘You damn Americans can’t ever pay a good price! This is good wine from the South, blah blah blah (He actually starts insulting us)’

Then… takes the 5 euro, hands us the wine, and walks away.

Needless to say, we discovered our favorite pastime in Paris.

My record is 3 euro for a “50” euro bottle.

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If you come to Paris from London with Eurostar, Paris subway tickets are on sale at the onboard bar, and there is an advert somehow implying that you should buy some because it is a good deal and it will save you time.

Don’t buy them. The tickets (like everything on sale on that train) are overpriced, it is cheaper to buy them in Paris (and vending machines are ubiquitous and easy to use).

I hesitate to label it a scam, but even if it is completely legal and officially sanctioned, it is an attempt to take advantage from someone’s lack of information to sell them something overpriced.

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The Ring Scam is one that I have only seen in Paris.  You, the unwitting tourist, are walking on one of the paths in the Tuileries Gardens when you see a glittering gold wedding ring lying in very plain sight.  When you pick it up, the person who laid it there, usually standing unobtrusively about 40 feet away, rushes over to either sell you the ring she has lost or demand a payment from you. The other variation is for them to run up for the ring just as you reach for it and then let you keep the ring you both found if you just give them a small payment. The language varies but the ruse is all based on your picking up the ring. So just don’t.

In fact, go off to an unobtrusive distance yourself and watch how the scam artist manages the whole process with the next unwitting tourist. It is a bit like watching a creative squirrel raid a bird feeder — fun to watch if you are not the bird.

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  • Be careful to watch your pockets when you are on a crowded train.
  • Be sure to be alone when you withdraw money.
  • Do not try to win against a street magician – even if someone wins against him in front of you, (because you are not the friend of the magician as he/she is).
  • Do not sign any petition from people who do not have a colorful jacket with the name of the NGO written in big letters.
  • Never leave your phone on the table when eating at a terrace.
  • If you want to eat or go shopping, to avoid scams, try to do it where there are more French people than tourists 😉

This happened not too long ago. I was in Porte Maillot station changing from the RER C to Line 1 on a Sunday evening. As I was going down to the area where the ticketing machines are, I noticed several Rom (gypsy) people who seem to wear this card on their chest pretending to work for the RATP (the Parisian public transport company) in order to help people struggling with the ticket machines. At that time, there was no one at the ticket counter, so people wishing to buy a ticket could only do so from the machines. Porte Maillot is also the place where a lot of long-distance buses travel from and where the shuttle services to Beauvais airport (Ryanair’s base in “Paris”) depart from, so it is often filled with tourists who just arrived, eager to discover the sights and wonders of Paris.

For your information, this card is a Navigo card, which is the monthly or annual subscription card on public transportation in the Parisian region (London has the Oyster card and New York has the Metrocard). This card can be obtained by anyone living in the Parisian region and it is in no way used by any RATP staff as an identification card. They instead wear white shirts with the RATP logo on them and olive-green/grey trousers. The men also wear a hideous green-blue striped tie.

As I made my way to the platform of the Line 1, I engaged in a conversation with three girls who were trying to navigate the map, figuring out where to go. They were in their early twenties and came from an Asian country. One of them asked me whether their ticket would be enough for them to go where they needed. They said that the person at the ticketing machine helped them buy a 24-hour unlimited travel pass until Zone 3. I immediately knew that something was amiss when they showed me their tickets since 24-hour unlimited passes are not sold by RATP (all day tickets are only valid until the end of the services for that day which is just before 5 a.m..) In fact, what the fake RATP staff bought them each was a single journey reduced-price ticket for children! They told me that they paid 90€ for three of those tickets! What the gypsies did was they would offer to show them what ticket they should get by quickly manipulating the machine without changing the language from French so that the person would easily get disoriented. Then when the final price is shown, they would offer to buy the ticket with their card in exchange for cash from the person (this alone was a sign that it’s a scam). They would probably quickly cancel the said tickets and proceed to buy the cheapest ticket available, which in this case was the children’s ticket for a single journey. I was very angry not only at the fake RATP staff for duping these people but also at these tourists who were the perfect gullible target since they did no research beforehand on the different tickets available before visiting Paris. They didn’t even question paying such a high sum for a ticket nor did they ask for a receipt. Upon breaking it to them they were duped by scammers, one of the girls broke down in tears. The other one innocently asked me whether we could go upstairs back to the ticketing machines to see whether those scammers are still there (not going to happen). At least, the scammers could have gotten them a proper adult single journey ticket so that they could at least finish their journey legally, but hey, I guess if your aim is to scam then I guess morals make little sense here.

In the end, I helped the girls buy a new proper ticket for that day as well as for the following day. I told them next time to always do some research before travelling, at least have an idea of how much money you are expecting to pay to use the public transportation system and to not easily trust people. As we parted ways, I was quite sure that those girls won’t come back to Paris anytime soon..


One scam I came about when I moved to Paris a few years ago were fake apartment rental listings. Especially non-French speakers tend to look for long-term accommodation on pages such as craigstlist. It occured a few times to us that we wrote to “attractive, but not absurdly good” flat offers on Craigstlist etc., all very well-written with photos and all… we received instant replies, all perfectly written, with further photos of the property. A few emails went back and forth, until the “landlord” wrote that he is currently in London/New York/wherever and only willing to come to Paris to let us visit the flat if we were seriously interested, since so many people wasted his time in the past. To confirm our interest, we were to transfer the first month’s rent through Western Union. To show he was serious and trustworthy, he even attached a scan of his UK/US Passport!

To us, Western Union was so obviously a scam that we stopped it right there and wondered whether the scamers actually make money with this. But they do – a quick search on google turned out s**tloads of reports of travellers and expats desperate for a place to stay who had gone for it and lost quite sizeable sums of money. Apparently, the passport scans they use are from past victims who sent them in with the money and now have their identities used by the sammers.

For fun, we entered the Email header data into an IP location check website, turned out they were all sent from different countries in Francophone Africa. Well-played for the perfect English though!

So, when you look for accommodation in Paris, step away as soon advance payment is required before even seeing the property. Even legitimate Paris landlords will make absurd demands from you (“pay me the rent for the first half year in cash before you move in”), but any advance payment before even SEEING the place smells of scam.


I’ve been to Paris many times, and I think it’s rather safe – compared to say Marseille or Barcelona tourist areas.

The scams I have seen involve:
1. Overpriced sunglasses at Jardin de Tuileries, people will attempt to put sunglasses on your face to try, then extort money for them very aggressively.

2. At the Place de la Concorde – someone will show you how good these new binoculars they have are for looking at the sights. If you touch them, you will have to buy them. A variation of this is to clumsily pass them to you – then as they fall on the ground – charge you for “damage”.

3. Random walk-ups on the street at night, same area – money for food/drink/transport – asking for a few Euro – but hoping you have no coins – and then snatching a note as you look through your wallet and running off.

4. Around Les Halles – very bad at night with small time drug dealers out – lots of armed police on patrol.
Whilst I was sitting near there – 2 different people called out after being pickpocketed by groups of young people, someone else had a bag on the ground snatched then the snatcher jumped on the back of their accomplices’ scooter and then was off – I would avoid Les Halles area totally day or night.

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Well, as a first timer in Paris – I got scammed! And this is my story.

Close to the Eiffel on the bylanes of a bridge, I saw this man doing this:

A group of people had gathered around him and were placing bets on where the ball is!
Well, being a geek that I am and pretty well versed with this game through childhood – I thought I have a serious chance of winning it and making some bucks. I cant deny that there wasnt any warning – my friend from Spain who was with me repeatedly told me not to go for it and just watch and walk way!

But for the silly, stupid me!

I went for it and bet 100 Euros on one of the iterations!
And BOOM! it was all gone! Just like that…

I was then told by my friend to not take chances with such games however good you might be on the streets of Paris!

A lesson well learnt and a lesson worth 100 Euros 🙁

So next time you see this kind of game on the streets of Paris, STAY AWAY! WATCH from a DISTANCE….

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I would have thought with all my travels, I have really experienced a lot of scams. Then these two things happened to me.

FIRST

There were times when I would find myself in some outpost of Paris late at night where there were no attendants at the Metro stop and I needed change. So I would have to rely on the kindness of locals or fellow tourists to break a 20-50€ note.

I was walking near Place Vendôme when a young sweet blonde girl asked me if I could break her 50€ note. “Of course I can sweetheart!”

I gave her two 20€ and one 10€ notes, took the 50€ and went on our way.

The next day I went to the post office and I gave the 50€ bill….only to be told it was counterfeit!  I then read it is a huge problem in France.  So just be mindful of that.

SECOND

I was about to buy a card for the Metro and an American came up to me and asked me if I would buy his card because he was not going to use it anymore. He swiped the card and showed 20€. I didn’t think anything of it, gave him the 20€, he gave me the card.

I go to the machine where the gate opens, put the card it, and it got rejected. I didn’t know what was going on – only to find out the card had a ZERO balance. This guy showed me a full card and switched it out with an empty one. I never would have expected this to happen.

It’s sad because people who travel, like myself, sometimes need help with little things like this and the few ruin it for the many.


I flew into CDG airport and was walking out and looking for a taxi to my hotel.  I must have looked lost, because a man walked up to me and asked, “Do you need a taxi?” I said yes, and he walked me to his car, which was a pretty nice car, but with über being in Paris now, I just assumed he was a taxi driver taking some time to do an über ride.  When we got to my hotel (about 35 minutes), he wrote me a bill for 150 Euro for a Limo service.  He held my luggage hostage until I paid him, even though he had told me he was a taxi service.  This is probably a common scam in many big cities, but it happened to me in Paris.
Save yourself $200 and figure out the train system, it is easier and saves you the heartache of being scammed by a nice-looking man with his nice-looking car.


I’m from France, I have witenessed a lot of scams so this should help you :

Bracelet scams :

A friendly guy walks to you and ask you if you want a bracelet, he then proceeds to tie one on your wrist, some of them might ask you for money… Others might STEAL YOUR WRISTWATCH

Taxis :

What should I explain? Just take an Uber instead, French cabbies are rude and will overcharge you.

French Restaurants :

If the menu is in English or German or both, just walk away, Instead choose a place where the menu is in French, you might have a hard time picking out what to eat but you won’t pay 50 $ for a supermarket steak !

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Loads of time in Paris over a span of decades.

I’ve never encountered a “scam.” Not one. So please don’t let the umpteen responses to this question scare you away from on of my favorite cities.

Here’s the trick: Act like you belong there. Don’t dress like an obvious tourist or mark. It’s not hard to dress like a Parisian cause they wear an amazing array of stuff, little of it haute-couture. If need be, check out the locals for a day then duck into the Gare de L’Est train station for very moderately priced clothes. Or Bon Marché or Galeries LaFayette, if they have sales. So worth it.

Carry yourself with confidence, even if that means walking an extra street or two so you don’t have to pull out the king-sized tourist map. You are the incognito last heir to the Bourbon Dynasty while you walk those streets! Act like it!

Don’t let strangers engage you in ways you wouldn’t appreciate “back home.” You really can interact naturally, with 99 out of 100 people you will see. Be cordial and even friendly. That actually helps, because locals in your neighborhood will be more inclined to clue you in and even help out, if need be. But the second you find yourself being drawn into an odd conversation, just say “au revoir” and move off. No second thoughts or backpedaling. None, and with firm hands in your pockets.

Do not give money to street beggars, even those with “disabilities” and even, yes, especially, children. Show zero interest in cheap, street-hawked … anything. Don’t think you are going to find magic rings in heavily-tracked tourist spots. And for god’s sake, do NOT take any petitions. You are sight-seeing nobility, dammit, you don’t sign anything!!!

Yes, grab a bottled water for 1 euro when you’re about to drop in the summer heat, but just the one exchange. You will not let yourself be drawn into anything more. “Non” means “non.”

Less Paris-savvy friends have told me all about these scams, usually with a mention of “Romani/Roma” – you know what I mean. I pity them, but can’t help the stubborn.

Again, I’ve spent months in the city over a period of time, and not one scam. I’ll also go so far as to say it’s easier to spot and avoid them in Paris than, say, Rome or several Eastern European cities.

Now in Rome, I’ve had to threaten to manhandle a gang of brats who were all after my pockets at once, no foreplay. Amazing what a swinging fist, a deep, roaring voice at 70+ decibels and instant pursuit will do to remove one from the “mark” list.

Bonne chance!


One of the oldest and most common scams in the rougher areas is the mugging disguised as a street sale. Often late at night in poorly lit or quieter areas that unwitting tourists may wander in to you can get approached by a small smiling man or peasant looking eastern european woman offering to sell you something altogether worthless like a lighter, some heather or a T-Shirt. They are often smiley and friendly at first to try and get you to stop and be polite, then he starts pushing his crappy item into your hands and telling you its some crazy price like 10 euros – this is when 2 or 3 of his bigger and more threatening friends appear and stand around you making you feel very worried because they all start getting heated, shouting and accusing you of stealing etc, at this point some will get their wallet out to pay him the 10 euro to make him go away – this is a big mistake because then either the price suddenly inflates to 100 euros or they simply take whatever you have – most times you wot even get the worthless item you have been “sold”. In fairness, it is often the more shady looking migrants and not the natives who pull this one and if you go to the police they stand by the fact they were selling disposable lighters for 2 euros and you dont speak the language well enough to understand them. My girlfriend worked in a bar years ago where we’d see this scam across the street 20 times a night – they made a fortune and most people – almost all – are too intimidated to even report it. If somebody approaches you in a quiet street at night totally ignore them, dont look them in the eye, keep walking and if they touch you simply say NO firmly and keep going – they always seem to let those ones walk on – there’s more than enough coming along who are effectively imprisoned on the spot by their own politeness – once you stop you are definitely going to end up robbed unless you are willing to deal with the massive scene they will create – and they will ramp it up and up to the point you think paying them is worth it.


Having had my pocket picked once successfully and having thwarted two attempts (one calmly and one with an elbow to a teen’s face), I’d say that your best defense against most solid scams is a standard pickpocket defense. No back pockets. No jacket pockets without zippers and/or velcro. No purses or exposed bags. Even better if you can keep your hands near the front pant pockets that you have your stuff in.

I’ve never had a pickpocket attempt (that I know of) outside of Paris, but, over 30 years of visiting family and staying there, I’ve had three attempts.

I apply the same habits to Chicago, NYC, and San Francisco (where I live now). Like tiger repellant, it’s hard to know if its working, but I haven’t had my pockets picked in a while.

And, of course, don’t play any games or buy any junk off of blankets on the street, common anchors for pickpockets. If you want to lose 100€ quickly, just play pétanque for money with old guys around Champ de Mars. You will lose, badly, but those guys are great.


The bird feeder

A man or woman standing outside Notre Dame (or some other landmark) is feeding birds, and they are flying all around him and eating out of his hands. He is friendly, and invites people up to feed the birds themselves. A crowd attracts, and his accomplice works the crowd picking pockets.

Variations include jugglers, mimes, musicians, etc.


I spent a month in Paris, lived like a local. Had a fabulous time. Paris is an amazing city, one of the top 10 cities of the world you need to spend a week in before you die.

There are scams in every city. At a base level, we are all humans, there are always people willing to try and make a buck from someone’s ignorance or misfortune. Tourists are the target. Paris, at anytime, has a huge volume of tourists, so Paris is a very attractive place for the criminal element, and obviously tourists complain the most. So dont look or act like a tourist.

Currently, the gypsies are the main offenders. The scam I saw the most was the petitions at major tourist attractions. Pompidou centre was where we saw the most activity. Part of the problem is exposing yourself as a mark. If someone approaches you speaking English, they are looking for a tourist. If you say “francais?”, 99 percent of the time they will swear, walk off, or ignore you.

Front row of chairs of any cafe near a tourist attraction will make you a mark. You’ll see gypsie kids/young adults walking past in groups, talking, pushing each other and stealing anything they can grab: phones, cameras, croissants.

I think what distresses a lot of tourists is how much they enjoy doing it, how good they are at it, and their attitude. It is their job. Your job is not being a tourist, so… don’t engage them, don’t take them on or you will lose, ignore them like a piece of dirt of the footpath (if you have been to Paris, you know what I am referring too).

Be a local, you will enjoy the city more.


The most common scam I have seen in Europe is three-card Monte, also known as “Find the Lady” or simply the three-card trick. The last description is right: it is not a game but a trick much like the 3 cups and a ball one. I can’t believe how quickly people fall for it. Obviously you should never ever play. In my experience it is mostly Russians and Eastern Europeans doing it. I have seen it in London, Paris and Berlin, for example. Always in very high profile tourist spots. I call them out each time I see them. Usually I am told by a large Russian to fuck off very quickly. Tourists are just not in their right minds – “betting” 50 or 100 euros on a street scam. Never ever get involved .. but by.all means watch. The scammers are.usually a group of 4 or 5, often with one pretty girl to draw in tourists.

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Beside the ring scams described here, there are scammers all over Parisian train and metro stations waiting to ‘help’ you buy train and metro tickets.  They will often have fake credentials so it appers that they work for the metro or RER.  They will try to enter your ticket order for you, in the automated ticketc machines, and ask for the cash value from you.  They then use stolen or forged cards to pay for the ticket.  Just don’t let anyone rush you or try to assist so as to speed up your transaction…this scam and the ring scams both rely on your not having time to realize you, or someone else in this case, is being scammed.  If you’re having trouble buying tickets with the automated ticket machines, go to the counters and ask for help for actual employees

Another thing to be very careful of, this is not really a scam but a crime, that happens a lot in Paris, is robberies at ATMs. Watch your back and make sure the area around you is safe before using ATMs.  This usually take two people, who wait near an ATM until the victim enters his PIN number. One assailant then will will push him out of the way, holding him if necessary, while the an accomplice withdraws as much money as possible from the victims account.  This happened to my elderly father in-law, who is a native Parisian, not a tourist.