Paris is one of our favourite cities to visit, but it does have a bit of a reputation as having a number of common scams. In this post, we’re going to go through a number of common Paris scams so you can enjoy your time in the city, and not worry about falling prey to a scammer.
Don’t worry, with a bit of preparation and foreknowledge, you’ll be well prepared to deal with the common scams in Paris, and focus on enjoying your visit to Paris, perhaps following one of itineraries, like this guide to 2 days in Paris.
We’ve actually seen quite a few scams happening right in front us in Paris. This have given us a first-hand impression on how these scams are pulled off.
It’s worth mentioning that the majority of the scams in Paris won’t result in you losing a lot of money. The damage is usually that you feel bad, to a point that it significantly overshadows your trip. It changes your perception of the destination and of the people there. Don’t let it.
Seriously, all you can ever do is read up on the scams on a destination so you know what to watch out for. Being prepared is key. You might think you wouldn’t fall for these tricks, or you just wouldn’t give the scammers any money, but don’t be so sure. Scammers are not sleazy, dodgy people. The ability of the scammer to make a genuine and trust-worthy impression on you is probably his or her most important capability when pulling off a scam. That’s why even experienced travellers are not immune.
Here are four of Paris’ most common scams, that we’ve seen executed right in front of us. One would definitely have gotten us had we not read about it!
Common Paris Scams
1. The friendship bracelets of Sacre Coeur
Sacre Coeur is a beautiful basilica on the top of Montmartre. On the stairs leading up the hill, many vendors try their luck and offer cold bottled water, or all kinds of souvenirs, laid out on blankets that can be lifted up and put away in a few seconds when security approaches.
And then there are these other guys. They are all smiley and seem really nice. They walk towards you, stretching out their hand, almost like they are about to congratulate you for something. It is a bit confusing, but okay, if it makes them happy, why not shake their hand? It’s not like you can’t walk away after that, right?
Wrong. Because they very quickly tie a few strings around your finger once they’ve got hold of your hand, and start braiding a little friend-ship bracelet, chatting away, and hinting at a compensation for their efforts.
It would have worked with me, because I would have shaken one of the guy’s hands, just to be friendly, and then I would have given him a Euro or something because it’s easier than picking a fight. Don’t fall for it though. You don’t have to give anyone any money for an unsolicited product, so just walk away.
Tip: Put your hands in your pocket when these guys approach you.
2. The golden ring along the banks of the river Seine
We were walking along the Seine, on our to see an exhibition. In front of us were three people, one woman and two guys, engaged in a conversation, wandering along. They looked totally casual and harmless, but every now and again, one of them would separate from the others, checking the ground, bend down and eventually go back to his/her friends.
That reminded me of the ring scam, and indeed, it didn’t take long until an elderly couple examining a map were approached. I just saw them shaking their heads when the woman showed them something (for it was her who had approached them) and so she went away again.
But this is how it goes. You walk along, minding your own business, when someone near you suddenly bends down to pick something up. Then they come over and say something like: “I just found this golden ring – did you lose it by any chance?”. Chances are you say no. They will then tell you that the ring looks genuine and give you a reason why they cannot keep it, but they offer it to you. Once you have agreed to take it, they ask for a little compensation. The ring is of course worth nothing.
Tip: It’s sufficient to just firmly say “No!”, but if you can pull it of, you can of course also act very pleasantly surprised: “Oh my gosh, thank you so much! That’s my grandmother’s wedding band she gave to me just before she passed away; I would have been so sad to lose it! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” – and walk away with it.
3. The cup and ball scam at the Champs-de-Mars park behind the Eiffel Tower
Well, I’m sure you know this one, but it obviously works, because they are still doing it! There’s a guy with a little table, or a rug on the floor, and on it are three upside down cups, and a ball. He puts the ball under one of the cups and then moves them around quickly. When he stops you have to guess under which cup the ball is.
Of course there is money involved. You can bet on finding the ball, and if you’re right, you’ll get double your money back.
This scam works because au contraire to what you see, the cup-and-ball guy is not by himself. The people gathering around him watching the spectacle are partly made up by his accomplices. One of them will pretend to try to play the game. You just stand there because it’s fun to watch. But then this stupid guy loses his money because he never gets it right, although it is completely obvious to you where the freaking ball is.
Reassured that this is a piece of cake, you step forward to win some money, only to suddenly have the cup-and-ball guy move the cups in a speed that is impossible to keep up with. And now you have lost your money, too.
I would not fall for this one, because I have seen it a million times. However, this was the first time I concentrated on the crowd around this guy, wondering which of these people were in on the scam and which weren’t.
Ten minutes later, I saw the whole group behind a bush, planning their next show, I guess. Maybe six people, quite mixed. Impossible to tell apart from regular spectators, especially if you haven’t watched any “Sherlock Holmes” yet.
Tip: Just don’t get tricked into playing, but also bear in mind that watching the cup-and-ball game might in addition serve as a distraction while you’re being pick-pocketed.
4. The activists at the Tuileries Garden
Ah, yes, that one happened to me in Brussels. I saw a group of women walking around with clip boards, trying to get a petition signed. I totally dig petitions, and it was something about education for young girls in who-knows-where, so yeah, I signed it. But that wasn’t it. The woman who had approached me went on to say that now I had to donate, and an amount of 20 Euros would probably be good.
This is the moment when every one reading this thinks “Just walk away”, but I didn’t. I was taken by surprise by this follow-up donation demand, and then I felt like a hypocrite for willingly signing something but not going through with the ‘good deed’ as soon as money was involved. So, I gave her money (at least not 20 Euros), because I felt so uncomfortable about the whole situation and just wanted to get away.
Tip: Just firmly say no, or ignore them completely.
So these were four of the common Paris scams to watch out for. If you google this topic, you will find that I have not even covered the tip of the iceberg. Do yourself a favour and read up on scams before you travel to Paris, or, as a matter, anywhere else (wikivoyage’s Stay Safe section is always a good start!). While researching, be prepared that some people will paint a very dark picture of the destination, because they let a scam poison their whole holiday.
It is very hard not to get emotional when you get scammed, but I’ll say it again: don’t let it get to you. It’s not your fault. It happens to everyone. It does not mean that the destination where it happens is bad; it does not mean the people who live at the destination where it happened are bad. It does not mean that you’re an idiot. It just means you have met someone who has gone down an incredibly low road in order to get a few bucks.
Remember: scammers are just people. They do not have the power to ruin your holiday, so never let them.
Further Reading for Visiting Paris
We’ve written a fair amount about Paris to help you plan your trip beyond avoiding the common scams! Here are some posts and other resources you might find useful:
- Our guide to the Best Photography Locations in Paris
- A Paris Photo Essay, to inspire your visit
- A full review of the Paris Pass, to help you save money on your visit, as well as a review of the Paris Museum Pass
- A guide to the best afternoon tea in Paris
- A guide to choosing the best Seine Boat River tour
- And finally, if you need a guidebook, we highly recommend the Rick Steves Paris guide!
Thanks for reading and safe travels!