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Going to Paris for a weekend is always a magical experience. However, the magic can also fade quickly in the City of Light, depending on the encounters. In the streets of the capital, there is no lack of opportunities to waste time and money, but the floods of tourists around the great monuments carry with them a few ill-intentioned people. In front of the Eiffel Tower, at the foot of the Butte Montmartre and near Notre-Dame, many tourists are targeted, especially foreigners. At Destination(s) Europe, we don’t like it very much and we know Paris well, so here are the main scams to avoid in the capital.
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The Bonneteau, the most enticing tourist trap
📍 Sectors : Eiffel Tower, Luxembourg Gardens, Pont des Arts (near the Louvre)
Let’s start with the scam that is almost part of the landscape of Paris, and for good reason: it has existed since the 14th century! The principle is simple, and there is a good chance you have already played this when you were younger: three cups, a colored ball (or a coin). The ball is passed from one cup to another, and your opponent must find it when it stops moving. This game that requires a certain dexterity and a trained eye. However, in the streets of Paris, there is a small peculiarity: the ball leaves the game quickly and ends up in the hand of the con artist who convinces you that it is still moving between the cups. You are, therefore, always the loser.
These individuals act in groups, which has several advantages. First, accomplices help attract victims, by simulating easily won games. The usual bet is 50 euros and you will see the tickets being passed from one to the other. It’s tempting, but misleading.
Then, the accomplices watch for plainclothes police officers in the crowd of onlookers, because this activity is obviously illegal. At the slightest doubt, the chief con artist is warned, and everyone runs off. Finally, if you realize it is a scam and ask to see under the three cups at the same time, the friends of the bonneteur will take care of you by making you understand that you should not insist on too much.
How to avoid the scam: simply do not play Bonneteau in the street.
BONUS : watch this little (magic) trick played on these scammers 👇
Fake petitions, the most common scam
📍 Sectors : Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Paris airports
Another classic in Paris: the false petition scam. In groups, young girls approach tourists and present a petition. They ask for a signature and money for a supposed association that would help them, often posing as deaf and dumb. This is practical since some of them have a poor command of French and English. The money you give them will never go to the association they have specified.
How to avoid the scam: if you are confronted by very young girls, sometimes quite aggressively, who cannot explain how the association that they are supposed to serve works, leave quickly. Especially since no NGO worthy of the name asks for cash directly in the street.
The gold ring shot: beware of what glitters
📍 Sectors : Pont des Arts, banks of the Seine (rarer scam)
You are walking quietly along the Seine. Suddenly someone bends down in front of you, picking up a ring. They walk up to you, swearing it fell out of your pocket, when you know it didn’t. At the insistence of the scammer, you end up accepting the gold and you continue on your way. Then a little further on, they catch up with you again: “Since I helped you find your ring, could you help me out with a few euros?” Feeling obligated to make a gesture in return, you comply. The ring, of course, is not even worth a euro.
Variation: instead of saying it’s yours, the woman tells you that she found the ring nearby, but that her fingers are too large to wear it. She then offers it to buy from her.
How to avoid Arnaque: simply do not take what is not yours, and say you have nothing to give in exchange.
Theft with the ketchup stain: you will be soiled to the end
📍 Sectors : everywhere in Paris, it’s a scam that is becoming fashionable again
This scam had experts in the early 2000s. It works with any slightly messy liquid: coffee, mustard, mayonnaise, etc. The principle? Your clothes are “inadvertently” sprayed with ketchup. An accomplice approaches. The thief – because it is indeed a theft here – tries to wipe the stain off you. In fact, they’re picking your pockets.
How to avoid the scam: if someone spills a liquid on you, in a street in Paris, resist any outside help politely. You don’t need it for a simple stain anyway.
The friendship (or lucky) bracelet: beware of braiders
📍 Sectors: the foot of the Butte Montmartre
After admiring Paris from all angles in front of the Sacré-Cœur, you go back down the steps of the Butte Montmartre to reach the center of Paris. The problem is that ten men are waiting for you at the bottom. One of them approaches, a big smile on his face, and tries to take your wrist to braid you a “friendship” or “lucky” bracelet. The speeches here vary. The approach is so direct, and the group imposing, that you give in. Obviously, it’s not free – you learn that at the end – but once the bracelet is on your wrist, you feel like you have to pay.
How to avoid the scam: either you fake a phone call or be firm and push the man away, keeping your wrist close to you. In general, when faced with a firm and definitive “no”, he will not insist.
The rose scam: so classic that you will be resented for being fooled
📍 Sectors : Butte Montmartre, Saint-Michel district, Ile de la Cité
We hesitated in putting this one in this article because it is so universal, you can fall victim to it anywhere in the world. We assume you have probable heard of it. But hey, here it is anyway: a man comes up to you, looking cheerful. He offers you a rose. Couples are often victims of it, because who would lack the romance to accept in Paris? And presto, as soon as you take it, he asks you for money in exchange.
How to avoid the scam: it’s quite simple, you just return the rose. If you can anticipate the man’s approach, refuse with a shake of your head.
Here we are, we hope that this small list of frequent Parisian street scams was useful to you. Obviously, do not be on your guard all the time: the French capital is not all cut-throat. But be a little vigilant.