Is theft on the rise in Paris? be warned – be aware!
Guest Contributor and member Randy Diaz has had articles and interviews published on our site previously including our interview/s with Randy and also his interview with Ruth Yunker about her book ‘Me, myself and Paris’.
As you are no doubt aware MyFrenchlife.org is a community for french, francophone and francophiles and is so much more than a guide, however, this article of Randy’s is very practical and thorough and in my view, deserves to be re-posted here for My French Life members.
This article is intended as a warning and Randy says “don’t be paranoid, just be aware! Be on the offensive, not defensive.”
There’s been a lot of news lately about muggings on the metro.
Young gangs of 2 or 3 are roaming around the Paris metro or the RER looking for vulnerable passengers. And, there’s also theft happening around town, especially around the canals (e.g., Canal St. Martin) and parks. It appears that they are looking for purses in the hopes of finding cash, and if they’re lucky also jewelry. Cameras are also sought after, but the biggest “cash cow” of all are smart-phones, The French calling it the “Iphone-effect”.
Since 2009, with the increase uses of smart-phones, especially the Iphones, there’s been a 40% rise in crime to date and 53% of violent crimes on the metro are tied to smart-phones. There is a huge market for smart-phones in the African countries. Apparently, stolen smart-phones can be sold at a premium, since there is such a shortage and demand is high.
In comparison to other major cities, especially when comparing Paris to major US cities, Paris pick-pockets are not violent, in other words, they won’t pull a gun on you as they would for example in the U.S. They may knock you down and punch you for an Iphone, but they won’t kill you for one. They may also threaten you with a knife or brandish “poings américains,” the French name for brass knuckles. In those cases, give up your valuable(s), why take a chance that they may use their knife or brass knuckles on you. Is your smart-phone or valuables more important than your life?
Paris is a relatively safe city, primarily because private guns are still difficult to obtain. Near impossible. However, Paris is ranked as one of the 10-major cities for pickpockets.
I’m not trying to scare you, but I want to give you some tips on being safe and aware; hence, enjoy your stay. All too often the tourist will become so enthralled with the beauty of the sights and scenes that they forget about personal safety and their belongings.
Although this attached newscast is in French, you’ll get the idea:
In general, always be aware of your surroundings. Here are a few tips:
Credit cards, using ATMs and storing documents:
- Make photocopies of your credit cards, and pertinent documents such as phone numbers etc., especially a photocopy of your passport. I also recommend you store them virtually.
- When touring Paris, unless absolutely necessary, leave your passport at the Hotel safe, or in a safe place in your apartment. Carry a photocopy if you need to. I find a driver’s license works well for identification, and driver’s licenses are much easier to replace than a passport.
- Only carry the credit cards you need. Leave a credit card in your hotel safe or apartment as a back-up.
- When using ATMs always, always conceal the keypad with your free hand. Please note that if the ATM sucks your card in and does not return it, this is not normal, it’s pretty certain that it’s been tampered with, immediately go into the bank and notify a banker. I prefer using the ATM’s located inside the bank, less risk. However, if you must use the ATM on the street and you are with a companion, make sure your companion is on the look-out. If you are alone and someone is asking you a question, they are more than likely going to try and rob you. Cancel your transaction and get out of there quick.
- Although not fool-proof, for men wear your wallet in your front pocket, better if you have a money belt, or one of those conceal money bags you can wrap around your neck and under your shirt/blouse. It’s awkward when you need money, so place some money where it’s easily accessible. And, if you need more cash, go somewhere discreet e.g., to the restroom to replenish what you’ve spent.
- Do not carry a lot of cash, carry what you need for that day. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere.
- When carrying purses, make sure that your purse has a zipper that can be shut tight. I’ve even known women to use a little suitcase combination lock to connect the zippers. A great company that sells “theft-proof” bags is pacsafe.
Notice the small combination lock on the zipper, it is also a deterrent
- Back-packs are such an easy target for thieves. If you are going to wear it on your back, do not place anything valuable in it. It is very common for thieves to bump into you and you think it’s an innocent bump in a crowded area, when in fact they’ve already gone through your back-pack and picked all your valuables. In a crowded area, wear your back-pack in front of you as if to cradle a baby.
- If possible, conceal cameras in unidentifiable camera cases until needed. And, if you have a large camera and must carry it, make sure it’s securely wrapped around your neck or shoulder with a slash proof strap and always be aware where it is. Small cameras should be stored in your pocket, purse or pocket, until needed.
- If you must use your smart-phone on the street, do it discreetly. And, if you are with a companion(s), make sure s/he is on the look-out since you will more than likely be pre-occupied.
- Keep your hotel/apartment keys in your pocket and not in your backpack or purse; hence, if it gets stolen, and you have reference to an address with your keys, guess what…
Around the metro or RER or public transportation:
- The RER train from the airport to downtown is infamous for pickpockets. If you are flying in from the US, and are not familiar with the RER or just plain tired from the long flight, but you don’t want to pay a cab, there are several airport shuttles such as “Parishuttle” and you can book through “Viator”, these shuttles are very affordable and will drop you off in front of your apartment or hotel.
- Theft not only occurs easily in the metros, but also while you’re attempting to buy “carnet” (metro-tickets) at one of the machines in the metro. I’ve heard many tales of people being so preoccupied trying to figure out the machines that they didn’t even know someone was behind them rustling through their back-pack etc. My recommendation is if you are alone, put everything (purse, camera, etc) in front of you, and do not flash money. Also, if you are with a companion, always have your companion stand behind you sort of facing outward, acting as a discreet look-out!
- When waiting for a train, always be aware of your surroundings. I prefer to have my back up against the wall, or if there are seats, sit, even if the train is coming in 3-minutes. It’s much more difficult to be robbed if you’re against a wall or sitting. Throw your stereotypes out the door. A lot of pickpockets look very respectful. Men in suits, little old ladies, and even 8-9 year old kids. I actually saw a well-groomed man pickpocketing a large open purse. He was immediately caught leaving the train by a plain clothes policeman . Although too few, there are plain clothes cops around the metros.
- Avoid using your smart-phones on the metro or any public transportation. As of late, there are now signages on the metros and buses in the shape of an Iphone in French, English, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish basically saying to be careful, some people may be jealous you have one and will attempt to steal it.
Taken on a bus, warning passengers not to use their smart-phones on the bus. NOTE: the warnings look like Iphones
- Thefts occur mostly by the doors of the metro trains, primarily to facilitate an escape. Although not always practical, try to go towards the middle of the train, and of course if there’s a seat, sit. I once had a woman on an empty train sit right next to me, some men would find this flattering, sorry doesn’t work for me, man or woman. I was extremely suspicious and just stared at her. She soon left, and went to the next train to try her luck there.
- Line 1 is infamous as the “pickpockets line” since it is the one route on the metro that hits all the major tourist spots (e.g., Louvre, Concord etc.). I once had a male friend that put his wallet in his front pocket and he had a chain that attached his wallet to his belt as added security. As he was leaving the train, he noticed his empty wallet dangling from his belt. So, if you’re on a crowed train, always put you hand in your pocket over your wallet, and for a woman always have your purse in front of you!
Cafés and Restaurants
- Outdoor cafes are a prime, prime targets for pickpockets, especially if you are at the front most tables. Tourist get so careless about leaving their phones or cameras on the table, or their purses at their side or behind them. It’s so easy to just snatch them and take off. Always secure your purse to your shoulder, and although not fool-proof, hold onto your phone or camera or place it in a safe place. If you are with a companion, ask them to hold/watch your belongings if you need to go to e.g., the restroom etc.
- Indoor cafes/bistros/brasseries etc., just because you’re indoors does not mean you’re immune to theft. In a lot of areas, e.g., Latin Quarter, where tourist are abundant, many people walk in pretending to check out the restaurants when their real intention is to look for valuables carelessly laying around. This is also true at cocktail bars and wine bars, where they can get extremely busy.
- At outdoor cafes, never, ever put your purse, camera case etc. under your seat, even if you have the strap wrapped around the back of your chair. The person behind you can easily pick your valuables clean.
A purse not zipped shut
Often in crowded areas, e.g., Notre Dame, gypsies will come up to you and ask you if speak English. Always, say ‘NO’! The intent is that you read a message asking for money. Sometimes, when you’re so intent on reading the sob-sob narrative in English, they have an accomplice rummaging through your purse etc.
- Montmarte, Sacre Coeur, there are groups of men trying to convince you to have a string intricately tied (e.g., braided) around your wrist, “magic”. Although some are legit in wanting to get paid for the little “entertainment”, some use it as a distraction to steal your belongings.
- Always, always be aware of your surroundings. All too often tourist become so fixated on getting that perfect photo that they forget that someone is even near them trying to lift your wallet etc.
- Some female tourist wanting to keep in fashion with the French women, will wear heels. Women with heels are a great target, since you can be easily tripped, nor can you run, in other words you’re vulnerable. Always wear comfortable shoes that you can’t trip in and you can run in.
- Gold ring scam. Men or women pretending to find a gold ring is one of the oldest Parisian scams. The person will ask you, typically in English, if the ring belongs to you, of course you say no. Then that person will say, since e.g., I don’t want it you can have it perhaps for a couple of Euros. Always say no and be firm about it. I’ve actually seen beautifully coiffed middle-aged woman performing this scam.
- Another scam is to have something “accidentally” spilled on you, like water or ice cream. The perpetrator will approach you and offer to help clean you up. In doing so, another person then pickpockets you while you are distracted.
- Never-ever, follow a stranger who wants to show you some great find etc.
NOTE: In all of the above cases, never, ever put anything down even for a second. It can be whisked away faster than you can say “faster.”
Combating the “Iphone effect”:
The French are trying to find ways to make your smart-phones inoperable once stolen. In doing so, will make stealing an Iphone less attractive.
Many of us with smart-phones carry a lot of information that we do not want thieves to get a hold of. There are apps .e.g, “find my Iphone app” for your smart-phones to not only track your stolen phone, but also to wipe it clean of all information. This article with a video tutorial explains it all. “Security for your cell phone”.
It goes without saying that when leaving your “vacation-rental” apartment, secure it. Regardless of how warm it is outside, close and lock all windows. It doesn’t hurt to close the shades. It doesn’t matter what floor you’re on, the topmost floors are also vulnerable since burglars can easily swing into an open window from the rooftop, and escape through the front door. Apartments on the ground floor and higher floors with balconies that can easily be scaled are particularly vulnerable. In fact, a friend’s neighbor in a 4th floor apartment was recently burglarized. Apparently the burlgar saw that the window was slightly ajar, he scaled the balconies undetected since most of the tenants were at work, and voila, jackpot. Secure your valuables in a safe, if available, or keep them well hidden.
It’s not difficult to spot a tourist in Paris. Try to blend in. Don’t call attention to yourself. Don’t be a “loud” American, most Parisians are soft-spoken. Don’t walk around holding an obvious map. Most Parisians, even Parisians born and raised in the city carry a “Paris Practique” street guide (book containing maps of streets in Paris) that can be purchased at Monoprix or a book store . Wear your purse or “murse” wrapped around your neck and worn to your side where your hand and arms are. Although men wearing shorts was a clear sign, saying “I’m a tourist,” more and more French men wear shorts in the summer, but typically below the knee, sort of looks like “Capri” pants.
Don’t be surprised if no-one comes to your defense if you are being attacked. As a general rule, the French do not want to get involved to protect their own safety. Always, always call the police or have someone call for you. There are many surveillance cameras in the e.g., metro and the police will have a better opportunity to capture the criminal with information you provide.
And, if you still get pickpocket, here’s a “check-list” of what you need to do. And, always check if your e.g., purse etc. has been return to the “lost and found” called “Centre des Objets Trouvés de la Préfecture de Police de Paris” (address in the “check-list”). A friend’s purse was stolen at CDG airport, and she recently retrieved her purse from the “Centre de objets”, albeit minus the cash.
With that said, don’t be paranoid, just be aware! Be on the offensive, not defensive.”