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10 Tourist scams in France

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Among the most desired places on this planet, France features in the top three in every tourist’s bucket list. Apart from Paris, which is home to some of the most beautiful monuments and must-sees, France has many other idyllic towns and villages, which tourists visit to get a view of chateaux in the west, Alpine trails and Ski resorts in the east and azure seas in the south of France.

Lyon, Cannes, Nice, Marseilles, Boudreaux, Strasbourg, Annecy, Saint-Malo are also some of the other cities in France that have a massive exodus of visitors each year. In spite of the country being overall very safe, unsuspecting tourists can actually face some harassment in the hands of scammers who populate the touristiest places looking out for their next possible target. The intent of the scammers is to earn a few extra bucks, or it could be their only source of income. Being aware is the best defense at times. Here is an attempt to make the readers aware of some of the top scams which occur in France:

1) Bracelet: This one is one of the most common scams in France around areas in Paris, Strasbourg, Toulouse, where one can find innocent-looking guys who walk up to you to tie a friendship band around your wrist. Even to the most innocent tourist, it may seem a little untoward. However, it’s difficult to say “no” to someone so eager to extend a hand of friendship.

What the scammers do:
1. Tie the bracelet and ask for money! And you thought, association, huh!
2. Tie the bracelet real tight and demand money to loosen it

This is common in the Montmartre area near Sacré-Cœur, Paris.

Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Paris
Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Paris

What to do:
i) Don’t look too touristy to attract the attention of scammers.
ii) Be guarded about who steps into your personal space, no man/woman with honest intention will do that

2) Rose Day: Some people walk with long-stemmed roses and gift it to girls in exchange for money. Once the rose is in your hand, they refuse to take it back. This is quite common along with Marseille’s old port and around Seine river in Paris.

What the scammers do:
1. They give a rose as though a gift and then ask for money
2. They provide a rose for the lady and request money from the guy
3. They give rose to the lady for free, then another person offers a rose to the guy who accepts it thinking it to be free, but they demand from the guy

Marseille Old Port, France
Marseille Old Port, France

What to do:
i) Don’t be taken in by the reaction of the rose-giver. Even if he looks desperate, hurt, angry, insulted – it is part of his game. Be firm in your rejection.
ii) Don’t be afraid to be rude. You can shout and attract attention.

3) Metro pass: A common problem which visitors in Europe face and France is no exception, is the language. Although in the main cities, most vendors can understand and even speak English, the public transport system, tickets, information, signposts are mostly in French. This is common in metro stations in French cities. For scammers, this is a big opportunity. In the garb of helping a hapless tourist, a con pretends to be a kind soul to cheat you of your money.

Metro Station, Paris
Metro Station, Paris

What they do:
1. They offer to help you with a ticketing machine and buys a ticket of the lesser amount and asks you to pay up a higher amount
2. They sell fake tickets

What to do:
i) Read up about the ticket prices and buy a day pass or a two-day pass so that it is not required to hassle at a ticket machine, each time during your stay
ii) Never buy a ticket from unauthorized people.

4) Empty cup games: These should be easy to avoid. Ah! It seems so. But these scammers set up a small stall often with a few people holding a table together and the leading artist playing with the cup. One of the cups hides a ball, if you guess which one, you earn money, if not you lose. These are again very common around the Eiffel Tower in Paris, near the Bir Hakeim Metro station. Once the payment is out of your pocket, there is no way to get it back. The group also has some of its members who pretend to be players to make it seem genuine.

What to do:
There is no need to play such games on a trip, is there?

Taxis, Paris
Taxis, Paris

5) Taxi Prices: This one is pretty difficult to escape, especially if there is a pressing need to board a taxi from the airport or railway station.

What they do:
1. Some scam taxi drivers pretend their meter is not working
2. They ask for a fixed rate, which is way higher than the regular rate
3. They deliberately take a detour or a longer route to get more money

What to do:
i) Usually, it is safer to hire Uber or app-based taxis for foreign tourists not familiar with the routes.
ii) Do not ride in Taxis where the meter is not working
iii) Keep your mobile GPS handy.

6) Restaurant scams: Not all restaurants or cafe experiences are charming. Tourists get taken in by the beautiful floral decor of the streetside French cafes on the cobblestone path and barge in. But some of these eateries inflate the prices for tourists or charge them for dishes not ordered. Most French restaurants have complimentary du pain or bread. But some restaurants offer an elaborate bread basket or pannier and charge the visitors.

Restaurants, Paris
Restaurants, Paris

What to do:
i) Better to read reviews about a restaurant than to step into an unknown joint and get scammed.

7)Street scammers: Holy blessing anyone? Some gypsy women offer a bunch of rosemary, or men who pin a flag onto your shirt and then demand money. It is expected you pay in return for their goodwill gesture. Their little gift is supposed to bring bountiful surprises to your life, only if you spend money, though.

What to do:
i) Stay away from such people approaching you
ii) If they offer, refuse, look away and walk off. No one is judging you. If they are too bad, they could be the next victim.

8) Chat partner: A lot of monuments in France have an open space where tourists, peddlers, vendors gather for a quick sale, selfie, or to have a bite. These are the places that are infested with the con artists who watch out for lonely tourists or solo travelers. They strike a conversation by pretending to be a fellow traveler. They are versatile at language and can easily switch between English and French. After that, they offer to take you to a “excellent” pub or restaurant where they can make you pay for drinks or worse.

What to do:
i) There’s no need to be homophobic, but friendship with strangers in five minutes usually happens only in movies
ii) Most of these con artists work in a group, and if you wait and watch, you will find several of them trying to approach other tourists as well.

9) Flat tire: Car rentals? Most tourists rent a car while touring a country. In France too, a lot of tourists prefer to take a rented car to drive through the Riviera. Be aware of routes and parking to avoid falling prey to guys who pretend to help you with the vehicle.

What they do:
1. First, they puncture the tire of the car, and then they offer to help you by calling a mechanic who can repair the tire and get money from you at a higher rate

What to do:
i) Preferably park your car in an authorized parking zone only and keep your eye on the vehicle as much as possible
ii) Be aware of service centers around you, should you need help

10) Empathizing: Many scam artists tell you a sob story. They act as if they are a member of an organization that needs immediate help from you, such as a deaf and dumb institution, refugee camps for Syrians. As soon as you are taken in by the story, they expect you to donate.

What to do:
i) There is much charitable organization which is registered, and you can channel your ad there
ii) If you are insistent on helping someone who approaches you, ask for a website, an online payment method, something which is verifiable.

Thus, it is better to be aware and avoid being prey to such scammers. Pickpocketing is not scamming, but it is rampant. Also, some of these above cases happen in coordination with pickpockets. E.g., one person hands a rose, and while you’re distracted, the other person loots your pocket. So it is better to stay away from such unpleasant situations by being alert and knowing what to watch out for.

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