How to avoid crime when travelling through France

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Crime in France

France is a relatively safe country, and its crime rates are on par with most European cities. But one of the biggest crime categories is theft. And unfortunately it is a crime that affects tourists and travellers to the country.

Probably the biggest threat to tourists (apart from getting a dud meal in tourist strongholds such as the Champs Elysees) are pickpockets.

Thieves in France are abundant, clever and can even be charming!

Property crime in France amounts to half of all crime. And it's soaring. And is not surprisingly most prevalent in Paris and the Mediterranean coastal cities of Marseille and Nice.

Here are some danger zones and tips to stay safe:

Pickpockets of Paris

Anywhere that attracts tourists, will attract thieves. In Paris with so much to see and do for newcomers, thieves are everywhere!

Be careful around Madeleine, Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur church at the artists' area of Montemarte, L'Opera, Les Halles and the George Pompidou Centre, the Porte de Clingnancourt flea market and of course, anywhere near the Eiffel Tower. Including inside the crowded lifts that take you to the top.

Metro & RER

The Metro and RER stations are always busy and bustling with locals and tourists alike. But always keep a firm hold of your bag and wallet, day or night. Pickpockets are highly organised and skilful and numerous. What may feel like someone brushing up alongside of you, or bumping into you in a crowd, could be a nifty pickpocket after your valuables.Part of a pickpocket's or thief's MO is to grab for your bag or wallet and jump off the train just as the doors are closing.

These train stations have reported considerable pickpocket activity:

    • Chatelet
    • Les Halles
    • Barbes Rochechouart
    • Gare du Nord
    • Auber-Opera-Harve Caumartin
    • Charles de Gaulle-Etoile
    • Concorde
    • Strasbourg-Saint Denis
    • Republique
    • Montparnasse
    • Franklin D. Roosevelt
    • Bastille
    • Care de l'Est
    • Nation
    • Gare de Lyon

Paris Parks

Parks in day-time Paris do not resemble parks in night-time Paris. The beautiful manicured gardens of the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes can be dangerous and sinister when the sun sets. At night, the parks are frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes. It is much safer and wiser to stick to well-lit thoroughfares when enjoying the city in the evening.

Grand Theft

Even shopping in Paris's fabulous department stores can pose a risk - and not just to your credit card limit! There have been reported bag snatches and theft in stores such as Printemps (closest metro stop is Havre - Caumartin) and the magnificent Galleries Lafayette (metro Chauss'e d'Antin La Fayette).

Tourists who leave their wallets or credit cards on cashier counters during transactions have turned to find them gone.

Airport Taxi

A new type of theft has been reported by the local news in recent years. This one is simple yet brazen. Thieves target taxis carrying tourists or well-to-do locals from Charles de Gaulle international Airport into the city.

The traffic to and from the airport is more often than not completely jammed along the A1 highway and thieves lie in wait until the taxi is stationary and break the windows to get to the passengers' bags.

It is a much better idea to put your luggage in the boot of the cab or better (and cheaper) still take the very safe Air France shuttle bus.

Mediterranean Crime

While Paris is the haven for pickpockets, crime gets more dangerous the further south you travel. There have been reported incidences of more violent crime in southern France, particularly the Cote D'Azur cities of Marseille and Nice.

The Mediterranean area has long been considered one of the most corrupt, crime-ridden areas of Europe - therefore tourists beware. Most of it is centred around vicious racketeers that run the drug dealing, prostitution, money laundering and robbery in the area.

These gangs compete with each other for the biggest slice of the market, especially in Marseille. Gun crime and gang killings are not uncommon.

While it shouldn't directly affect travelers to the area, it is something to bear in mind. Organised crime gangs have a distinct hierarchy, and most start at the bottom rung of opportunistic, petty crime and work their way up.

Thefts from vehicles, whether stopped in traffic or unattended, is also rife in southern France, especially between the cities of Perpignan (near the Spanish border) and Menton (near Monaco).

The good news is local councils and governments have taken notice of the increased violent crime in the area and in February this year (2011), an extra 75 police officers were stationed in Nice in order to provide better protection for residents and tourists alike.

Other Crimes, Other Areas

It's been reported that muggings are on the rise, especially in the Ile de France region that encompasses Paris and the outer suburbs.

In the regional southern parts of France pensioners have been targeted. Even truffle farmers have been robbed at gunpoint by opportunistic thieves for their harvest that restaurants in Paris pay a small fortune for.

As a traveler, the specific areas where you should exercise caution are at automated service stations and rest areas on motorways. You'd be well advised not to sleep in these rest areas, nor in makeshift or unauthorized campgrounds on the outskirts of major cities.

There is even a warning to be more vigilant of your safety and belongings at the military cemeteries around Normandy. Tourists from around the world visit these World War I and II historic sites that then attracts local thieves.

Like all major international cities, credit card skimming is on the rise. In high volume tourist areas and automated service stations be mindful or protecting your PIN. If possible use ATMs in more controlled and supervised areas like banks, shops and shopping centres.

Terrorism risk in France

Travellers to France will note the increased security at public and tourist venues including airports, train stations, local public transport systems, government ministries, popular tourist sites, major shopping districts, and foreign embassies and consulates across the country. The French police conduct random identity checks, particularly at border crossings.

The US, Australian and UK governments all advise travellers to France to exercise caution because of the risk of terrorist attacks.

Tourists are advised to monitor the media for any increased security risks. Sadly, terrorists target popular tourist spots to maximize destruction and Western condemnation.

The Basque terrorist group ETA is believed to have conducted terrorist activities in France.

(The '68 Paris student protests)

Civil Unrest

France isnotorious for its planned protests and strikes that grind the city to a halt. However it is wise to stay away from any demonstrations or political rallies as they have the potential to turn violent.

Travel warnings include staying away from the outlying neighbourhoods of major French cities as there have been violent clashes between youths and police (Gendarmes) in the past.

In Corsica- a Mediterranean island that is a region of France - the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC) has been conducting a sporadic bombing campaign for several years. While the primary targets have been French government buildings, the terrorist group has been known to target tourist areas, such as holiday complexes. Other groups that have become increasingly violent on the area are Cuncolta Naziunalist and the Mouvement pour l'Autod'termination ( MPA) .

M'aidez - or Else

In France, please note that it's a criminal offence NOT to attempt to help someone who has been a victim of crime, at least by summoning assistance.

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Author: Phil Sylvester