9 Common Travel Scams in France: How to Avoid Cons

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Watch out for these common scams in France, especially in Paris, where crowds of tourists have inspired crafty scam-artists.


Photo © iStock/theendup

It's no surprise France is one of the most visited travel destinations in not only Europe, but the whole world.

This fact is not lost on local con artists, who have come up with a number of scams to outwit travelers of their hard-earned cash in France.

These scammers can be charming, and their methods are sophisticated. Get to know the tourist traps before you go – chances are these con artists will see you coming long before you see them. Here are a number of common travel scams in France.

1. The gold ring scam

If you haven't been approached by men, women and children holding a gold ring in Paris, well then you probably haven't been to Paris!

This scam is an oldie but a goodie. And it can occur in any of the major Parisian tourist hubs including the Jardins des Tulleries, Musee D'Orsay, along the Seine, Madeleine, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees and near major Metro train stations.

Unsuspecting tourists, especially couples, will walk by a young man/woman/child who will pick up something shiny on a sidewalk and squeal with delight – "My lucky day!" and show the bystanders a gold ring. They will then offer it, and tell them to keep it. If the bystander stupidly does, the person will ask for money, his or her share in the lucky find.

There are variations on the scam. In one, the scammer will hand the gold ring over, in an "honest" attempt to hand it back to the "owner". This is to gain some trust.

By the time the bystander protests it's not his ring, the person is asking for money to buy lunch, train fares, to feed their starving children etc. In the worst case scenario in the exchange an accomplice pickpockets your wallet. If you see a gold ring - don't stop, don't engage. Walk on. They will keep going until they find another victim.

2. ATM scams

Another scam which can catch out any traveler is the stuck bank card in the ATM. If the ATM machine does not return your card, do not leave the machine and call authorities or the bank. A travel blogger reported seeing someone in Marseille lose their card to a scammer who removed the fake insert slot area and took their card when the owner of the card left the machine to seek help. 

3. Charities, good samaritans and beggars

It's not uncommon in Paris to be approached by men who are collecting money for landmine victims, orphanages, or any other worthy cause you can think of. They are often found in tourist strongholds, like the area around the Louvre. If they don't look legit (e.g. no identification), don't hand over the cash.

Contrary to popular belief, French people are anything but rude. In fact they are genuinely polite and helpful. But if you suddenly find yourself surrounded by poorly-dressed locals offering to help carry your luggage at train or bus stations, politely decline. They work in packs of 3-4, surround and distract you. One will grab your bag being 'helpful', while her accomplice will grab your wallet – which is rather unhelpful.

Begging can be the domain of distraught, desperate-looking women and children. They often have the long dark hair, and flowing ankle skirts. The kids will ask if you speak English, and when you answer they will give you a card upon which will be a tale of woe, similar to "my mother is overseas dying and I'm stuck in Paris with no money, please help me get back to her."

They are at major tourist attractions, and the big RER (rural and suburban trains) and Metro train stations, including Gare du Nord and Chatelet-Les Halles. The tip? Don't get sucked in.

4. Magic tricks and gambling

Where you see groups of people, what appear to be locals, hanging around a gambling stand and playing – approach with caution. It will always be in crowded tourist spots.

More likely than not, those playing are accomplices of those running the ruse. One of the most common "games" involves three black rubber coins, and guessing which one has a piece of white paper underneath it.

You will not win. They switch hands, and never let you look underneath the coin yourself. If you have been ripped off, yell at them loudly (in French if possible), and refuse to let them go. It will alert other unsuspecting tourists that the game is rigged. Better still, don't play the game!

5. The string trick

Another oldie, but a goodie. At crowded tourist areas – such as the Sacre Coeur chapel in Montemarte – be wary of men who attempt to show you a magic trick.

This involves tying a piece of string around your finger. While you're overwhelmed and distracted by his spiel – and your arm disabled – an accomplice will pickpocket you.

C'est la vie, you may sigh as your wallet full of Euro's, intended for buying cheap Parisian 1920s poster art at the nearby market, is gone.

6. The clumsy jogger

And finally, apart from the streets of Paris – and other tourist regional hubs like Lyon, Marseille, Nice and Cannes – which happen to be littered with gold rings, you may even need to be wary of the humble morning jogger.

Many unsuspecting tourists have fallen prey to the clean-cut jogger who "accidentally" bumps into them – especially in Paris.

The jogger frantically starts apologising, trying to help the tourist to their feet (if they knocked them to the ground), and in the process nicks their bag, wallet, or backpack, and keeps on running.

7. Prix fixe faux pas: Fixed price meals

Many Parisian restaurants, especially in the heavily populated tourist areas of the Latin Quarter and Champs Elysee, make a living ripping off tourists who struggle speaking French. The Prix Fixe meal is a set price menu, usually at lunch times, that changes daily. It's a good option for those who can't read French, and therefore have no idea what they are ordering.

Best tip when choosing a prix-fixe meal, point to it on the menu or board and repeat the price. Using eye contact helps as does attempting to use any modicum of French you can.

Even in upmarket "traditional" French restaurants in Paris, a spiteful maitre d' may bring you exactly what you ordered. One traveler reported her very unappetizing experience:

"It could only be described as chunks of semi-raw meat from something or someone that was slaughtered in the kitchen. I gasped when it came out, noted no one in the restaurant had ordered anything remotely similar, and hardly touched it - yet had to pay for it."

Use a French phrase book or app that way you can at least look at the menu and know what each dish is. If you end up with a meal you didn't order, and a bill that far exceeds what you ordered, complain loudly and if that doesn't work, leave without paying.

8. Bar bills in Paris

There are some establishments, especially in Paris, where you don't want to be handing over your credit card and starting a bar tab without seeing a menu or price list.

Be particularly wary of strangers that invite you for a complimentary drink or show at a private club.

One of the worst places for this is the area of Pigalle, where you'll find the famous Moulin Rouge.

Some tourists who have visited or been coerced into the seedy bars in this area have run up exorbitant bar bills without knowing it.

If you visit an "adult show" under no circumstances order a drink for yourself or the workers without seeing the price list first. It is not unheard of to be charged 600 euro ($800) for two drinks. And threats of violence are used to force tourists to pay their bill if they dispute it.

9. Fake water

If there's a scam to be had, someone in Paris will execute it. This scam isn't widespread, however reports from tourists confirm the '1 Euro only' water sold by mobile vendors can be as dodgy as they come.

A vendor was seen filling up water bottles he sourced from garbage bins at a nearby fountain in a park near Palais de Chaillot.

Stick to buying your bottled water from a shop. Better yet, fill a reusable bottle of water and carry it with you during the day.

And remember Evian spelled backwards is 'naive'.

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  • Frequent traveler said

    Beware of line 9 on the metro. If you get on a train and someone bumps into you and starts asking you questions in French, scream at the top of your lungs.


  • Ian said

    Beware those with petitions they hold your attention then mob you and before you know it your wallet has gone. They are a real menace. They operate at all the hot spots and near major department stores.


  • Emma B said

    The ring thing happened to us just four days ago at the Musee d''Orsay - along with the declaration that she cannot sell it as she has no papers. Hubby pushed it in her hand and told her she would be able to sell it. We got away with all our possessions! I did find my handbag open at one point, who ever went in there would have been sadly disappointed. It only had a French phrasebook, some handcream and a hand sanitiser gel in there. Everything of any value was in my front pockets on my jeans inside a knee length coat!


  • Christina B said

    Within two days I encountered the "ring" and the "surround" scam in the 3rd and 7th district.
    Being surrounded by three gypsy kids in an unclear situation was very uncomfortable.

    A NYT article about that kind of ruses offered a helpful recommendation which I remembered: Shout at them - "get away from me", "foutez moi la paix" or whatever comes to mind, or call "help"!


  • Leann said

    Just outside the Musee d'Orsay my husband naively took the ring and I was the one pursued since I was carrying a purse. She was demanding money and pushing between us and in the confusion, i tripped on the cobblestones and fortunately landed on top of my purse. A passer by ran over to help and when my husband asked him to get rid of her, he chased her off. I escaped with my possesions and a day later am recovering from a bruised and swollen knee. Should have read this website before going to the Orsay. Does anyone need a gold ring?


  • Pauline said

    Beware of the taxis at the train stations in Paris. A very well dressed man offers to get you a cab. If you agree he helps to put your luggage in the boot and then asks for a fee of 10 euro. We had only 800 metres to travel from the train station and the driver turned in the opposite direction. We had a map and he obviously knew that we were aware of what he was doing. He apologised and said he had to go around the block. The trip would have taken less than 5 minutes and he demanded 50 euro. We did not pay that amount. Look for a meter in the taxi - if there is no meter, it is not a taxi.


  • elisa hoste said

    in Paris they are many many tunesian's without papers and they are looking to marry woman's from France to marry for the papers (mariage blanche) in French ,and i asking why the French government do nothing because this is illegal


  • Tom said

    Four of us American tourist bought tickets on Nice public bus to art museum. No sign on bus said to validate tickets using little white box on wall behind driver. We were taken off bus before our destination and fined 33 Euros each. The good news is that after paying our total fine of 132 Euros we were permitted to use all public transportation for the remainder of the day! Lesson Learned: Validation of public transportation tickets is common practice in Europe!


  • bee said

    Exatly what happened to us, a very helpful young lad with a badge with a photo approached us and helped to buy our metro for day passes? He paid with his card and showed us to the platform, handed over the cash and immediately realised. Later found out that they were child fares for a single use. You would think they're would rail officials there to help. So many scams to look out for.


  • wilem said

    That happened but i was not distracted, my son who is 6 had his 20 euros (all he brought and had) taken and was quite upset


  • Tania said

    Beware the helpful man at the ticket machine on the Metro. Don't let him buy you tickets with his card and if he does anyway, refuse to pay. Happened to us on the Metro. My husband felt like an idiot, but if you are tired and in a strange place its easy for the scammers to confuse you. The Metro ticket machines, by the way, do not take notes, credit cards and some debit cards. Very French.


  • kimyunalesca said

    Thanks for sharing this very valuable information. I hope you'd add an easy share button to any social media so everyone can share/link it more easily.


  • Craig Berridge said

    I was asked to donate to an African charity by an African carrying a clipboard. There was a few of them working the tourists. He wanted name, phone and email details along with donation amount and signature. It all looked very real but he was lacking accreditation. I was stunned at some of the donations that had been made. They were near the Louvre near the guys selling mini Eiffel Towers etc.


  • Jim said

    We had a friend who had their bag snatched on a Paris train. A person came in and dropped a bunch of change by 'accident'. Being nice folks, they bent down to help pick it up and when they sat up, their backpack and purse were gone. The thieves working in teams!


  • Chris said

    Here is an illustration of these Parisian travel scams!


  • Sumaiyah said

    Avoid the (helpful) men at the ticket machine. Handed over money for three day passes when in fact we received 3 single tickets. How very stupid of us. Avoid them. Don't hand anyone cash.


  • Jean said

    My favourite photo from the Porte de Cligancourt metro station is of several ticket touts standing under a sign that warns in English "DO NOT BUY TICKETS FROM TOUTS"


  • Jenny Collier said

    Arrived on the Eurostar today. Gosh. Two different people asked me if I read English...yes I do so one is doing a petition for Blind and Deaf. Asks me to fill it in...very persistent ...I do then she started yelling for a donation. Finally I got away. Another long skirted dark lady asks if I read English..yes I do....sob story fir money...ignore it, no I'm not done yet...some one tries to grab our bags...no...we hang on. Last one was a taxi driver wanting us to jump the queue. He quotes us 80€for the fare. No...he says 70€ then.,,,no I had done my home work. Stayed in the queue and it cost us 9.50€ for the fare. The only difference was the real taxis with meters had a number on the back windscreen and the others didn't. They both had taxi signs on the top.....gosh. Thanks for your comments all. I have a few days to go yet


  • Perera said

    Caught for the " where is the ball? " game, totally ripped off,all of them are one group.. bystanders and the performer.. Lost all of my money near the Louvre.. AVOID STREET GAMBLERS.. THEY ARE DAYLIGHT ROBBERS..


  • Houdini said

    Wow Perara! You fell for the same scam 3 times in 2 minutes?


  • Houdini said

    Do you want to buy a gold ring, by the way?


  • Lilly said

    Useful advice but I find the racial remarks unnecessary. First of all, how do you even know that these people were Roma or African? Wouldn't it be possible to simply refer to them as French? Pointing out what ethnic group people who have carried out these scams belong to doesn't help the cause, it will only lead to prejudice. Please do consider this in the future. Cool site by the way.


  • Iris said

    Sorry, Lily, but they ARE gypsy and they ARE from Africa. Not mentioning that isn't going to make that any less True.


  • rosslyn said

    I planned to visit Europe/Paris and nearby soon. This is my ever first time travelling/backpack to Paris. After reading all these, make me feel worried and scared. Thank you so much for sharing all these. Can anyone tell me how to escape on all these and not to be the next victim. Thank you guys!


  • Tyler said

    I was in Paris following my gap year program a few months ago and I had the "Deaf, Mute, Blind" scam done on my brother and I. I didn't have the right amount when I signed the paper and so I had to use my American dollars. When I was handing them about seven bills, they attempted to take my $100 but they didn't. We got out of the situation luckily and only to have some guy come out of nowhere say that they were "pickpockets." We were so pissed. I learned my lesson and I sure as hell won't let these scoundrels take my money. Just a thought, if I were a politician, I would totally crack down hard on these petty criminals and instead provide them actual jobs than allow them to live like this.


  • BK1 said

    rosslyn - keep your valuables (phone, wallet, hotel key etc) in a front pocket of pants, not in a purse, backpack or rear or jacket pocket. Keep your hand in that pocket when walking through busy areas. Have a "don't fuck with me" pissed off look on your face wherever you go. Don't carry more than 20 euros, and do so separately from your wallet.

    If someone you don't know is being especially helpful or friendly, assume you're being scammed.


  • Gygis said

    Sorry to say but all these tricks are anything but "French", even though they do happen on French soil, and will target the non-Parisian French tourist all the same.


  • John Ryan said

    How disgusting. Decent people around the world deserve to live better than this. They should round up the lot of these vermin and euthanize them by what ever means.


  • Ikahn said

    A guy tried the "Gold Ring" scam on me at Le Opera. I got the ring and he got to walk away and live to explain the situation to his wife later that night.


  • Patsy said

    My husband and I have just returned from Paris. He got scammed by the 'hidden ball' trick. Clearly about 6-8 people in on it, all pretending to be tourist's that had won money. As soon as he handed over his euros they moved the ball. Silly him for falling for it, please don't do what he did. When you see a group of people making lots of noise and seemingly 'winning' money keep walking!!


  • Diana said

    Me and my husband visited Paris in spring 2015. Didn't know and maybe didn't read any information like this.....but now I will be aware of these thieves....Caught on the street near Notre Dame de Paris,for the " where is the ball? " game, totally ripped off, I lost 100 €...:( which ones have been saved for evening dinner in restaurant... instead of restaurant went just for some cafe....felt sooo shocked and grabbed:((( first experience like this.. be aware.....


  • Phl said

    Hi all,
    yes, some less than sensitive use of language here. Apologies. No offence was meant... just a bit careless. We've changed it.


  • Monica said

    Is it a good idea to have MACE?


  • khriznadas said

    We have many kind of street scam in my country. I think the French people learn from us. Tip: bring along a whistle with you. Put around your neck like an ID card. Just blow the whistle whenever you are surrounded by the scammer or got in a difficult situation. This will attract people around you and scare the scammer away. Get ready with a peace of paper written in French "Go away or I will blow this whistle"


  • Ryan Lemons said

    Just give em the lé finger


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