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Top 11 Tourist Mistakes in Paris
(and how to avoid them)

Purse snatching LEFT: When you're posing for snapshots, watch out for purse-snatchers who reach in from outside the frame.

Mistake #10: Being easy prey for pickpockets and purse-snatchers

Woman chasing purse snatcherYour odds of being robbed or mugged in Paris are fairly low. In the Métro, one estimate puts the assault rate at 1 in 365,000 passengers, or about 6,000 muggings compared to more than two billion underground rides each year. What's more, violent crime is most likely to occur in places that tourists seldom frequent, such as public housing projects on the outskirts of the city.

Paris police at Notre Dame CathedralPickpocketing and purse-snatching are a different story. Crooks with sticky fingers do a land-office business in a city that attracts more than 30 million tourists every year, and neither the police nor the judicial system can keep up with the thieves.

We know several people who have been victims of pickpockets, and we can't resist sharing an anecdote:

  • While catching a train to Versaille with her husband and brother a few years ago, Cheryl's best friend saw a pickpocket reaching toward her brother's wallet. The woman swatted the pickpocket with her handbag, and the thief fled. (Fortunately, he didn't grab the wallet or the purse before making his exit.)

Prospective pickpocket victimMany tourists invite theft by making their possessions easy to steal. Men carry wallets and passports in their hip pockets, while women often wear bags behind their shoulders and out of sight, where a pickpocket can rummage like a bear with a garbage can.

Potential theft victim with passportOther visitors wear expensive camera backpacks that might as well be labeled "Steal me." Belt packs ("fanny packs" in American vernacular) are popular targets for pickpockets. The most clueless victims of all are tourists who wear neck wallets or pouches outside their clothing, where any snatch-and-grab thief can cut the cord before running off with a stash of money and credit cards.

Our advice:

  • Carry one credit card, one ATM card, and a small amount of cash in your wallet, or--if you're female--in a small purse that you carry separately from your main shoulder bag or tote. Hide the wallet in a safe place (such as a zippered security pocket), or wear the small purse under a jacket or sweater.

  • Carry a backup credit card, ATM card, cash, and your passport in a neck wallet inside your clothing.

  • Keep photocopies of your credit cards, ATM cards, and passport ID page in another safe location so you'll be able to cancel your cards and get a new passport if the originals are stolen.

Another important tip:

Be aware of your surroundings, and be especially watchful in areas that are frequented by tourists. A France Crime & Safety Report from the Overseas Security Advisory Council claims that pickpockets are especially active in:

  • The RER railroad line from Charles de Gaulle Airport;

  • The Métro, while tourists are entering trains (we've heard that Line 1 is especially popular with both tourists and pickpockets);

  • Major department stores where visitors often leave purses, wallets, or credit cards on cashier counters during transactions;

  • Eiffel Tower elevators and museum escalators;

  • The area around Sacré-Coeur (which is also frequented by harmless but annoying "string men" shakedown artists).

The American Embassy's "Pickpockets in Paris: How to Avoid Becoming a Victim" page has information on techniques used by pickpockets and purse-snatchers (many of whom are adolescents who work in groups).

Bottom line: By using common sense, you'll encourage pickpockets and purse-snatchers to look for tourists who are more careless than you are.

Next page: Mistake #11: Saying "Adieu" instead of "Au revoir"

Top photo copyright © Lisa Gagne.
1st inset photo © Victor Neimanis.
2nd inset photo inset photo © Julien Lemarchand.
3rd inset photo © Alistair Scott.
4th inset photo © Triggerphoto

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