I'm sending this story out of my disappointment of me and my wife's traumatic experience in Paris just a couple days ago. We really hope this story could help others who are traveling to Paris/Europe.
We were in Paris for 7 nights for our Honeymoon and while the city is very beautiful eventhough we found that there are lots of homeless people on the street and on the Metro Stations, and lots of them are asking money from us(which is normal for any big cities). The tax refund in Europe is also very confusing and troublesome, even for me who have done tax refunds many times.
The worst experience for us happened on our last day in Paris on 30 November 2012 at 9:30AM. We were walking close to Gallery Lafayette(shopping malls) and just one block from Apple Store.
We were crossing the street in a crowded area where suddenly there are about 10 people with clipboards are harassing us, asking us to sign for a petition and finally stealing money from us. These people are female teenagers(13-14 years old) they have white Arabic looks.
3 of them were distracting me by forcing me to sign their papers while silently one of them are opening my handbag under the clipboard. The other 7 people are holding my wife, grabbing her hands and body, so even she is trying with all her strength to fight back, she was still completely unable to move and they are taking her away from me. Unable to fight back, my wife was screaming my name, that is when I realized that she is already 10 meters away from me and they are trying to rob us. I have to use all my strength to get away from them and running to my wife to save her from these people. I was using my hands to push them away from my wife and I saw that these people are opening my wife's bag and trying to get whatever inside the bag. I continue to use my hands violently and body to push them and started to shouted at them to get away from us.
People around us are looking at this scene and now these robbers were acting innocent by pretending that I was rude at them.
After we checked at our bags, we found all of our handbags are already opened and that two of our envelopes are missing. Those two envelopes consist of our Tax Refund receipt with value of 80 Euro. I told them that they stole our envelopes and ask them to return it back to us since those have no value to them. But they again pretend not to steal anything from us and they are now started to moving away from us. I also threatened them to report it to the Police if they don't return our envelopes, but they seem doesn't care and dare us to call the police.
Unfortunately there are no policemen on that site at that time, and my wife asked me to stop chasing them since our time there are more valuable then wasting it on them.
Me and my wife, especially my wife, were really traumatize by this experience and we really hope France government would do something about these pickpockets who continues to destroy the image of France.
France is really one of the most beautiful country in the World and it is just so sad to see these to keep happening all over Europe. We know all about these pickpockets and tips to get away from them, actually, we already escaped from dozens of them during our 2 weeks stay in Europe, but nevertheles, this last group is really beyond everything else since they are violently restraining my wife and tried to take her away from me.
My tip is to always push back any stranger or a group who is trying to get close to you BEFORE they are close enough to restraint your body and arms, don't hold back to use your feet or even use some force to keep your distance because once more than 2 people holding you, then it would be difficult to get away. If they are in group or you are in a condition where you can't get away from them, just scream and ask for help from people or police. Learn some local language if you look local, but if you don't lool local, then it would be useless. Don't hesitate to scream Help! or Police!, don't scream Thief! or pickpocket! as most local don't understand these words. Don't waste your time with the police or at the police station too long, just make your statement and go(30 mins max), as you will not get your money back and there will be no proof, and they also will release these pickpocketers as they are under age. If they stole your money anyway, just let it go, don't get emotional and ruin your day, forgive them and let God do the rest. Continue to use your precious time to enjoy the city.
The France government needs to make a new law on these kind of people. The normal law, or some special law should be applied to underage pickpockets or "robbers" in our case, and even to the illegal immigrants. The security of France's tourist places should be prioritize and the government needs to take a strong statement against these people. The cities will remain unsafe if there is still law that restrict the government to apply a significant punishments to these minorities which they will be afraid of. At least 6 months jail time, removal of them and their families from the country, create a special place or decent community for them, so they can live peacefully without stealing from others, etc.
We are Asians, so its hard for us to pretend of not being a tourist in Europe, we have been living in Asia for 25 years, I have been traveling around the world from anywhere in Asia, Europe and America. visit at least 20 different countries, hundreds of cities with some of them to have the highest crime rate in the world, lived overseas for 6 years, and this violent experience in an open public place has never happened to me(because I know how to play save). We are very shocked that this should happen at the place that we really dreamed of, Paris. We hope people of France can see this thread and I really hope to see some action from Government of France on this and to see some positive change on Tourist Security in Paris.
Today, i was with a co-worker killing seeing some sites in Paris before an upcoming meeting tomorrow. As we were catching the RER-C line in the tourist area some young male teenagers, perhaps 12-14 years old, were coming up the escalator behind us and i thought nothing of it as they chatted away like normal teens do. At one point I felt my iphone case on my hip pull a little and put my hand on it. It was there so i just figured it rubbed against the side of the escalator. When i was looking at a monitor on the platform i must have sensed something very subtle because i put my hand on my back pocket wallet and felt my wallet was 90% out of my pocket. After i put it back in, my first thought was it must have worked its way out as i walked up the escalator but then i realized that's never happened before and i turned back and saw the 3 kids talking in a circle just 2 feet away from me. I confronted them about their attempt and they acted like they only spoke spanish by saying to me "hablo espanol" several times. My co-worker, said "yeah, I know spanish Vamanos!" LOL. They didn't move a muscle. I said i was going to call the police to them a couple of times and then they then left. I always carry my wallet in my front pocket when out of country but for some reason i was lax this time. I guess travelling 5 times to Paris over the years without incident made me let my guard down. Stay alert, and stay aware of whats going on around you.
Paris is home to many wonderful things and some not so good. Blessed with incredible art, food and public monuments, it is the number one tourist destination in the world. But like any urban ecosystem with any food source there will be predators. In this case that means criminals and in particular pickpockets. Make no mistake about it, Paris, its streets and the metro in particular, is worked by professional pickpockets on a daily basis.
No matter what you do, as a tourist you have a bulls-eye on your back. Let me share my story with you and give you a few pointers on how to avoid becoming a victim. I should know, I broke every rule and paid the price.
Now back to that day. I love taking photos of Paris, I spend hours walking the streets shooting images of dogs, people, signs, and anything that strikes my eye as interesting. When I do I think of the great photographers who came before me who saw the city in such unique ways, Doisneau, Frank, Kertesz, the list goes on and on. I have a great time and that is just what I was doing that hot day, spending hours roaming the 8th and 1st shooting and enjoying a free afternoon in Paris. It was very hot and I was very tired by the end of the day. That is where my problems began.
I was waiting for the number 8 line from the Champ Elysees back to La Motte Piquet Grenelle, our metro stop. And this is what I did wrong when I got on the train.
1. I stood in the middle of the car. It was a crowded train but not that crowded, plenty of room for pickpockets to work.
2. I did not pay attention to my surroundings. I was tired, it was the end of the day and I stopped looking around at what was going on in the train.
3. I relaxed. I was completely relaxed it was just another metro ride.
4. I wore baggy shorts (my son knew immediately which ones) which left plenty of space in my front pocket where my wallet sat, with cash, credit cards and id, just waiting.
OK, the scene is set, so what happened? I believe this is the most important advice that I can give to you. If something occurs that is out of the ordinary, that distracts you, that doesn't seem quite right, then your spidey sense needs to start tingling because something bad is going down.
It seemed so innocent. The man in front of me dropped his keys on the floor. I looked down and said to him in French, your keys. He picked them up.
I never felt his partners hand as it reached into my pocket but I did not feel right almost immediately. Then I heard a voice from my left in French, it was one of the passengers and he said to me "He is over there. The pickpocket is over there". I reached my hand into my pocket and sure enough my wallet was gone. And I saw him, well dressed in a black sweater and jeans moving down the ailse away from me. I yelled at him, "My wallet."
He moved more quickly now towards the door, I yelled again, Hey, my wallet. At that point the doors opened and he began to exit the train. I had started after him and as he saw me coming he did something completely unexpected. In one fluid graceful motion, he reached his hand into my wallet, pulled out the cash (about 70 euro) and flipped it up into the air. That is right, he threw the wallet back to me. I watched it turning end over end in the air in what seemed to be slow motion and it landed at my feet. By the time I retrieved it he and his partner had fled out the door and were long gone. The metro doors shut and there I stood. Only one passenger spoke to me, she asked if I was OK and I told her I was. The rest never looked up from their books, newspapers and phones. Just another day in the big city.
I got lucky. I got my wallet back with all of my credit cards and driver's license, worth a lot more than the cash and my vacation wasn't ruined.
I hope this story helps you to remember that when you travel in Paris you are target. You are being watched. Some recommendations:
Keep your guard up all the time, especially when tired.
Watch our for crowds of moving kids in tourist traps and avoid them. Walk away fast.
Only carry what you need and never ever your passport.
Keep an eye on each other, hands in your pockets on your wallets.
Above all don't fall for the distraction, whatever it is.
Finally, if something happens don't be afraid to yell loud for help. These are petty criminals and will often back off. It may or may not work, but it certainly will make you feel better.
On Oct 6 2012 approximately 1:30PM Paris time, my wife and I were walking up the stairs from the Batobus stop on the bank of the Seine River at the base of the Eiffel Tower, and I was startled to get pushed from behind.
When I turned, a rather angry looking man had a hold of two youths, and was shouting "thieves" at them ... he pointed to us and said "your purse", and then banged their heads together and threw them down the steps, continuing to shout at them.
Having been warned about the prevalence of these kinds of incidents, and feeling somewhat vulnerable in the middle of a large staircase, we checked to be sure our wallets and valuables were secure (they were :-)), then hurried up the steps to what we felt was a safe and open area. We re-checked everything and all was well.
In preparation for this trip, my wife had bought an amazing purse in Canada, which is not only thief-resistant, but also not unattractive (IMHO). It has reinforced straps (with wire), various clips and zippers, and is made of similar material to Kevlar (bulletproof vest material).
Our overall impressions of France after 9 days were:
1) Thieves are everywhere, and highly organized, and will follow you for quite a long time. Sadly, you have to pretend you are Jason Bourne and watch all the time for "tails".
2) The authorities seem completely unconcerned with this. (ALL authorities ... subway / Metro, trains, buses, police, whatever)
3) To the extent that they are concerned, they have insufficient resources to deal with this plague.
So, our recommendations:
a) Protect your valuables in a safe, thief resistant purse / wallet;
b) ALWAYS BE VIGILANT ... sadly, never, never relax, unless you have 100 meters of clear space between you and other humans who are not in your party.
c) Try to avoid busy periods of the day at major attractions, although increasingly, this is impossible, as with cutbacks in service staff, lines and queues get longer and longer.
We love Europe, but have learned to accept the above as the new reality. Sad, but real.
Travel safe all ...
A proud Canadian, who hopes we can keep this from happening in Canada, also, eh?
I know it may seem like an obvious hotspot for pickpockets but after a lovely weekend, I was very nearly robbed after getting off at the Champ de Mars station walking towards the Eiffel tower. As crowds began to build the nearer we got to the landmark, I wasn't particularly paying attention to who was around me, carrying my bag on my arm and a suitcase in the other hand. I felt a bump and on my left side there was a tanned short woman with a black jumper wrapped around her hands (one of which I then saw was in my bag).
I got such a fright as I had never had this experience before. The woman laughed when I told her to get away and it was then that I noticed a group of them aroundand behind me. It's terrible, paying all this money to go see landmarks and then not being able to enjoy them because you are weary of these people. But just be careful. I've never found the metro threatening at all, once you are vigilant and don't takeout your purse in open areas.
My iPhone was snatched from my pocket in the hotel de Ville, line 1 at 5-6 pm. I shouted and chased after the the thief. Not one even try to stop him! I walked to the reception, she was not helpful and careless, saying I need to find the police my self. Being totally new to Paris and can't speak the language, I couldn't find the police and it was heavily raining. I tried to go the police website, and there are all French. I contacted the real estate agent who I had my apartment from, he didn't reply. Being helpless, I just gave up. All I can say about Paris is we as a tourist does not receive the security we need when we visiting the country. Warning to people who intend to go to Paris is that you are on you own risk and you ll be targeted by the thieves and burglars as the police are careless toward the safety of the tourists.
The seasoned traveller will see right through this one, but it's worth documenting for new travellers.
There are the usual crowds outside the entrance to the Musee d'Orsay. A gypsy (long flowing black hair, very tanned face) seems to have picked up a dropped gold ring. She hands it to you, is it yours? Nope you say. I sell it to you for moneys, she says, You English?
You check the ring, looks gold, fake hallmark on the inside, very heavy and if you didn't know better..... while you are looking and distracted, her accomplice picks your pocket.
I was with KShezz (Kirsty) at that time, took the ring to the security guard, he explained the scam, lady disappeared. Nope we weren't robbed, nope we didn't fall for it and yep she lost her ring.
Just be extremely careful of anyone who asks you for anything who isn't obviously a tourist like yourself. If you have to consult your map, back up against a wall to do it or nip into a cafe or shop. Thieves sometimes follow you for hours or have accomplices all over the city with which they keep contact via mobile phone. Good luck.
Every year since I turned 7 my family and I have been going to Paris every year. Pickpockets and gypsies have become larger and more dangerous after years and years I remember I could carry a camera off guard on the metro. now whenever you are in Paris metro watch out for the gypsies and pickpockets. Most pickpockets can be found on the bridges of Il de la Cite, the Louvre, and all other tourist spots like the Arc de triomphe. They are all over the subway. I say any of you should wear a money belt if you are tourist in Paris and while you are on the metro. My friend came with last year and he had his wallet in his backpocket. These pickpockets are trained and are very good at stealing without you knowing. We got on the metro station of Palais Royal and went on M1 there were 5 girls in a group standing right next to the doors on the train, and as soon as my friend Ralph got on one of the girls reaching into his wallet as girls walked off the train when the doors closed. Please be aware. A present scam now for pickpockets are romas around Notre dame and the right bank is a scam where these kids force you to sign this piece of paper. If you do sign the paper you will be distracted and eh will dig through your pockets. Now if you encounter them walk way and hold on to your valuables and instead keep them hidden. With a French accent say no the scammers. Another way to stop the pickpockets on the metro is that if you notice that they are pickpockets walk away and if they start walking up to you yell NO! My father says also that you may also yell "voleur" which means thief in French. As you yell voleur the group of pickpockets will stop and try to escape from the public usually be most careful if you are on the meto between 4 and 6 pm when it is rushour. It is a pleasure to help all of you !! Thank you
Just off the train, my family and I wheeled our bags behind our driver who was going to take us to our hotel. A few young girls began to ask me to sign some piece of paper and each time that i said "NO" another, different girl would do the same thing. I was cornered and distracted on a narrow sidewalk and since both hands were being used on bags, my I phone was stolen out of my pocket. While shoving papers and pens into my face I believe she snagged my phone since I wasn't paying attention. DO NOT stop for any reason when asked to sign random petitions for anything.
We were recently picked in Paris near Notre Dame and after doing a lot of research we started noticing these gangs of Romanian looking teens all over the city. We've also witnessed several attempts by them picking other people. But Paris isn't alone, we visited London last weekend and saw them there as well and witnessed a gentlemen get picked near Big Ben.
Here's a link to my post about the experience. http://scottmcdowell.me/2012/05/08/beware-pickpockets-in-london-and-paris/
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