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Paris, like many other major cities has pickpockets.
In the area of Centre Pompidou/Chatelet/Les Halles, there are several of them. It has been noted that it is rather common in the area.
First, a person sits down. Then the pickpocket sits behind the person facing the other way. They usually work in groups and will use a strange distraction method like extremely loud music to distract you. The pickpocket slides his or her hand into the person's coat pockets and steals its contents. They are very professional, leave fast and get lost in the crowd outside. Belongings should remain out of sight and difficult for others to access. Do not use brandname camera and laptops bags; they only attract attention. Don't be afraid to look vary and immediately hold your personal belongings close to you at first feeling of suspicion.
Be particularly aware in the colder months with heavy coats on the metro. When it is crowded it is very easy for the pickpockets to slip their hands in big pockets. Do not keep valuables in exterior coat pockets or back pockets on backpacks/knapsacs, and keep your purse in front of you where you can see it.
While walking up the steps to Sacre Coeur, a person was approached by a man offering to demonstrate some sort of trick. This is one of the techniques used by pickpockets. In the steps of the Sacre Couer you have to be wary of people approaching you with the wristband trick, so avoid any people approaching you and just go up the steps.
No one wants to be the guest at your hotel who left her purse beside her while kneeling at a pew to pray while her purse was stolen. Imagine the disaster: she had been carrying a considerable amount of cash, her PASSPORT (a faux pas) and all of her credit cards.
Because there is a risk of theft (as there is anywhere) travelers should consider making use of the hotel safes or at least "hiding" your passport and credit card in your luggage.
In the metro/Rer
Pickpockets will stand very close to you on the train even if it is not crowded. They can be very well dressed and extremely young girls, that look 8 or 10. They will put their bag close to yours and reach underneath with their other hand try and reach in yours. If you have been pickpocketed on the train, you can pull a device that will stop the train and lock the doors and the police will come.
Many robberies in the metro/RER occur at the time the bell starts to ring, just before the train's departure (when the doors start to close). Thieves are at this time either already in the train or even outside, and they will take advantage of the situation when the doors are closing to swiftly catch the victim's bag and run away in the metro's tunnels. As soon as they start running, an accomplice takes the belonging and runs in the opposite direction so that they make sure not being easily arrested. The best strategy to follow is to avoid staying close to the doors within the train. Many pickpockets do their job while it is crowded and people are about to enter the train. This is usually a moment where people are more distracted and vulnerable.
A more recent way pickpocket may try an approach is by presenting themselves as interviewers or fund raisers (the are visible with their writing pad). They may use their writing pad as a tool to hide their stealing hand, or they will talk to you while other pickpockets rob you. Note that real fund raisers are usually really visible with a colored jacket (for example green for WWF).
Make sure you get "un carnet" of ten tickets, and keep them handy. Having to stand in line often is a pain, and it, also distracts you from being vigilant about safety. Never dig for money in the Metro. There are often beggars on the way to the tracks, and on the trains. Ignore them, they try to identify easy marks, and you'll be happier without the recognition.The Gold Ring Scam
One scam to beware of is recounted here: "Early one morning on our street we came upon a ring that looked like gold, and this was sitting on the middle of the sidewalk. A woman came to us from the other side. She spoke English and she insisted that my wife get the ring. My wife told her that she had enough jewelry and that she should take the ring. This woman then said that her religion forbade the wearing of jewelry. I kept quiet but I was tempted to ask her what religion that was, because all of the major religions of the world allow jewelry. So my wife told her to give the ring to a friend. Then came the scam. The woman said that it was her birthday and could we buy her lunch? We insisted that she keep the ring and off we went without a backward glance."
If approached by what seems to be a thief enacting a scam, do the following:
Someone with a clipboard will come up to you asking you to sign a petition. They are usually young, work in pairs or gangs and are rife around the tourist hotspots such as The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Opéra Garnier, etc. Make sure that if anyone with a clipboard approaches you that you keep hold of your belongings where you can see them. This is a distraction technique they use, one person will try to get you to sign a petition whilst the other going into your pockets or bag. Just say "no" to them and walk away from them if they come to speak to you.
Suggestions for Blending In
Make sure not to become a target by continuously holding a folding map in front of you. If you appear to be concentrating on it, the thieves will know you are distracted from noticing them. Use a small "Paris Pratique" street guide. It's what most French visitors use. You might even be approached by another traveler mistaking you for a local - how cool!
If you are walking to a spefic destination, keep a bulleted list of directions on a small paper in your outside pocket. You can easily refer to it without using an unwieldy map and making yourself look lost or distracted.
Keep a purse on a long strap across the body, not just drooping on the shoulder or over the arm. One can more easily access its contents and have the hands free if it gets congested on the walk. Also strip out any extraneous items from a purse and leave them in the hotel to make a purse much lighter and easy to navigate.
A company in america called Stashitware sells pocket underwear for men and women which will stop pickpockets in their tracks. Road tested by Bambi Vincent and Bob Arno, thief hunters, and experts on pickpockets. Read their review at Thief Hunters . You can check out the pocket underwear at www.stashitware.com . Don't be a victim.
When in doubt about the safety of the stroll, duck into a bar. The WC is always down below, and the pay phone. If the barkeep wants you to order immediately, just say "Le telephone, s'il vous plait" and keep moving. Once you've used the WC to collect yourself, maybe you'll feel OK, or maybe you'll just have a quick "vin rouge" or "cafe" before you decide to emerge and continue your pursuit of the sights & sounds. If you just leave, always say "merci" and "au revoir, Monsieur". It's rude not to.
For women, walking along smiling at men is perceived as a come-on, so be forewarned. The "working girls" of Paris are much more subtle than elsewhere, so do not make a friendly demeanor become a snare into an unpleasant encounter.
Parisians never wear shorts. They are considered vacation attire for beach and country venues. You will surely be perceived as a non local and a target for scams if you insist on dressing this way.
Useful information from the USA embassy in Paris to avoid being pickpocket in Paris.