Don’t be a pickpocket victim in Paris and the Louvre

Courtyard of the Louvre Museum, Paris France, photo by NSL Photography

Last week, the Louvre, the world’s most visited museum, was forced to close for a day when about 200 of its employees staged a walk-out in protest over pickpockets. They walked out to condemn and expose what they described as the growing number of aggressive, well-organized pickpocket gangs — which even include children — targeting visitors and staff alike inside the museum.

Louvre supervisor Sophie Aguirre said, “There have always been pickpockets at the Louvre and in tourist locations in Paris, but for the last year and a half the gangs have become increasingly violent.”

On one day alone in the last year, 56 stolen wallets were found inside the museum, despite an increased presence of security.

There are other Paris pickpocketing trouble spots. Montmartre, with its spectacular views of the Paris cityscape, and home to the magnificent Sacré-Cœur Basilica, is also home to pickpockets and scam artists, many using the famous “Paris String Scam.”

I’m sure if you’ve ever been to Montmartre, even if you’ve avoided the scam, you’ve seen the “String Scam” in action.

On the steps leading to the Basilica, locals aggressively approach tourists, wanting them to hold out their index finger to put a loop of thread around it to make a bracelet. Even when tourists tell them they’re not interested, they keep pushing, saying it’s free, then when done, they tell you to pay up, it’s for the church.

You may be lucky and only end up paying them a bit for the bracelet, but often, as they’re making the string bracelet, a confederate or two feigning watching what’s going on, steals your wallet.

There are pickpockets at the Eiffel Tower, too, and many other tourist attractions in Paris and major cities across the globe. At the Eiffel Tower, pickpockets congregate around the nearby Champ de Mars — Tour Eiffel, Paris Metro stop. I’ve seen them in action. Teams of young boys and girls wait mostly for unsuspecting women just outside the station. As women cross the street, small hands reach into their pocketbooks.

Pickpockets have all sorts of scams: the “wedding ring scam,” “crippled-man scam,” and the “prayer scam.” Eiffel Tower pickpockets aren’t confined to the Tower’s grounds. They’re in the elevators and on the platforms of the Eiffel Tower itself. Tourists must stay alert.

I’ve got some suggestions to avoid being a pickpocket victim.

Before you leave:

• Review your wallet’s contents, and take out anything you won’t need or use on your trip.

• Make scanned copies of your wallet’s contents plus your passport, railpass, itinerary, and other travel documents. Put a password protected copy on a cloud server like Google Drive, or Dropbox, for access if needed. If you have a smartphone or tablet, put a password protected copy on it, too. If you don’t have either of those portable devices, bring paper copies of the scans with you and hide them. Make sure you have your credit and debit card and other ID contact numbers in case you’re pickpocketed.

• Leave valuables you can’t afford to lose, and valuables you don’t need, at home.

While you’re away:

• Put your credit and debit cards, passport, cash and other ID’s in a money belt or neck pouch. I prefer the silk ones, as they breathe naturally, wick moisture and dry more quickly than cotton and synthetics.

• Don’t take all your cash and credit/debit cards with you each day. Split them up, leaving some in your room safe.

• Wear your purse or bag with the flap, if any, against your body. Keep a hand on it. Shorten its strap, if necessary, to keep it above your waist.

• When drinking or eating, never put your purse, bag, or camera bag on the floor or ground beside you, hanging on your chair, on a spare seat, or on the table. Put it between your legs with its strap wrapped around your leg.

• Don’t check your wallet, money belt, or neck pouch to see if it’s okay. That will put a bullseye on you, your money and ID’s.

• Don’t wear brightly colored clothes which will make you stand out in a crowd. Blend in.

• Never leave anything unattended, such as in a restaurant. It will likely be stolen while you’re gone.

• Avoid walking through large crowds whenever possible, where pickpockets can blend in and snatch your wallet unnoticed.

• Be alert in train stations and airports, especially when you have lots of luggage and are thinking about where you’re going, not pickpockets. Be careful in packed subways like the Paris Metro.

• Walk with a purpose and keep moving. Don’t be distracted. Maintain street awareness. Don’t stop to talk with strangers. Keep your distance from souvenir hawkers.

• Be unpredictable. If you feel targeted by someone who won’t take no for an answer, for example, change direction, drop into a shop for a short visit, almost anything to force them to back off.

• Backpacks are popular for their versatility, but can easily be opened from behind by pickpockets, especially if you’re distracted by a pickpocket’s confederate. Consider lightweight locks on your backpack’s zippers.

  • Johnny Jet

    Great tips!

  • Chuck Krause

    I’ve only had my pocket picked twice in my 80 years, both times at the same Paris Metro station. Now, all my travel shirts have two button down pockets, one pocket has folding money and one credit card, the other, a small camera. What else do you need?

  • NedLevi

    For many Chuck, that’s all you need for those items, but for others, especially in summer, it’s not enough. Most of the time in cities, in summer, for example, during the day, I’m wearing golf style shirts, with no pockets. These are extremely comfortable for me which is the name of the game when walking a city all day, so I use a silk money belt. In cooler weather I wear a collared shirt with buttoned, or zipped pockets, but to be honest, I really don’t like carrying much in those pockets, so I still use my money belt.

    But if your method works for you, it makes sense for me, and I’m sure others will consider your suggestion favorably.

    Thanks for your readership.

  • NedLevi

    Thanks Johnny. I appreciate it your readership.

  • v

    Men, be sure to keep your wallet in one of your front pants pockets. Much more difficult to pick it from there, especially if your pants are a bit tight, like jeans.

  • DC Atty

    In preparation for a trip to Barcelona a couple of years ago, I purchased a pacsafe handbag from Magellan’s. It was a little expensive (almost $100) but the peace of mind was definitely worth it. The cross-body strap has a steel cable inside it so it can’t be cut; the underside has a steel mesh for the same reason. The pockets clip closed and cannot be easily opened.

  • bodega3

    A better idea is to leave the wallet at home. Men seem to be more stubborn on this than women. I have had a wallet start to be lifted from a front pocket of one of my male clients, but he was able to stop the theft. This was in FLR. Another male client, also visiting FLR had his wallet lifted from his back pocket despite my tips and his wife’s warning. They chased the thief, yelling and screaming to draw attention and the walllet was dropped and retrieved. My doctor was walking behind his wife as their came up the stairs from the Metro at the Louve. Two people stepped between my doctor and his wife and started to slowing unzip her back pack. The doctor grabbed the thieves from behind and pushed them to the side….he really wanted to throw them down the stairs but he restrained himself.

  • mjhooper

    When i arrived in Paris, my hostess told me first thing, don’t stand by the doors on a metro car. Thieves wait for the doors to start shutting, then reach in and grab a bag and are out again as the doors close. The victim is too surprised to react and the door shuts off access to the thief, anyway.

  • Courtyard Rancho Bernardo CA

    10 million visitors last year, and would normally draw 30,000 a day this time of year.

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