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.