Wednesday, 28 September 2016

FRANCE: Tourists Be Aware Of Scams in France

For over twenty years, France has been the #1 most visited country in the world!

In this gem of a country, we have the most romantic city in the world, Atlantic beaches, modern winter resorts on the French Alps and medieval castles of Normandy and the likes. Coupled with world class gastronomy, fashion and culture, it is little wonder why France is one of the most loved countries in the world.

However, such unrivalled numbers of tourists have since engendered numerous opportunities for shrewd scammers to thrive. Check out this list of 17 travel scams to protect yourself and have the best holiday you deserve in this marvel of a country.

Gold Ring Trick - A very old and common trick in and around France, especially Paris.

A gypsy will coincidentally find a gold ring on the floor, point at the “18k” hallmark on the ring and offer it to you. Trust me, there ARE people who take it. It can be very convincing. It goes something like this:

Scammer: “Sir, did you drop this ring?”
You: “No, I did not”
Scammer: “Well, you can give it to your wife, why not? It will make her happy. They might also insist that their religion (or some cock and bull reason) prevents them from keeping the ring.

If you accept, the gypsy will demand your money in return. He will simply say:

Scammer: “Sir, I am hungry, could you give me some money/change for a croissant?”

When you give, they will ask for more. Most people tend to give as they have accepted/taken something from the scammer. Reciprocity is a very powerful thing.

Sometimes, the scammer might walk away and reappear 5 minutes later to demand your money. Whatever it is, they will stop at nothing to get money from you.

The most scheming ones will have an accomplice pickpocket you while you are protesting. So don’t even engage them. If it is not yours, don’t’ take it. Keep a lookout for suspicious people and gold stuff on the ground! It is mere useless polished brass.

Louvre Pickpockets - I know, we are all here to see Mona Lisa and that’s the area where pickpockets operate. There are usually huge masses of people at the cordoned off area trying to snap pictures of the painting. It is squeezy and most people are unaware of their surroundings, the perfect scenario for pickpockets.

Reports have found that in one day in July alone, 56 stolen wallets were found in the museum! And the thing was that these were just the discovered ones, imagine how many more went undiscovered..

Do be careful outside the Louvre as well! Queues are snakingly long and this presents a great opportunity for pickpockets too.

Stay alert and secure your valuables in hidden or hard to reach areas.

String/Bracelet Scam - Very common in France (especially the sacre Coeur/Montmartre area, Seine River, Louvre, Gare du Nord) and around Europe as well. They can even be found on metro lines leading to the Montmartre area! They are easy to spot as they carry long, colored string, yarn or other items.

What they do (normally Africans) is they will ask if you want a “friendship bracelet” or “friendship ring”. If you say yes, they will tie it so tight around your wrist or finger that makes it impossible to remove. They will then demand money from you. The more ruthless ones will gather some of his accomplices, bring you to the nearest ATM and threaten you to withdraw everything inside.

Another variation is that these scammers will first engage you in a conversation. They might then ask if you want to see a magic trick and before you know it, they would have skilfully tied a band around your wrist or fingers.

They will justify it by saying it is from the church, a gift, or a local Paris souvenir and then demand €20. Refuse to pay and you find them sticking to you like cockroaches and bugging you every second. Some of them will even try to intimidate you. Most tourist just suck it up and pay to get rid of them.

More creative scammers will approach couples and offer the woman for free. Should the woman accept, another will pop out to offer the man. Since it is assumed to be free, the man tends to accept. But once you do, good luck as they will begin hounding you for payment.

The most ruthless ones will tie the friendship band and while distracting you, an accomplice will appear from the shadows to pickpocket your stuff.

This is so common and yet many still fall for the scam. What to do when they approach is to say no and keep walking away. Do NOT stop as a moment of hesitation is all they need to tie the string on your hand. However, be careful of walking yourself into a corner. If you are alert and have spotted them from a distance. Keep your hands well hidden in your jacket or somewhere.

What I did was that I shouted no and some vulgarities when I was approached. This gave me a real kick haha but on hindsight is a very stupid thing to do. There is no need to offend them as they would surely have more accomplices in the area and it is not possible to outfight a bunch of them.

I have also observed that they tend to target females travelling alone so please be extra careful if you are.

Rose Scam - A pretty stupid scam, but people do still fall for it.

It is very simple, a scammer offers you a rose as a token of friendship in the city of love. When you accept it, payment will be demanded. Even if you return the rose, you will be constantly hounded till it would be better to pay the scammer off.

Another version is where the scammer targets couples, by offering the girl the rose and asking the guy to pay.

Unscrupulous Taxi Drivers - There are unscrupulous drivers who purposely take a longer route. There are also those who do not have a meter.

Firstly, to protect yourself, at least have an idea of which direction/route you should be on. That’s the least you can do, else you put yourself vulnerable to such unscrupulous people.

Next, do NOT take any taxi without a meter – those are not taxis.

There are those at the Charles de Gaulle Airport as well who are extremely aggressive. They will probably demand €20-30 more than legit taxis.

Helpful People at Metros - this is one of the most difficult scams to prevent/protect yourself from. There are also so many variations and you just have to be alert. Below is a scenarios at metro stations.

Do NOT let someone help you buy your metro pass. There are people who dress like train officials which makes it more difficult to spot. Commonly, they are observed to work in groups of 3-4 so as to pressure you.

Unknowing to you, the “official” buys child fare and exchange for adult fare from you. If you are really unlucky, you might be caught by the real train official and made to pay an obscene amount of fine.

Another variation is that these scammers standing around the metro station would have already bought metro tickets and would try selling them to you if you have not already bought them. These tickets which they peddle are likely used and useless.

By the way, the metro machines do not take notes, credit cards and debit cards, so that’s a huge warning sign should they ask for those from you.

“Charities” and Beggars - Normally perpetrated by gypsies, Africans or small girls, they will appeal to your emotion and seek money for accident victims, orphanages, or simply their personal woes. When you are distracted, their accomplices spring into action to pickpocket you.

Some beggars also have motionless pets lying next to them so as to enhance the “pitiful” sight and make you sympathise with them. Note that these pets are drugged.

Best action is to ignore them as most of them work in packs. Give in to one or engage one and you might find yourself pickpocketed by their accomplices unknowingly.

The smarter beggars “hunt” for their prey at restaurants. They are equipped with a piece of paper detailing their sad story and their plea for some donations, and they stuff it in your face so that you cannot see what is below. Then that’s it, whatever valuables you have on the table will be gone.

These beggars tend to loiter around the restaurant to observe the situation before moving in for the “kill”, so do keep your valuables secure with you. Never leave it on the table or in plain sight.

Lost Soul Scam - A bunch of people carrying a large map walks up to you and ask you for help. If you are like most people, you would have said yes, since you most probably have been in that situation before. While you are checking out the map and/or pointing directions to them, your wallet would have been gone by then.

This can easily happen in restaurants/cafes/picnics as well, where the scammers lay out the map over your valuables and take them with the map when they go.

Of course, there are genuine people who ask for help but to be safe, ignore.

Magic Tricks or Gambling - There is no free lunch in the world and such gambling games are meant to tap on the greed of tourists.

One such game is betting if one of three cups contain a pea or a ball, which is quite common at the Champs-de-Mars park behind Eiffel Tower. The set-up is that someone would have betted a lot to entice you to join. It becomes more enticing when you see him winning double the amount!

This guy is obviously one of their accomplices. The people surrounding watching the game are also accomplices!

When you get in on the game, they will try to distract you so that the pea can be removed when you are not aware. You might win initially, but is meant to tempt you into betting bigger amounts!

Another version is where you see this stupid guy who keeps losing money even though it’s painfully obvious where the ball or pea is. This makes it tempting for you to step forward to play the game. You might win at first, but suddenly, the scammer would move the cups at such an impossibly fast speed that you would eventually lose your money.

Do not be a spectator too, as you leave yourself open to pickpocketing since your attention is fully on the game.

Clumsy Jogger/Person - Beware! They will knock into you, bump into you and in the next second, you find that something has gone missing from your pocket or backpack! By then, the jogger would have sprinted off already.

It could be a jogger, someone in the crowded market or even a passenger on the train. Another variation is the stain routine, where the scammer stains your shirt and apologize profusely. At that moment, the accomplice springs into action.

Petitions - Normally out in full force at the Eiffel Tower, this scam is perpetuated by young girls working in groups. It usually starts with an innocent question: “do you speak English”?

There are a few variations of this scam. Firstly, someone will try to hold your attention as they get you to understand the petition and to sign it. Next moment, your wallet is gone. It could be done stealthily, or a bunch of people could simply mob you.

Ignore them. If they get aggressive, shout at them and push them away. Another trick to try is to simply say that you know their scam.

Another scam would be young girls approaching you to sign a petition to help save the world/help the deaf/the mute etc. They might pretend to be deaf/mute themselves. A clipboard is shoved in your face, and you see several signatures and some French words.

These words basically mean that if you sign it, you have to give 1,000 euros or something bad will happen. If you don’t pay, suddenly more kids will appear out of nowhere to pressure you to pay. In the midst of distraction, pickpocketing your wallet is as easy as ABC.

Finally, be wary of the creative ones who place the clipboard on your table (assuming you are at a restaurant/cafe). When you chase them away, you will suddenly realise that the phone, camera or wallet which lay under the clipboard has disappeared.

Never sign anything you don’t understand, no matter how credible it looks or how helpful a person seems.

Did You Drop Something? - Have observed this at Sacre Coeur and believe this scam to be pretty common around the world. So what happens is that you will hear something drop nearby. Suddenly, someone would ask if you have dropped something. The aim is to distract you from your wallet so that it can be easily pickpocketed. This becomes even easier should you bend over to check.

Another variation is that of asking if you have dropped your wallet. Natural reflex action means that you would check your pocket for your wallet, and this reveals the location of your wallet to the scammer.

Child Pickpockets - There are reports that 75% of pickpockets on the Paris Metro are by an organised gang using girls from 12-16. These girls are trained in theft and to tell police that they are 12 years old when caught.

This is because criminal prosecution is difficult for this age. It has been reported that these girls are given a target of at least 300 euros a day, or they would be punished with beatings, attacked by knives and cigarettes and might even be subjected to rape.

The face of scammers is ever changing so instead of being wary of certain groups of people, just aim to be alert especially in crowded spaces. Secure your valuables in a hidden or hard to reach area and use your hands and body movement to deter potential pickpockets.

Street Vendors - It can be any item, as long as street vendors are the ones selling it. What they do is to let you try out whatever items (e.g. bracelets) they have. Before you have time to say no, they will demand quick payment.

Some of the more irritating ones will keep pestering you. For instance, if you have bought something, they will hound you to buy more. If you have more, they will cry after you with offers of lower prices.

These vendors don’t talk logic, so if you are not prepared to pay for any item, do not even ask to try them. Simply put on a grumpy face and DON’T look interested.

ATM Machines - It is essential to be aware of this scam, as it can be especially painful.

One situation is where the scammer stands real close behind you to see your PIN number. Once he knows your PIN number, he swipes your card.

Another situation is where your card is eaten up by the ATM machine. Coincidentally, the bank is closed at that time. This is because there are criminal gangs who use a device that memorises PIN numbers and prevent your ATM card from being ejected. They then download the PIN number and withdraw cash from your account.

So what you should do is besides shielding your PIN and watching out for anybody behind you, only use your ATM during business hours if possible. Also examine ATM machines for any unusually devices, though it is not an easy task. Also, keep a list of 24 hour hotline for your credit cards so that you can enquire and/or cancel your card at any time.

Finally, you might meet with a situation where when you are withdrawing money, someone taps you to ask an innocent question in a language you do not understand. As you are distracted, the scammer will walk closer to you and grab the money when it comes out from the ATM and run off. The more brazen ones will simply grab your money and run.

Avoid ATMs in dimly lit areas or where it’s more secluded and not easy to get help.

Unethical Cafes and Restaurants - This happens around the world, not just in France.

For instance, a café might serve you larger and more expensive drinks if you do not specify the size you want. Restaurants might also serve you an inflated bill.

Always be specific and always check.

Sleeping Thieves - These sleeping thieves are extremely dangerous as you tend to let your guard down against them. They are simply observing your movement and waiting for the perfect time to strike.

Watch out for them especially on the metro or in restaurants. To keep your belongings safe, consider locking your backpack, placing it down while on the train or simply spreading your valuables around in secure areas.
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