Taking Precautions Against Pickpockets

by A. Letkemann

As big cities go, Paris is generally quite safe. But being the world’s number one tourist destination, there are plenty of pickpockets at work. Here are a few tips to avoid the misery and anxiety associated with losing your wallet or purse.

Be Prepared

The first rule of thumb is to carry only what you are willing to lose. Keep only the essentials : one credit/ATM card, one piece of photo identification, and no more than €40 -50.

Make a copy (front and back) of all your credit and bank cards, licenses, passports, carte de sejour and keep these in a safe pace at home. That way, if your wallet is stolen, you have all the numbers and contact information needed to cancel your cards.

Carry only purses or bags that zip. Carry your bag tightly under your arm and slightly in front of you. If you use a backpack, swing it around so that it is slightly in front of you as well. Put a rubber band around your wallet and put it in your front pocket which will make it difficult for someone to get it out without you knowing.

Be Aware

The three most likely places to get pick pocketed are close to the major tourist sites: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Champs-Elysées. In Paris, pickpockets work in groups. They are often young children, since it is extremely difficult for minors to go to jail here in France. They can be groups of young girls or boys and of all races.

The most popular tactic on the métro is the crush and grab. You will be swarmed by several people all trying to get on or off. While they are pushing you around, they are also picking your pockets. Another trick is to grab the bag of someone sitting right by the door and to hop off just as the doors are closing. To avoid being a victim, try to find a seat away from the doors. If you can’t sit, back yourself up against one of the sides. Try to minimize access to your pockets and purses.

On the street, pickpockets tend to use distraction techniques. Two or more people will approach you and ask for directions, try to sell you trinkets, or just crowd you. While you are occupied with one person, another is picking your pocket. Another technique is to have something thrown or spilled on you, like water or ice cream. Someone will approach you and offer to help clean you up. Another person then picks your pocket while you are distracted.

ATMs are also popular targets for pickpockets. Most of the ATMs in Paris are safe. Just make sure you use one that is well lit, at a reputable bank and not down some dark, deserted alley. If the ATM does not give your card back, go into the bank immediately! This is not normal and most likely the ATM has been tampered with by thieves. Don’t talk to anyone while you are using the ATM. Walk up, get your money and then get on your way. Recent tactics include people walking up and asking for directions while someone is using the ATM. While they are distracted, the crooks get the pin and card numbers and can then come back and empty your account. Also, put your hand over the pin pad while you are entering your code. That way, no one can see the numbers you enter. If the ATM appears to have been tampered with, do not use it.

When All Else Fails

If you do have your pocket picked, start yelling for the police immediately. Don’t chase down whoever it is that you think stole your wallet. Remember, these people work in groups. Your wallet was most likely handed off before you realized it was gone. If you chase down and grab the person you think is the culprit and they don’t have your wallet, you could get into trouble. Your best option is to find a police officer and make an immediate report.

Pickpockets target many of us because we stand out and look like we have money. Just be aware of your surroundings and your belongings at all times. If you know you are going to a particularly touristy spot, leave as much at home as you can.

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