Don’t Get Scammed: Tips for Protecting Yourself and Your Home

In an earlier article, we discussed how to protect yourself from pickpockets.  Today, guest author Sherry Steiner offers tips on how to avoid being a victim of scams, whether at major tourist attractions or in your home.

Tourist Trap Scams

When you’re a tourist or look like one, you’re likely to be a target for scammers.  You can avoid getting scammed if you are alert and are willing to “just say no.”

The ring scam.  Someone will pick up a gold-colored ring that seemingly fell near you and ask if it is yours.  They look inside the ring and declare that it is 24 carat gold (or something similar).   When you answer that it is not your ring, they will either offer to sell it to you “at a good price,” or begin telling you how poor they are and ask for money.  Just say no.  The ring is not real gold.  You don’t have to feel obligated to pay anything for it.

The English trap.  Another very common scam you will hear in tourist attractions is, “Do you speak English?”   When you answer “yes,” they will then tell you how many children they have and that they have no money to feed them.  Once they have your attention, they are pretty tenacious.  Be forewarned, shake your head “no” and keep moving.

The bracelet.  The “demonstration bracelet” is hard to miss at Sacre Coeur.  Young men will accost you and ask if they can weave a bracelet made of yarn on your wrist.  If you answer no, they will sometimes relentlessly pursue you until they receive a yes.  If you agree to the bracelet, they will begin weaving it on you and then when they are finished, they will ask for a sum of money for it.  When you try to take it off, if you choose not to keep it, it is impossible to do so without scissors.  So, either they will agree to cut it off, or demand payment for it.  They are very bold, so beware.

On the metro, women frequently walk around holding babies and asking for money as well.  They are harmless and do not pursue you very intently.

Residential Scams

Paris is home to many savvy cat burglars, groups of thieves who are on the lookout for apartments they can access easily and clean out within a matter of minutes.    Burglars on the prowl may pose as chimney sweepers or other types of workmen to gain access to your apartment and case its contents.   You can protect yourself by:

  • Never buzzing in or holding open the building door to a person you do not know.
  • Never answering the door to someone you do not know or did not expect.
  • Never giving your building door codes to someone you do not know or trust.
  • Never leaving your key under the mat or in a mailbox.
  •  Setting timers on your lights and radios, and drawing your drapes or shutters, when you depart for vacation.

When leaving your apartment, lock your door from the outside, by turning the key until it stops, usually two times, which will lock the bolts at the top and bottom of the door.  It is very difficult for your lock to be picked like this.    Simply shutting the door will not deter an experienced burglar.   It may take as little as 10 seconds to pick a lock that is not double bolted.

That being said, it is very easy to lock yourself out of your apartment by simply shutting the door, so someone else should have a copy of your key.   (Calling a locksmith can run into the thousands of euros.) If you are friendly with your neighbors and find them trustworthy, you can leave  them with an extra key.  Or, give one to your gardienne.  

Many apartment buildings in Paris undergo renovation and cleaning.  If you are in one, particularly with workers on scaffolding right outside your window, keep your shutters closed as often as possible.  It is very easy for them to peek into your windows and see what goodies you have.

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