My idea of pickpockets in Paris were shady looking guys sneaking around through crowds. Sort of like this guy:
This image was shattered after a trip to Notre Dame. I was on a tour of the cathedral in an English language group. As the guide pointed something out behind me, I turned around quickly–accidentally throwing an elbow into a young girl behind me.
I started apologizing profusely, but she panicked and ran away.
The tour guide quickly gave us this little primer on pickpockets in Paris:
1. Pickpockets in Paris Tend to Be Young Women
The guide said most of the pick pockets in Paris are young women, which if you google–there’s a lot of corroboration. His reasoning for this was that young women don’t really get sent to jail in Paris. I couldn’t find as much corroboration on this part, so take it as you will. But the sweet, young girl next to you may pickpocket you.
2. Your PickPocket-er May Be on Your Tour
Pickpockets in Paris tend to join tours in Paris. Usually, they sneak in behind a group in progress and continue walking with the group. But some of them will even take the tour from the beginning. Once someone is on a tour with you, they start to become a familiar face. You may not feel alarmed at how close they are to you–because they are on your tour and in your group. But trust no one (though don’t walk around suspicious of everyone you meet; just don’t give them direct access to your wallet.)
3. They Know Americans Love Signing Petitions
Save the whales? Provide clean water? Shelter the homeless? Pickpockets in Paris know Americans are suckers for a good petition and will tell you about a cause that’s fantastic. Save the Narwhals. Protect the Polar Bears.
Either way, there will be three girls excited about this petition. One will have you sign, and two will surround you while being extremely excited you joined their cause. But while they are telling you what a great person you are, they’ll be lifting your wallet.
I saw a group of three girls walking around with a petition outside of Notre Dame, and felt nervous about the fact that they had about fifteen signatures.
4. You Can Spot Them if You Assume They’re There
After that was announced, a woman pointed at me to her husband and said, I think that girl is a pickpocket. I heard they are young girls. She was walking near you before. Make sure you have you hand on your wallet.
I walked closer to them, and I heard the man say to his wife. “Don’t worry, my hand is currently on my wallet. She’s near.”
So I said, “OH! You are from America too. I’m from New York, where are you from? I’m taking my mom to dinner here.” and my mother started talking to me, as if on cue (though she had no idea what was going on). They seemed pretty embarrassed to learn I knew English.
So don’t do that.
But knowing these things, keep your eyes open. I spotted those girls with the petitions and knew not to go near them.
And I found the real thieves in the Eiffel Tower.
Two girls kept walking back and forth between the same two spots, and excitedly pointed out the same landmarks to each other.
I noticed this and watched as one started following my mom. I called my mom towards me to “look at something” (she didn’t know why), and she came with the girl following her. I started walking with my mom again, and the girl followed.
We were obviously tourists, but we are both seasoned city dwellers and left nothing to chance. There was no easy way to grab any of our possessions and we were safe. But I don’t think the pickpocket knew that yet.
I stopped my mom abruptly and suddenly the girl stopped to see something. We crossed over–she made it after too. Soon I was staring at her like a hawk until she wandered away.
The Bottom Line
All in all, use common sense. I read up on different personal stories about being pickpocketed in Paris and they all have the same theme. “I only put my iPhone in my coat pocket for a moment and it was gone!”
There should be no moment. One person wrote about being pickpocketed twice, and both of them involved “just for a second!”
I use a zippered purse. I don’t have anything that hangs off of me low. I store my purse under my armpit. If I need something from it, I move the purse in front of me, use both hands, and keep it secured through the strap.
I never have two things in my hand. If I need my wallet, my cell phone is never out. If I need to grab my cell phone, my camera is in. I am only juggling one item at a time and I always have two hands on it.
And I have done very well for myself. I’ve only been pickpocketed once. And I was nineteen and it was very orchestrated. I didn’t wait to put my change in my purse at a coffee shop. I shoved them in my pants pocket for “just one second” and someone “accidentally” walked into me and spilled my hot coffee all over me. A commotion later and my money was gone.
To be honest, I wish they just told me “we’ll spill hot coffee on you to get $16” because I would have just given them the $16 to not have those burns.
Have you ever been pickpocketed or seen someone you suspected of being a pickpocket?