You’ll find this scam is one of the top scams in Paris, France. It’s been around for many years, (because it works) and is known as the “Friendship Bracelet Scam” the “Paris String Scam” or by the name given to those who try to commit the scam on you, “Bracelet Pushers.” The scam is committed by who many describe as “string men” or as local Paris merchants call them “con-merchants.” Non-french speaking tourists are targeted the most. While the Paris Friendship Bracelet Scam is popular in Paris, it can also be found at many tourist locations outside of Paris in France too, and to a lesser extent in other countries such as Italy and Spain.
One of the most common Paris locations where you’ll find the Friendship Bracelet Scam practiced is throughout the Montmartre area. Specifically the scammers will target tourists and first time visitors as they approach and walk up the giant staircase that leads from the Metro to the Sacre Coeur area of the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur. This is a popular stomping ground for tourists and is Montmartre’s leading tourist attraction, and probably the most-visited church in Paris. Visitors to Paris should also be aware that this scam is also prevalent at many of the Metro lines and stations that you travel on to get to this location.
The “string men” seem to usually target female tourists (but not always) as they enter the small fenced square below Sacré-Coeur and proceed toward the stairs that run up the hillside. You can spot the “string men” as they are usually lined up on the sides of the stairs leading to the Sacre-Coeur. These innocent looking people are annoying “con-merchants” who have the “Paris String Scam” honed down to a science.
The scam begins like this. One of the “‘string men” walks up to you and engages you in innocent conversation and will usually say that they want to show you a magic trick. Before you know it, a “string man” has grabbed your wrist or one or two fingers and encircled it with a homemade bracelet of colored string.
Typically the string men will say something to you like “it’s for the church” or “a gift.” Sometimes the string men are more polite (they’ll ask the visitor to hold a string) and before you know it, the string men will somehow manage to grab your wrist or fingers and encircle it with a homemade bracelet of colored string, yarn, or other crafty-looking item.
Next, when the string men finish making your new “local Paris string bracelet souvenir,” they will demand payment of around €20 which is quite obviously not what the bracelet is worth. If you fail to pay them, they will doggedly follow you and be VERY insistent that you provide some amount of payment. These “con-merchants” are so demanding, they succeed in intimidating many tourists into paying them because it’s the only way to get rid of them.
Another variation of this scam occurs when the string men find a couple and offer the woman a friendship bracelet. When the woman kindly denies, the scammer tells her there is no charge. To get the scammer to leave them alone, the woman offers her wrist and the scammer ties the “Friendship Bracelet” on her wrist. A second scammer then appears and offers another “Friendship Bracelet” to the man. The man thinks to himself, “well if they are free why not?” and then he offers his wrist to the scammer. Once the Friendship Bracelets are tied onto the wrists of the couple, they walks off. That’s where the real scam (or harassment) and push for money comes into play. The “string men” follow, chase, and strongly demand money for the bracelets. The scam works because most tourists finally do give them money just to get the con-men to leave them alone.
Something else to be aware of is that once you are distracted by the string scam one of the string man’s accomplices may steal something from you while acting or looking like a fellow tourist. They help themselves to the contents of your pockets, or removed something of value from your purse or travel bag while standing close to you and pretending to watch the bracelet being put onto.
String men are not dangerous, just exceptionally annoying – they are con-artists who want you to give them money. Don’t let their presence spoil your day or discourage you from visiting the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur.
If someone approaches you with the words for the ‘church’ or ‘bracelet’ or ‘gift’ or ‘magic’ or ‘trick’ and they are carrying strings, just put your hands in your pockets and keep walking. For those string men who are more aggressive, politely say “Non, merci” but most importantly – keep on walking – do not stop. Be courteous but firm, and the string man who’s targeted you will usually then move on to his next victim. If you really want a string bracelet as a souvenir, you can easily get one free: Just pick up the strings that unhappy tourists have discarded on the steps leading up to the Basilica.
1. Use an underclothing money belt or wallet to keep valuables hidden from pickpockets who often work with the string men. They offer immeasurable peace of mind. and there are various comfortable and discreet styles for both men and women.
2. Keep larger valuables safe with an anti-pickpocket proof daypack or bag.
Here are a few videos that show how the scammers operate and take advantage of unknowing tourists. The first video was shot on the Spanish Steps in Italy, however it is the same scam that occurs in Paris.