The Paris String Scam, which is committed by who many describe as "string men" or as many locals call them "con-merchants" has been around for many years, and is one that has surly cost new travelers to Paris many of their travel dollars over the years. While this scam is committed at many tourist locations around Europe, France and Italy are countries where it is seen the most.
How the Paris String Scam Occurs
The Paris String Scam is committed by "string men" who find the scam easy to commit on naïve tourists, as well as those with slow reflexes. The scam begins like this. You are walking along a Paris street or in the area of a location frequented by tourists when either one of 'string men" who walk up to you. While it is true that the majority of time this scam is committed by men - both young or the innocent looking old, but is is also been known to be committed by women and young girls too. They begin the Paris String Scam by engaging 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. You think the conversation or interaction is an interesting way to meet the "local flavor" of Paris and you allow them to engage you in what seems like an innocent act of being charmed by the "locals."
Where the Paris String Scam Occurs:
One of the most common Paris locations where this particular scam is most commonly practiced is throughout the Montmartre area, and more specifically, the scammers that make a living targeting tourists with this scam will be found on the giant staircase that leads from the Metro to the Sacre Coeuarea of the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur - a popular stomping ground for tourists, Montmartre's leading tourist attraction, and probably the most-visited church in Paris for that matter. You should also be aware that this scam is also known to occur at any of the Metro lines and stations that are used to get to this locations.
The "string men" seem to usually target female tourists (but not always) as they enter the small fenced square below Sacré-Coeur and proceeds 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 as you walk up or down - most of the time the scam is done on those walking up the stairs of both the Sacre-Coeur, as well as the Trocadero. As you climb the steep steps, you may see several young or old people lined along the steps - many look very innocent. These are the annoying "con-merchants" who have the "Paris String Scam" honed down to a science.
The first contact you will have with these string men will be that they will seemingly appear out of no where and begin to engage you in a conversation. 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. Many times these "string men" manage to tie the string or bracelet very tight - so tight you can't get it off with one hand. The whole idea is to get you to stop so they can be engaged you for a longer period of time.
While the Paris String Scam may be fun to watch, when the string men finish making your new "local Paris string bracelet souvenir," the string men will demand payment of around €20 Euros when they are finished, 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. If you are lucky to see this scam in action, you will see that because these "con-merchants" are so demanding, they succeed in intimidating many tourist who end up paying because it's the only way to get rid of them.
Another issue that is sometimes reported to occur when you are distracted by the string scam is that when one of the string man's accomplices steal something from you when you are distracted. This occurs when one of the accomplices was standing behind next to you or behind you - looking like they are just another tourist watching the tying of the string around your finger While looking like a fellow tourist, they help themselves to the contents of your pockets, your wallet, or removed something of value from your purse or travel bag.
Video of Paris String Scam
The following video was shot on the Spanish Steps in Italy, however you will see that it is the same scam that occurs in Paris. Here are a few videos to watch that show how these scammers operate and take advantage of unknowing tourists.
How to Prevent the Paris String Scam
String men are not dangerous, just exceptionally annoying - but always remember -they are con artists. 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 the next victim. If you really want a string bracelet as a souvenir, you can easily get one free: Just pick up strings that unhappy tourists have discarded on the steps leading up to the Basilica.
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