France – How To Avoid Paris Metro Pickpockets

BY Beth Williams

Don’t Fall for Pickpocket Scams in Paris while using the Paris Metro or Trains

Paris is the city of light, fashion, artistic expression and love. Paris was also rated in a TripAdvisor.com survey as one of the top ten citites in the world for pickpockets. Tourists visiting Paris are targeted by a variety of thieves, which can be can be any gender, race, or age, however, you have the highest chance of being targeted by young teens (especially young girls) under the age of 16 because they are difficult to prosecute.  While several thousand tourists make police reports that they had fallen victim to Paris pickpockets, it is believed that nearly half of these thefts occur on Paris trains and the Metro.

Taking a little time to learn about how to avoid Paris pickpockets can potentially save you hours of travel disruption and hanging out at a Paris police station making a pickpocket report – not something most travelers want to do.

Paris Train and Metro Stations with High Pickpocket Activity

Just know that Paris pocket pickers love to target tourists while they are passing thru or riding the train or Metro, and it believed that nearly half of Paris’s pickpocket reports are reported occurring on these two systems. Know that all Metro lines present high levels of pickpocket activity, especially during summer months.  In regards to timing when pickpockets operate, keep in mind that it can happen at any time, however, many of the thefts occur on the Metro between 4 and 6 pm when it is rush hour.

Paris pickpockets can be any gender, race, or age but are commonly children under the age of 16 because they are difficult to prosecute. Keep out an extra eye for groups of young female teens, as they are probably one of the most prevalent groups that can be easily identified.

The following Metro and RER Lines are ones that travelers need to be very vigilant when riding on, or in the area of, as they have higher than average numbers of victims falling victim to pickpockets:

REF Rail Link – In Paris, two trains, in particular, are favorites with pickpockets because they’re both loaded with tourists: The RER train between Charles de Gaulle Airport and central Paris, and the RER train that goes between Paris and Versailles. For years, both the US State Department, as well as the Paris police have reported that the rail link RER B from Charles de Gaulle airport to the city center (downtown Paris), both east and west directions, are often prime hunting ground for pickpockets – as many of the stops are tourist favorites.

Metro Line 1 – especially between Charles de Gaulle-Etoile to Bastille (both directions).

Metro Line 2 – Barbes-rochechuart to Anvers

Metro Line 4 – Chatelet to Barbes-rochechuart, and especially the part that goes to Montmartre from Chatelet.

Metro Line 6- Charles de Gaulle-Etoile to La Motte Picquet Grenelle

Metro Line 9- Alma Marceau to Franklin D Roosevelt

Metro Line 13- Saint Lazare to Montparnasse bienvenue

The following train and metro stations are reported to be locations with considerable pickpocket activity:

  • Chatelet
  • Les Halles
  • Barbes Rochechouart
  • Gare du Nord
  • Auber-Opera-Harve Caumartin
  • Charles de Gaulle-Etoile
  • Concorde
  • Strasbourg-Saint Denis
  • Republique
  • Montparnasse
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Bastille
  • Care de l’Est
  • Nation
  • Gare de Lyon

Video of Paris Metro Pickpockets

The below video was shot by a rider of the Paris Metro.  The video shows child pickpockets roaming a Paris Metro subway platform.  The video shows how young pickpockets work and roam in groups.  Watch how they cover their heads when they realize they are being video taped.  Many times, child pickpockets operate in crowded trains and platforms.

Pickpocket Scams on Paris RER and Metro Lines

  • While waiting for the RER to depart, several young people enter the train carrying clipboards. One of the members approaches you and asks you to sign his petition. With the clip board in one hand a pen in the other, also covering your lap, the young man takes your bag from your lap and runs. He was able to take your belongings because your hands and eyes were distracted by the petition.
  • A small group of 2-4 well-trained pickpockets searches for tourists exiting a train. Once a tourist is spotted, the gang members scatter among the crowd of departing passengers and follow the target to an escalator that exits to the street. One or two thieves stand directly behind the target, and third a few steps further behind. Thief number 3 slowly walks up the escalator passing other passengers and his accomplices. Once he is standing directly in front of the target and is near the landing, he awkwardly drops coins from his pocket. As he collects his coins on the landing, the target and fellow passengers are unable to disembark because the thief is blocking the exit. Due to this, the passengers are thrown into each other. This commotion creates an opportunity for the two thieves that were positioned directly behind the target to remove wallets and other valuables from the target’s back pocket, without notice.
  • Metro and train riders need to pay attention when stopped at stations, as metro pickpockets and thieves often time their pickpocket attempts to coincide with the closing of the automatic doors on the Metro, leaving the victim on the departing train. This is especially important to tourists who are standing close to the doors of the metro. Pay attention to the sound of the metro’s bell or buzzer sounds, because that’s the thief’s cue, and it should be yours too. This noise indicates the doors are about to shut, and the train is moving on to the next station. The pickpocket needs just a couple of seconds to grab your phone or purse and dart out the door, knowing that before you even realize what’s happening, they’re on the platform waving goodbye as you speed off to the next stop without a chance of catching the culprit.
  • Another big Metro pickpocket scam occurs when you are riding the Metro and when you see a group of pre-teens or teens standing close to you and pick a fight with each other. They push each other around, bump into tourists and while you’re distracted, will try to grab your bag. Vigilance is key! If someone acts weird or suspicious, get off the car at the next stop and either move to another car or wait for the next train. Try to find a seat, or stand 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.
  • You are riding up or down a busy metro escalator when a thief behind you tries to get into your backpack, backpocket, or purse without your knowledge or sight since they are behind you. In another scam, the escalator suddenly jolts to a stop, most times because someone (usually a member of a group of thieves) pressed the emergency stop button at the bottom. As you begin to walk up or down the stopped escalator, other similar scams occur such as someone in front of you walking up or down the escalator stairs starts to walk very slow, causing you to slow my pace. While this occurs, the thief behind you has more time to steal your valuables from behind. In other escalator scams, a thief acts like they dropped something, causing you to have to “squeeze by” the person, again, a built-in distraction by thieves to get extra time to steal from you.

Solution: First be observant of the people who are near you at all times, especially in train stations. Second, there are clever travel products on the market that can help you keep items like your wallet or money safe. If you insist on carrying a wallet, use a security style travel that cannot leave your person.

Pocket expands to fit phone & passport. Hide under shirt.

Pocket expands to fit phone & passport. Hide under shirt.

  • A similar and equally popular pickpocket method is the swarm and snatch. While being swarmed by passengers on a full metro train as they enter and exit, a pickpocket skillfully places his hand in your pocket and removes your wallet. Due to the pressure of the passengers around you, you are not able to feel the intruder snatch your money.
  • Another trick is to snatch the purse, watch or bag from a passenger near the exit and quickly escape through the closing metro train doors.
  • A passenger enters the train and has a jacket draped over his arm. The passenger stands next to you and gently drops the jacket over the top of your bag or purse, without you noticing. While his hands are out of sight, he is able to reach into your bag and steal your valuables.

Solution: Always keep your belongings in eye’s sight and be wary of passengers carrying jackets or long scarves, especially in the warm summer months – it is unusual to wear heavy clothing in warm weather. Use a purse designed for travel with built-in anti-theft features. Most importantly look for locking zippers and slash resistant reinforced construction to foil thieves and keep valuables safe.

  • The metro train is full and there are no available seats, so you stand and hold the above handrail. A man next to you insists that he dropped his ticket and you are standing on it. The man bends down and begins to tug at the leg of your trousers. You focus your attention on the odd behavior of the man touching your leg, and his accomplice lifts your cell phone from your front pocket.
  • Gare du Nord is a bustling train station and connection for express trains from the airport. Opportunists eagerly await the arrival of disoriented tourists with luggage. A well-dressed, young man offers assistance with the foreign ticket machine. While you are consumed with learning how the automat works from the helpful man, his accomplice helps himself to your laptop bag.

    Leg Safe, won't fall off, fits most leg sizes.

    Leg Safe, won’t fall off, fits most leg sizes.

  • While traveling with a friend to the Louvre metro stop, a group of well-dressed, young women with beautiful, long dresses surround you and ask for the time. You check your watch and the women suddenly grab your wrist to admire your watch. Oddly enough, the women do not release your arm.They continue to talk to each other saying how beautiful the watch is.  While your friend and you frantically try to free your arm, one of the women has helped herself to the contents of your backpack.

Solution: If you find yourself in such a situation, try stepping on the foot of the woman or man who holds onto you. This reaction will catch them off guard and bring attention to the group.

  • You have just arrived on a train from Charles de Gaulle Airport to downtown Paris. You suffer from jetlag and are carrying two suitcases, a carry-on and a backpack. A stranger approaches you in the train station asking for directions. While you try to explain that you are not from Paris, an accomplice helps themselves to an unguarded bag. The U.S. State Department suggests taking a bus or taxi from the airport into the city.
  • You and your travel partner decide to play it safe and take the Air France bus from the airport to a downtown train station. You purchase two round-trip tickets totaling 44 Euros with three 20 Euro bills. Once your take a seat, you realize that the driver gave you 6 Euros in change. When you walk to the front of the bus to explain the situation, you overhear another passenger also explaining that they received incorrect change.

    Pacsafe Sling safe 300

    Anti-theft backpack keeps hands out and valuables in

Solution: Try to pay with exact change, but when not possible, do not walk away from the bus driver, ticket counter, restaurant, cashier, etc. before counting your change. Research initial costs such as airport transportation before arriving in France.

  • While going through a turnstile at the Notre Dame metro stop, a young man behind you pushes claiming that the turnstile is stuck. The man reaches across you with his left hand over your shoulder and releases the turnstile. You are now able to exit but without your wallet. While the man was pressing against you and distracting you with the tale of the jammed turnstile, he was picking your pocket with his free left hand.

Solution: It is impossible to always avoid these types of spontaneous events, but you can carry your valuables more safely in a money belt hidden under your trousers. With the short window of opportunity for this scam, a money belt will help to spoil the attempt because it is difficult to reach.

Coversafe X100 Anti-Theft RFID Blocking Waist Wallet

  • Never purchase metro tickets from people on the street claiming to sell them for a discounted rate. Always purchase tickets from either a ticket machine or counter.
  • Many men find it more comfortable to carry cameras, identification, and money in a small bag or waist pack. While traveling on the metro to Arc de la Triomphe two men who are speaking to each other in an unrecognizable, foreign language stand near you. One man was reading a newspaper and the other man seems frustrated with him while pointing at the metro map in the train. The man continues to read the newspaper as the train departs he begins to lean on you, pushed from the movement of the train. This makes you feel immediately uncomfortable and while you pay attention to the fact that a stranger is leaning on you, his friend cuts the straps of your waist pack and exits at the next stop. You did not notice the lightness of the missing pack because of the man who was leaning on you – you were focusing on where he was touching you and not the suddenly missing pack around your waist.

Solution: If someone touches you, or presses into you, immediately try to move. Additionally, you can purchase a small bag or waist pack with slash-proof straps or belt with a hidden closure.

Security Waist pack with locking zippers

Security Waistpack with locking zippers

  • Before a RER train departs from Paris, a young person asks you to sign a form while you are seated. An accomplice is behind the young person, and as you busy both of your hands to hold the clipboard and pen, the accomplice is able to steal your belongings, even those sitting in your lap.
  • Do not underestimate what a thief looks like. While on a packed train, you travel with a group of friends to the Eiffel Tower. Two young girls, younger than 10-years old ask your group if you have any candy. You politely tell the girls no and one of the girls looks at you sadly. While the disappointed little girl continues to stare at you, the second little girl robs you by unzipping your backpack and stealing the camera and wallet. At the next stop, the two girls quickly exit leaving you to notice nothing until they are gone.
  • During rush hour it can be difficult to enter a packed train. You are able to push your way onto a train with a group of young girls. You are not concerned with pickpockets because you cleverly carry your valuables under your clothes and you hold your handbag closely to your body. Although you packed smartly, the little hands of the young girls are still able to unzip your bag before you sense anything.
  • Using payphones in a foreign country can be like learning a foreign language. Once you arrive at the La Chapelle station, you attempt to telephone your friend who you are visiting. A friendly man notices you struggling with the pay phone and offers to help. The man overhears where you plan to meet your friend and offers to accompany you. The man is genuinely friendly, so you accept the offer. Later that night when you arrive at your friend’s flat, you realize that you are missing 500 Euros.

Solution: If you need help with pay phones, ask a staff member of the train station or a storekeeper. If a friendly stranger offers to help you, decline.

  • While traveling on the RER, an older woman walks up to you with a long scarf or tablecloth draped over her arm. She holds out the cloth, but with one real arm and one fake arm. This allows her other real arm to snatch one of your bags lying by your feet.
  • Be aware in colder months of large winter coats and accessories. The added bulk makes the job of a pickpocket easier as they slip their hand in and out of the coat to grab the goods. Do not carry wallets, money or valuables in the exterior pockets of heavy coats.

Taxis and Driving

The biggest scam with taxis in Paris may be how difficult it is to catch a cab. While there are not as many reports of overcharging or scams on Parisian taxis, compared to Rome for example, it is still to be a vigilant passenger.

  • You enter a taxi and tell the driver where you would like to go. The driver seems to not understand even though you said quite clearly, “La Louvre”. You pull out a map and even show the driver where you want to go. Finally, after a few minutes, you realize that the taxi meter has been running the entire time. Beware of the “confused” taxi driver.
  • Be suspicious of unlicensed taxi drivers who approach tourists at the airport offering a cheaper fare. Because the driver is unlicensed, there is not a way for the passenger to know in advance what the fare might be. It is best to wait in line at the taxi stand.
  • You decide to take a taxi after dinner and what is normally a five-minute trip, takes 15 minutes. You don’t notice the time go by because you are too busy enjoying the site-seeing tour that the driver has taken you on. Or maybe you see the Eiffel Tower two times because the driver is going in circles. Sometimes when in the city, it is best to use buses or the metro trains.

Ride the Paris Metro like a Local and reduce your chances of being targeted by a pickpocket

  1. Plan your route before leaving the hotel, selecting the most direct route in order to limit the amount of travel/train time.
  2. Try to avoid changing trains in larger touristy metro stations such as Gare du Nord, Gare Montparnasse or Chatelet Les Halles. One can easily get lost in these large stations and that makes travelers vulnerable to potential theft.
  3. During busy travel times, stand on the far end of the platform, away from the entrance stairwell.
  4. Stand further back on the train platforms to scout out a suitable, or empty train car to enter. This keeps you out of a crowd and allows you to be flexible to enter a different car at the last moment if necessary.
  5. If someone comes up to you and try to sell you something or ask you to sign any form of a petition, decline politely and walk away in the opposite direction.
  6. If the metro escalator stops and someone asks to help you with your suitcase decline or watch to make sure someone else isn’t going in your handbag on the other side.
  7. Carry backpacks or large bags in front of you, especially when the train is full. Carrying your pack on your back signals to other passengers that you are a tourist.
  8. Wrap straps of handbags or purses securely around your wrist, especially when sitting or standing near an exit door.

Additional Paris Metro and Train Pickpocket Information

Know that Paris Metro and Train pickpockets use simple, t effective strategies that steal items from tourists.  Many times pickpockets will have a light jacket or sweater draped over a forearm – which is used to hide the fact that they are reaching under the jacket with the other arm for a victim’s wallet.  Paris Metro pickpockets will use this type of technique on a crowded metro or train car, but their favorite opportunity seems to be during the bustle and bumping that occur as a car empties and refills. The idea is to grab a wallet from someone on or boarding the train just before the doors close and then get off while the victim rides away.