France – Pickpockets at the Eiffel Tower

BY Beth Williams

If you have done any research about the visiting the Eiffel Tower, you will have no doubtfully read several comments about that tell you “watch out for pickpockets when visiting the Eiffel tower.”

Take these comments seriously unless you want to end up spending the rest of the day at a Paris police stations filling out reports and calling your credit card companies.  To be fair, you should also treat the subject of Eiffel Tower pickpockets with the same amount of concern when visiting the Statue of Liberty in New York City, or any other heavy tourist location in the world for that matter.  Pickpockets can be found in every tourist destination in the world.

Eiffel Tower pickpockets are a reality that visitors need to deal, especially before you visit the tower.  This information will provide you will several ideas to help you make sure your visit to tower is one filled with lifetime memories.

Before you Get to the Eiffel Tower

Many tourists who visit the Eiffel Tower do so by using the Paris Metro and exiting the Champ Du Mars Metro stop.  This is one of the first locations you need to be aware of.  If you keep you eyes peeled, you may be shocked to see how openly the pickpockets work in and around the station.  At the street crossing just outside the metro stop, teams of young boys or girls (8-15 yrs old) would wait for the light to change and then cross the street with the usual crowds of people going both ways. The boys or girls would pass a women tourist going the opposite way with an open handbag over her shoulder; the pickpocket would then turn around in the middle of the street and immediately follow her and stick his hands into the back of her open bag. She couldn’t see because the back end of her bag was under and behind her arm.  This type of operation is neither stealthy nor skillful due to the thieves being sheer opportunists.

Many Eiffel Tower pickpockets are a whole different breed.  You will find first time run of the mill opportunist pickpockets that may be easy for you to identify and pick out in the crowd, to the more experienced “professional pickpocket” that has honed his/her craft for years on the tower’s countless international visitors.

Thieves, Pickpockets, and Other Scams at the Base of the Eiffel Tower

You will find many of the opportunist pickpockets that work around the souvenir tables in the front of the Eiffel Tower.  They tend to work in groups so that one can distract you while the others surround you. The one nearest the pocket will strike so quickly you will never know what hit you.  The thing to do is stay with your own group if you are a tourist.

The following are other scams reported by tourists and local Paris law enforcement which tourists may come up against at the Eiffel Tower base:

“Wedding-Ring Scam”
You will be walking along admiring the tower, when a man coming towards you will suddenly stoop down near you and pick up what looks to be a gent’s wedding ring. He will then see if you can help him verify that it is a genuine gold ring which it seems to be. What a lucky find for him! And how happy he is! On a whim, he will suddenly give you the ring, or give it to your wife, perhaps even grabbing your hand before you know what is happening and putting it on your finger. Then he will suddenly ask you for money towards a sandwich, or a coffee etc. After all, he just gave you away the gold ring he just found. Of course, the ring is not even gold, and when you see the scam often enough, you can see the ring fall out of their hand just before they “pick” it up off the floor. Best to simply ignore that you have seen anything and keep walking.

“I am from Bosnia – Do you speak English scam”
This is a classic set up scam used around the world.  Gangs of women roam around beneath the tower. They usually wear bright clothing, long skirts, maybe even a flower in the hair. Their approach is usually to ask if you speak English. If you acknowledge them, they hand you a white card. On it is written how they have escaped from Bosnia (or other country) with their brother, they are homeless and need help, and can you spare any change? So what do you do? Appear hard hearted and tell them you don’t have anything? Or give them something? Meanwhile while you are distracted by reading their card, any unprotected belongings are rifled by an accomplice. Given there are large numbers of these women, all carrying white cards, there must be a lot of homeless Bosnian siblings in Paris. Best to wave them away as soon as they approach you and they quickly go off seeking another victim. We were approached at least twice on each visit to the tower.

“Crippled old lady scam”

You may come across an old woman, painfully bent over using a child’s crutch with a begging bowl out. Watch for long enough, and you will see her make a miraculous recovery, put the crutch under her arm and stroll casually away with her “earnings”. Best to ignore her and keep walking.

“Praying to my cup” scam
This one was actually more common on the Champs Elysee but if frequently found at the tower base. A woman with a head scarf will be kneeling in silent prayer before a cup on the ground. Watch long enough, and you will see her get up, walk with her cup to a nearby accomplice, casually tip her “earnings” into his bag, then go to another spot to take up her position of prayer once again. Best to ignore her and keep walking.

Eiffel Tower Elevator and Platform Thieves

Many of the more professional pickpockets and other related thieves will mingle their way with the crowd on the Eiffel Tower itself.  Many tourists report that they fell victim to Eiffel Tower pickpockets when going up in the tower elevator, or while walking around the top looking out at Paris or looking for something to eat in the food areas.  Obviously the entire tower is very crowded, thus making it ideal for the Eiffel Tower pickpocket to operate without bringing attention to him/herself.

Other tourists have reported that they fell victim to Eiffel Tower pickpockets while waiting for the bathroom on the tower.  During peak times, tourists can wait up to 20 minutes to get in the bathroom which will also have its own traffic director letting you in 3 at a time.  You can see how easy it is to be “bumped” into “by accident” while waiting in this line.

If you elect not to wait for the Eiffel Tower elevator to take you back down due to the long, crowded lines, many tourists elect to walk down the the stairs.  Generally, walking down the Eiffel Tower’s stairs  is not a great idea.  While it may seem like a good idea initially, many pickpockets like to work the stairwell knowing that it is an easy location to target unsuspecting tourists.  The stairwell is packed with tourists, going both ways.  It is not very wide, so you are forced to bump into people during your journey.  Many tourists have reported that they fell victim to pickpockets walking down the Eiffel Tower when they were targeted by pickpockets using the following pickpocket scam.

As you make your descent down the Eiffel Tower stairwell, about a 1/4 of the way down, the pedestrian crowd starts to back-up.  You are forced to walk slower and begin to enter a packed crowd walking close together.  A small group of people in front of you begin to walk very slow.  It can be men or women, but many times it seems that the group is young women.  The women stop short, causing you to bump into them.  One of the girls begins to yell at you, while other women pickpockets are behind you and naturally bump into you.  Everyone is trying to pass you, but you are held up by this unruly group of girls.

As many people try to pass you, items are removed from your pockets, purse of daypack.  The same type of thieves do the same going up the Eiffel Tower.  Think about this for a second, other than someone who wants one heck of a good workout, who walks up the Eiffel Tower, except someone up to no good.