France – Pickpockets in Marseille, Provence

BY Beth Williams

The different regions of France may be small, but each corner of the country is extremely varied and each region has its own personality. If you venture outside of the capital city to the colorful markets of Provence, the Hansel and Gretel houses in the Alsace, or even the posh French Riviera, remember to be a vigilant, savvy traveler. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reports that outside of Paris, vehicles are frequently the target of crime, particularly in southern cities.

Marseille is France’s second largest city and is home to the largest commercial port on the Mediterranean. The heart of the city is Vieux Port, where visitors can stroll the lively streets such as La Canebière. Popular tourist sites include the ancient district of Le Panier, Palais de Longchamp, Cathédrale de la Major, Jardin des Vestiges, and the Notre Dame de la Garde. Although the Marseille has a rich and long history to tell, the reputation of the city is somewhat plagued by its rather high crime rates.


Public Transportation


The tram and bus network is Marseille is very convenient for travelers visiting the center city.

  • You arrive at the Gare Saint-Charles, main train station, and as you make your way to the stairs, a young man passes next to you and snatches your bag and races up the stairwell and disappears through the exit.


Solution: If you choose to carry a purse, carry it lengthwise across your body, rather than hanging on your shoulder or arm.


  • You enter an unusually full train and you stand squeezed between other passengers. Just as the doors start to close, a young boy glides his hand into your blazer pocket, retrieves your MP3 player and disappears through the almost closed doors.


  • You and your girlfriend pass two young men waiting in the metro station. One of the men seemed to say something to the two of you in French, but you ignore them and keep walking. Suddenly you are knocked over by the two young men and they are yelling at you in French. As your girlfriend tries to help you up, one of the men grabs her purse and runs.


Solution: While it is impossible to avoid all negative situations, try to make yourself less noticeable by speaking English quietly and keep valuables hidden.


Within the City


The Overseas Security Advisory Council reports that the most common problems in Marseille include pickpockets in the Old Port area, occasional thefts from cars stopped at red lights, and thefts from hotel rooms. Break-ins of parked cars to steal stereos, cell phones, or other unsecured valuables are also common. Belsunce, Vieux Port, city markets and the beach are areas with high pickpocket activity.



  • You are walking down the Boulevard National during mid-day. You are carrying a few bags and because you don’t want to keep anything of value in your pockets, you place your cell phone in a pouch hanging from your wrist. Suddenly you feel a jerk on your wrist and you see a man run quickly away from you. You look at your wrist and your cell phone was just stolen.


Solution: Never carry items of value in plain view.


  • You decide to grab a quick bite at a local fast food restaurant. The restaurant is full, so you hold a table outside, while your daughter and wife order inside. They return to the table and you go to order, but reach for your wallet in your waist pack, you notice your zipper is open. Confused, you pay and zip the pack shut and take your food out to your table. Because your hands are full, two men already at the door, hold it for you. You arrive at your table and notice your waist pack once again unzipped and this time your credit cards and cash are missing.


  • You run out of cash and decide to use an ATM at a bank on the Vieux Port, however, the machine did not give you your cash or your debit card. You call the phone number on the ATM immediately to report that the machine kept your card and you are told you can retrieve it the next morning. You go to retrieve your card and you learn that the bank does not have the card. You go to an internet café to check your statement, and hundreds of dollars have been withdrawn.


Solution: Always check ATMs for unusual-looking devices that may record PIN numbers and keep debit cards. These devices are usually an add-on to the card slot and stick out.


  • When sunbathing on the beach, take only necessary items and keep a close eye on your valuables. If it is necessary to take money, cameras or other items of value, travel with a portable travel safe.


  • You walk home with two of your girlfriends after a night out and notice that a small group of young teenage boys has been following you for a few blocks. One of the boys unexpectedly runs into you and with full force rips your bag from your hands and runs off with the other boys.


  • A person dressed in normal clothes states that he is a police officer and asks to see your documents (i.e. passport) and Euro notes. The man swears that he is checking for counterfeit bills. You question that the man is really a police officer and he becomes aggressive and says that he will need to drive you to the police station.


Solution: Never hand over important documents such as a passport to anyone. If you question a person’s story, trust your instincts and arrange to meet them at a police station.


  • It is the dilemma of traveling in twos – having a photo taken with the two of you. A kind passerby offers to snap a shot of you and your friend and you graciously accept the offer. Oddly, the friendly stranger takes about 10 photos and before they return the camera, they demand a fee for their service.


Taxis and Driving


  • Taxi drivers from the train station or ferry terminal are known for being dishonest. It is best to pre-order a taxi and arrange a pick-up point.
  • You return to your car and open the door to enter. As you bend forward to sit down, a passerby on the sidewalk runs up to you and grabs your purse.

Solution: When enter a car, place personal belongings in the car and then lock those car doors before entering the car yourself.


  • You are driving on the highway and you slow to enter an on-ramp. Just as your car starts to slow, a young man walks in front of the car and motions for you to stop. As you slow further to avoid hitting the man, another man appears from bushes on the side of the road and runs straight for the front, passenger door. Luckily you are able to speed away before the man reaches the car and without injuring anyone.
  • You are traveling from city to city in southern France and you keep your luggage in the trunk between hotels. You park the car for the day, so you can visit the sites of Marseille and when you return, you find the back window smashed in and the bags stolen from the trunk.

Tips to Avoid Becoming a Victim


A visit to France can be one of the best experiences of your life. Be conscious of your environment and the people you encounter. Be defensive. Store your wallet, credit cards and money in a safe place that is only accusable to you. Do not dress like a pickpocket target. Call for help if someone is touching or harassing you. But in the end, if you do become a victim, take it in stride and don’t let it ruin your trip.

  • Always be alert when in crowded areas.
  • Do not keep wallets or valuables in a back pocket. It is always safer to carry a wallet that is concealed under clothing such as a leg, arm, and wrist wallet or money belt.
  • If you are a woman traveling alone, be careful with friendly smiles to men, it may be perceived as a come-on.
  • When in doubt about safety, step into a bar, restaurant or store.
  • When visiting banks, currency exchange bureaus or ATMs, place money in an envelope or securely in your wallet before leaving the counter/machine. Do not display the amount of money received in public.
  • If traveling with a partner, distribute cash and cards between the two of you to limit the maximum that could be stolen at once.
  • Take a taxi if you’ve been shopping all day in department stores and have lots of bags.
  • Keep valuables locked in hotel safes. Carry a photocopy of your passport, rather than the real thing in the case that it is stolen. If an official asks to see your passport, meet them in your hotel lobby, or offer to meet them at the police station.