Pickpocketed in Paris! Tips To Avoid It Happening To You

mousetrap

It was only an hour and a half train ride from Brussels to Paris, but that small distance was enough to tear us forcibly from the imagined safety and naivety of travel we’d been experiencing so far. Ireland and Belgium had spoiled us. The people were friendly and we trusted they meant us no harm. It was the all-important traveler’s mistake of letting our guard down, even for a second.

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As we exited the RER B at the Denfert-Rochereau station, I struggled through the head-high, tight turnstile, with backpack on shoulders and daypack in tow. I was barely through, when I heard Cheryl shout, “Hey, stop it. Hey!” and then a second later she appeared through the turnstile beside me.

“He took my wallet!” She yelled and tried without success to get back through. In mere seconds, this man had come up behind her and shoved her tight against the gate. Her first thought was that he was trying to crowd in behind her to avoid paying, but she felt him reach into the Velcro pocket of her pants leg and pull out her wallet, then shove her forward. She was shouldering her own backpack, so the momentum carried her through the gates and when she turned around, he was running back and disappearing through the crowds coming down the stairs from the arriving trains.

Shouting after him in English did no good and neither did trying to call Metro security on the phones provided by the tracks. Our French wasn’t good enough to communicate the urgency and the deafening sound of rushing trains drowned out what little could be understood from the conversation. We had been pickpocketed in Paris!

Doing a quick, shaky assessment, we determined Cheryl’s wallet contained two credit cards, $25 in US bills, 40 Euro, her US drivers license, a phone card, and some e-mail addresses from folks we’d met in Ireland. Her passport was safe in another spot and I had other cash and credit cards we could use. “It could have been worse,” we both kept repeating, as if trying to convince ourselves it was really true, as well as to help ease the feeling of violation we had just encountered.

Cheryl blamed herself for letting her guard down, for putting the train ticket back into her wallet in plain view, for letting someone crowd her into the turnstile – all normal things that anyone would do. By the time we reached the hotel, we were both pretty shaken up. At the hotel, beginning the process to cancel the cards, another shock was waiting.

“No, the last charges I made on the card were in Brussels, not in Paris. I’ve only just arrived in Paris.” It seems our sticky-fingered friend was quite a pro. In the time it had taken us to get to our hotel (about thirty minutes), he had racked up over $3000 dollars worth of purchases. I had to laugh as I heard Cheryl say, “Clothes? He bought $3000 in clothes? I don’t spend that much on my wardrobe in a year!”

While sharing a (LARGE) carafe of wine that same afternoon, we came upon the perfect plan. A giant old-fashioned mousetrap (the kind that would break the neck of a good-sized woodchuck), set in the same pocket of Cheryl’s pack, half-zip it up, and wander through the station absentmindedly reading a map. It took a bit of the edge off our scare imagining a loud “SNAP” followed by an even louder yelp from our thief. Of course, we didn’t get a chance to put our brilliant plan in action as we’d had enough of public transportation for a while. It was time to rent a car!

Tips For Avoiding A Pickpocket –

  • Be alert at ALL times, but especially around ATMs and ticket machines
  • Pack light. If you only have one bag, it’s easier to keep track of everything
  • Keep your valuables close to your body
  • Keep backpack compartments zipped and locked. It’s incredibly easy for a pickpocket to be in and out before you ever even know he’s there

Have you ever been the victim of a pickpocket? Do have any tips to share for other travelers?

About the author

Lisa Chavis

Lisa is a traveler, photographer and pharmacist. She and her partner Cheryl MacDonald enjoy sharing inspiration and good health with fellow travelers!

18 Comments

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  • Oh, how awful!!! I hope it didn’t cloud your time in Paris too much. I saw two pickpocketings occur when I was in Paris years ago. One on a train as it was about to stop. Incredible.

    I actually had my credit cards stolen this summer for the first time in my life. I was in China and someone took them right out of the purse that was strapped across my chest! I didn’t realize it until later and then spent hours on the phone trying to get through to AMEX and Visa on the 4th of July. 🙁 The thief charged $5,000 worth of jewelry! Luckily, the fraud department took care of everything, but what a horribly upsetting experience. I feel for you both. Hope the wine helped.

    • Crazy how they manage to get into your bags, even when they are so close to you, and get exactly what they are looking for. Thank goodness for fraud departments! We recently watched an interview with a pick-pocket who called it a victimless crime because no one really got hurt. Not sure I believe that as we felt very much a victim..

  • That is just terrible to hear. These pick-pockets have really seemed to develop it into an art form. They are generally really good at what they do which makes it bad for everybody else. Hope you still had a great time though!

  • You mentioned putting your tickets into your wallet in pain view. That’s another tip right there. You gotta be as sneaky as the thieves. But what really disturbs me is that almost every story I hear about pickpockets happened in Paris. Coincidence?

    Looking forward to reading about the rest of your time in France! I’m sure it’ll be better than the start.

    • We were also surprised by the number of comments and incidents related to Paris! I did look up some statistics and it is one of the most problematic areas – specifically the RER B public transport. Many people do not even realize they were pick-pocketed and just think they lost their wallet somewhere or left it at the last tourist attraction. We will certainly take much better precautions next time, although these guys (and girls) are pretty talented criminals…

  • Most of the obvious things you’ve got covered.
    I’d add – only use internal cash machines which
    most French banks have. When in crowded areas
    try to move out of the crowd and keep a tight hold
    on pockets to prevent interference. Don’t get distracted
    it’s better to be rude than robbed if you don’t like the look
    of folk. Avoid looking at maps and dress like a local where
    possible and keep luggage to the minimum.

  • My husband keeps his wallet in his front pocket and has a velcro strip sewn in so pickpockets can’t get their hand in. I carry a super small purse with a long strap across my shoulder/chest that fits under my jacket, has several locks on it so it can’t be opened by prying hands.

    • More great ideas! I had my wallet in my front pocket with a velcro closure as well. I had assumed it would be close to impossible to get to, especially because I would hear the sound of velcro being yanked open.. I do now keep a lock on my backpack where I keep anything of even remote value!

  • How terrible! Such an awful thing to happen. I watched a doco a while ago on pick pocketers, they were giving away secrets on how they do it. Even though I was watching and KNEW what they were about to do, I struggled to see it actually happen. They are very skilled. Shame they can’t find something more positive to do with their skills. Ohhh and I love the trap idea!

    • They are quite talented huh? We recently watched a documentary as well and we were very surprised at how easily they can get into people’s stuff. Even when you think you would surely know if someone is putting their hand into your pocket to grab a wallet or phone, they still manage. I was glad to read recently that Paris has started to really look into this issue and try to put more control around it.

  • I had my Passport stolen in Gatwick airport’s security area!!!! And then the Customs said why would they want your Passport!!!??? Dooh!!! What a very stupid question! Not victimless, cost me my flight ticket, more accommodation costs, taxi, train and bus and a new Passport and the worst was to go through the travel insurance Cover-More which I will never use again. 10 days turn around they said nearly 1 month now and still waiting. cover-More no More!

  • Oh no! One of my Facebook friends was also recently punched in the face and robbed of his phone in Paris… and he’s French. 🙁 I hope they can get the situation a bit more under control in the next few years, it’s an easy way to ruin a gorgeous place for other people.

    • Wow, I guess we were lucky to just have the wallet stolen with no other incident. A wallet, cards, and money are replaceable, but when it gets violent you never know. Hope your friend is ok!

  • Cheryl, I am sorry to hear about your experience. Pickpocketing is a real art from in Europe – on our last trip our camera was stolen in Assisi, Italy – I had the strap over my shoulder and never even noticed it was missing until I went to take a photo… They are pretty good at their trade ;(

    We also watched with amazement the gypsy girls working the train in Rome, but that time we managed to avoid being targeted…

    • Too good at their trade unfortunately! I guess if nothing else positive happened, we are certainly more aware of what is going on around us now and always on the look out. Not such a great way to feel or be, but would prefer not to go through that again. Glad you avoided an issue in Rome – we also heard how good they are in Rome too.. Safe travels!

  • […] It was only an hour and a half train ride from Brussels to Paris, but that small distance was enough to tear us forcibly from the imagined safety and naivety of travel we’d been experiencing so far. Ireland and Belgium had spoiled us. The people were friendly and we trusted they meant us no harm. It was the all-important traveler’s mistake of letting our guard down, even for a second.  Read more… […]

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