If you have ever visited Paris and been to the Louvre, Pont Alexandre III, or Jardin des Tuileries, there is a good chance that someone has attempted to scam you. You may or may not of known it. Some of these are very clever, some of these are stupid, but all of them can be entertaining from time to time. Here are the most common ones that I know of:
1. The Ring Trick
This is the one that I see the most and probably spend the most time discussing with my groups on tour. What happens is a Romani (Gypsy) will walk past and suddenly stoop down to the ground, pretending to drop a ring on the ground. Somehow, they will articulate that they found the ring on the ground, and then ask if the person next to them dropped it. The people will say no and walk on. Then, the ring bearer will return, saying that it doesn't fit their finger, and as they cannot wear it, try and give it to the victim. They also might point out that it is real gold (which is not even close to true). A lot of times, the people don't know what to say and so they just take it. The Gypsy will then shake the person's hand (though I have seen them kiss people too) and then walk away. The people will stand dumbfounded, or keep walking. Meanwhile, the Romani will walk four or five steps away, turn around, and then come back and ask their victims for money for food. They usually show this by putting their hands to their mouths in the motion of shoving food into them. Sometimes people will give them money, sometimes the people will realize it is a scam and give the money back.
If this happens to you at some point, just keep walking. If you want to go through the experience just for the fun of it, then I guess that could be fun, too. This scam can be found in the Champ de Mars, the Jardin des Tuileries, the Louvre, and on a handful of bridges in the city such as the Pont Alexandre III, Pont Neuf, and a few others as well.
Occasionally, one might find some people with sheets, usually near Pont Neuf, asking for people to sign something for the deaf and the mute. And when I say ask, I mean point at their sheet with their pen. Some people sign it, and then they will make some gesture to give them money. Do not bother with these guys, as I've seen them talk to each other, which pretty much ruins their credibility as mute people begging for money.
In front of the Louvre, and especially at the bottom of the steps of Sacré Coeur, you will probably find some West African guys who will ask you to stop and ask you to put out your finger. Unless you want to pay for a bracelet, don't do it. What they will do, if you so happen to extend your finger in their presence, is throw a loop around your finger, and start tying the bracelet together. If you try to move your finger out of it, it tightens up like a Chinese finger trap, leaving you trapped until they are finished. They might even tell you that it is made from rare African thread, even though it comes from a shop just down the street from Sacré Coeur. Furthermore, if it was so rare and expensive, you wouldn't find pieces of it strewn all over the ground where they work.
Once finished, they'll come up with some ridiculous price for the bracelet, and you'll either pay what they tell you, or try and talk it down to something reasonable. I have a little more respect for these guys as the bracelets actually look pretty cool, and you might get away with paying five euros or less for it, which if you wanted a bracelet, is actually a pretty good deal.
4. Sign For Peace in Africa
This scam is by far the most successful of any of the scams in the city of Paris. These guys are also West African in origin, and hang out near one of the back entrances to the Louvre. They are usually only there in the morning, but honestly, with as much money as they probably make, they really don't have to work more than a couple of hours a day.
What these guys will do, when they see someone pass, they might come up and say "Ah good morning big family! Welcome to Paris! Sign for peace in Africa!" The location in Africa tends to change based on which country is in the news at the moment. The first year and a half I was here, they usually said sign for peace in Darfur, but as Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe has been getting a lot of press around the world for his total disregard for democracy, Zimbabwe has been name-dropped frequently in recent months.
These guys will then throw a pen and paper in front of the victim, who will then start to sign. The scammer will probably grab the person's arm, shake their hand, even hug them to show their gratitude for the money they are about to give them. Then, the victim will be asked for donations for food, water, political assistance, or whatever causes a person to give their money over to Africa. The scammers also mention that the average donation is about 20 euros. Amazingly, people give over 20 euros all of the time. I've seen people give 50 euros without even flinching.
I made a rough estimate that if every few people happen to give five euros to the cause, then in a morning's work, these guys should easily make 100 euros a morning, if not more. If that is the case, and these work maybe 6 days a week (though I see the same ones daily), that would allow them to make close to 32,000 euros a year, untaxed. 36,000 is considered an excellent salary in France, and that includes the high taxes. These guys are doing well.
So why don't the police stop this? They do try from time to time. Let's say the police start to walk by- all these guys have to do is to close their binders and walk away. If the cops do not see them soliciting people, they will leave them alone, even though they know what the scammers are doing. Security at the Louvre is maybe worse, as I see them come and high five or handshake these guys when they happen to pass by. They might tell them to cross the street and stand in front of the Pont des Arts, but they are always pretty nice about it.
5. Do You Speak English?
This one is also very common and is probably the most widespread around Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre. Scores of Gypsy girls will come by, one at a time, and ask you if you speak English. If you actually say yes, they will show you a piece of paper that usually says something like this:
I have to say I somewhat doubt that everyone of these girls has a dead mother and father with cancer. Everyone of these girls has a sheet of paper that says the exact same thing; they seem to be working with a template. If you want to give them money, go for it, but don't feel obliged to do it as someone else will probably do it.
These are just the most common that I have seen here. If you can think of any other scams in Paris, let me know.
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