Monday, September 24, 2007

Paris Living: Safety

Both France and Monaco have relatively low rates of violent crime. Nevertheless, while the overall crime rate has fallen slightly in recent years, the volume of crimes involving violence has increased in France. Thieves commonly target vehicles with non-local license plates and work in or near tourist attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, hotels, beaches, trains, train stations, airports, and subways. Americans in France and Monaco should be particularly alert to pickpockets in train stations and subways. Photocopies of travel documents and credit cards should be kept separate from the originals.

Although thieves may operate anywhere, the U.S. Embassy in Paris receives frequent reports of theft from several areas in particular:

Paris: Gangs of thieves operate on the rail link (RER) from Charles de Gaulle Airport to downtown Paris, where they prey on jet-lagged, luggage-burdened tourists. In one common ruse, a thief distracts a tourist with a question about directions, while an accomplice steals a momentarily unguarded backpack, briefcase, or purse. Thieves also time their thefts to coincide with train stops so they may quickly exit the car. Travelers may wish to consider taking a bus or taxi from the airport into the city.

Reports of stolen purses, briefcases and carry-on bags at Charles de Gaulle Airport have been on the rise. Travelers should monitor their bags at all times and never leave them unattended. As thieves commonly target laptop bags, travelers should avoid carrying passports and other valuables in computer bags.

There have been reports of robberies in which thieves on motorcycles reach into a moving car by opening the car door or reaching through an open window to steal purses and other bags visible inside. The same technique is used against pedestrians walking with purses/bags/cameras slung over their street-side shoulder. Those traveling by car should remember to keep the windows up and the doors locked.

Many thefts occur on the Number One Subway Line, which runs through the center of Paris by many major tourist attractions (including the Grand Arch at La Defense, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, and the Bastille). Pickpockets are especially active on this metro line during the summer months and use a number of techniques. The most common, and unfortunately the most successful, is the simple "bump and snatch," where an individual bumps into the tourist while at the same time reaching into the pockets/purse/bag. Visitors should be particularly careful when metro doors are closing, as this is a favored moment for the less-sophisticated pickpockets to simply grab valuables and jump through the closing doors, leaving the victim helplessly watching as the thief flees. Visitors are encouraged NOT to aggressively confront thieves, who often operate in groups and may become violent if cornered. Simply drawing attention to an attempted theft will most likely stop the operation and cause a tactical withdrawal by the thief.

Gare du Nord train station, where the express trains from the airport arrive in Paris, is also a high-risk area for pickpocketing and theft. Travelers should also beware of thefts that occur on both overnight and day trains, especially on trains originating in Spain, Italy, and Belgium. Additionally, several sexual assaults involving American citizens have occurred recently in the immediate vicinity of the Gare du Nord train station.

Thefts also occur at the major department stores (Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, and Samaritaine) where tourists often place wallets, passports, and credit cards on cashier counters during transactions.

In hotels, thieves target lobbies and breakfast rooms, and take advantage of a minute of inattention to snatch jackets, purses, and backpacks. While many hotels do have safety latches that allow guests to secure their rooms from inside, this feature is not as universal as it is in the United States. If no chain or latch is present, a chair placed up against the door and wedged under the handle is usually an effective obstacle to surreptitious entry during the night. There are, however, reports of thieves breaking into hotel rooms on lower floors through open windows while the occupants are sleeping. To guard against this, hotel room windows should be kept locked at all times. There have been reports of thieves stealing safes from rooms in Parisian hotels. Whenever possible, valuables should be kept in the hotel safe behind the reception desk rather than in the room safe.

Many Americans have reported thefts occurring in restaurants and nightclubs/bars, where purses are stolen from the back of a chair or from under the table.

ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) are very common in France and provide ready access to cash, allowing travelers to carry as much money as they need for each day. The rates are competitive with local exchange bureaus and an ATM transaction is easier than the cashing of travelers' checks. However, crimes committed around ATMs have been reported. Travelers should not use ATMs in isolated, unlit areas or where loiterers are present. Travelers should be especially aware of persons standing close enough to see the PIN (Personal Identification Number) being entered into the machine. Thieves often conduct successful scams by simply observing the PIN as it is entered. If the card becomes stuck, travelers should be wary of persons who offer to help or ask for the PIN to "fix" the machine. Legitimate bank employees never have a reason to ask for the PIN.

Large criminal operations in Paris involving the use of ATM machines that "eat" the user's ATM card have been reported. This most often happens during a weekend or at night when the bank is closed. The frustrated traveler often walks away after unsuccessfully trying to retrieve the card, with plans to return the first day the bank is open. In such cases, a criminal gang has modified the machine using an add-on device equipped with a microchip that records the user's PIN number when it is typed in and also prevents the card from being ejected. The criminal retrieves the card from the device once the visitor departs, downloads the recorded PIN number and then goes to other ATMs and withdraws as much cash as possible. ATM users are strongly encouraged to carry a 24-hour emergency number for their ATM card and bank account that will enable the immediate prevention of withdrawals from the supporting account.

Pigalle is the "adult entertainment district" of Paris. Many entertainment establishments in this area engage in aggressive marketing and charge well beyond the normal rate for drinks. There have been reports of threats of violence to coerce patrons into paying exorbitant beverage tabs. Visitors are encouraged to avoid this area unless touring with a well-organized and reputable tour company.

1 comment:

Queenie said...

Well written article.