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NeoPatrick Sep 6th, 2011 09:15 AM

My last day in Paris -- a trip to the Bastille by Police Car!
Let me start by saying today was the first time I was ever pickpocketed. It's been attempted before, but I thought I was pretty savvy about the whole thing. And after posting on one of the other Paris scam threads just this morning, I thought I was well aware of situations. But the real point of this thread is partially to point out a few things that may not match what others have posted recently in regards to "what happens" or "the police can't do anything" and similar thoughts.

I was eating lunch alone at Creperie Beaubourg -- along the side by the moving water fountains, right by St. Merry church. I had finished eating when three girls who were laughing and chatting loudly came towards me, but one of them passed by and went around the corner of the building. It was fairly clear they were 'Roma" girls or what are often called gypsies, but these were not the ones pretending to be deaf as we have been discussing on another thread. In fact, I was looking at them noting how trendy there were dressed, like typical French teens might be dressed -- which is something that had just been discussed on the other thread. One of the girls approached my table and held out a sheet to sign -- almost in my face. It was not one of those "deaf" ones, but something about the city and a petition for something. I really didn't pay much attention knowing it was a scam, and I said firmly 'no' and waved her away, but at the same time the other girl came up leaned over the table and literally shoved a map into my face. The first girl had stepped to my side. I had a small backpack at my feet, and of course I know they were up to no good, and I moved the backpack with my feet between my ankles and held tightly, thinking they might try to take it. I keep my wallet in my right front pocket and I was wearing sort of cargo pants so the pocket it was in, along with my small camera was zipped up. As I said i was sitting. But as quickly as I waved them away, and then checked my pocket, I realized the wallet was gone. The one girl had managed to unzip the pocket and get the wallet out without disturbing the camera -- something even I have trouble doing when standing up! Amazing.

I stood up and of course the girls were gone -- around the end of the building -- I was right at the end of the line of outdoor seats. I went around the building and they were completely gone. But within just seconds, that third girl who had originally walked on by, appeared out of nowhere and placed my wallet on the table. I was still standing. As she put it there, she held out her hand like she wanted money. What? As I opened the wallet, I saw my money was missing (I had 70 euros -- a 50, a 10, and two 5's) Why in the world would they return the wallet and ask for money if they knew they had already emptied it out? How could I give them money like a reward if they already had taken my money. I sort of shouted, "You took my money" and the girl truly looked startled and ran away. This had me puzzled for some time -- more about that later.

So I was feeling fairly good and lucky-- I at least had my wallet back and the credit cards, driver's license, ATM cards, etc. were all intact. At that point, a waitress came out to bring me my bill which I had asked for before this all happened (we're talking about the whole thing taking maybe a minute or two total). She was not too surprised and said they have a lot of attempts. Ironically, she had mentioned to me to be careful when I had my cell phone out at the beginning of the meal as she said, kids sometimes come by and try to snatch them. So I had that in mind as well when the girls arrived.

OK, nothing to do about it. I paid my bill (with credit card), walked a couple blocks, got some cash from an ATM (being overly cautious, of course) and then walked back to the square in front of Beaubourg. About 10 or 15 minutes had passed. But guess what I saw. The same three girls and three others are all gathered at the south end of the square, counting out money -- mostly coins. Two of them approached me with their papers to sign and I practically screamed, "you already stole all my money. What more do you want?" Then two of the other girls recognized me and started laughing and told the other girls the story apparently. They all started pointing at me and laughing. OK, I was now really p------d off! But they stopped short and scattered off in two groups. I was startled by this sudden change until I turned around and saw that a police car was slowly passing just behind me. I turned to them, they stopped, and I asked if they spoke English. One said "a little" and I said, "I don't suppose you can do anything about it, but those girls just stole my wallet." Two of the three officers, went after three of the girls, and the third cop drove the car to the north end of the plaza. They told me to stay there.
Meanwhile, I had a discussion with an artist there who said it happens all the time, and the police can't do anything about it. Yes, I knew that -- or so I thought.

Well, surprise of surprises, about 10 minutes later the police car drives up and they have the girl who shoved the map in my face in the car with them. They asked if she was one of them and I said yes -- hard to forget a bright orange t-shirt with rhinestones saying "amour" and a hot pink open zippered sweatshirt over it. They asked me if I want to file a complaint. I was sort of surprised, and said something like "I don't think there's anything you can do about it". One of the policemen got a little brusque and said, "everyone wants us to catch them, but no one will make a complaint". I asked him, "what will happen if I do?" and to my surprise he said, "we will keep her at the police station and if she has no adult to come for her, she will be put in a youth detention home.
I was shocked. Really? This is not like the reports here that "because the girls are underaged there's nothing the police can do."

So they called a police car, I got in with two officers, and the second car followed with three officers and the girl. Sirens blaring, we zipped through traffic eventually circling Bastille and parking at the big police station next to the Canal St. Martin, just south of Bastille. They had me do a deposition. They took the girl away. She turned and gave me the finger as they went. I had quite a talk with the female officer who spoke great English and did the whole deposition translating and typing into French as we went. She gave me a copy.

Again I asked what would happen with the girl. She said that she had an ID with her, but it was probably fake. If it is she might be deported, but without an adult, she would probably be held in a detention center. She said they are really filling up, but they are trying to stop all these scams. Trying to avoid accusations of being racist, let me say that the police officer simply referred to them as Eastern Europeans.

Now, back to why the one girl would bring my empty wallet and ask for money. The officer said one of the common scams is they manage to get your wallet (or camera, or cell phone) then another one brings it to you as if you accidentally dropped it. She wants a reward for returning it. When they do that, they either don't take any money out of the wallet or only remove a bill or two that might not be noticed when you look to see if there is money in it. But she thinks perhaps the other two girls played a trick on this one -- taking the money for themselves and letting her get the blame. Still it makes no sense to me.

So flamers go ahead. I'm sure some here will tell me I should be ashamed of myself for doing the report that might put her in detention. I'm often amazed how many people support criminal activity. But my thought is just what the one officer said to me -- they can't do anything if people won't file complaints and the problem only gets worse. I'm actually happy I did what I did, and frankly the 70 euros it cost me seems a pittance for the excitement of being taken away to the Bastille by police! I've paid more for activities that were less exciting. And I have a new appreciation for the French police in the way they treated this entire thing.

mnapoli Sep 6th, 2011 09:24 AM

I applaud you - that you did file a compaint so that the police could take action.

However - why did you have your wallet in your pocket. As it has been repeated again and again on this Forum - MONEYBELT, MONEYBLT, MONEYBELT.

mztery Sep 6th, 2011 09:25 AM

1) I support you making a report.
2) I'd still be careful about credit cards - I realize there wasn't much time between the theft and the return, but if they did copy the numbers down and pass them off to someone else they could be making charges. The one scam I DO know about happened to one of my teachers - has his wallet pickpocketed, then returned by the thief saying "I felt badly, sorry, I needed the cash for my family, out of work etc" " but he had copied the cc numbers and gone on a shopping spree with the numbers.

suec1 Sep 6th, 2011 09:28 AM

are you kidding! no flames from me, good job! I've traveled to Eurpoe many times the past 15 years and have seen these "Eastern Europeans" in action many times (and been their victim in Barcelona). Even if the girl is deported, my guess is she will re-surface in Paris within a week! Anyways thank you for taking the time to file the report - with her off the street, there is probably at least one tourist that still has a hold of their wallet that otherwise would have been a victim.

Michael Sep 6th, 2011 09:31 AM

<i>However - why did you have your wallet in your pocket. As it has been repeated again and again on this Forum - MONEYBELT, MONEYBLT, MONEYBELT.</i>

If the money belt is hidden, it would be a pain to be constantly fishing it out to pay for day-to-day items, which may include credit card items.

basingstoke2 Sep 6th, 2011 09:42 AM

Congratulations! You did the right thing.

Axel2DP Sep 6th, 2011 09:43 AM

It's a good thing that the girls didn't take your credit cards and such.

I don't see anything wrong with doing the police report. I think most tourists would've done the same.

Moneybelt is such a hassle to take money in/out and uncomfortable to wear. When you have to take money out of it, everyone around you inevitable knows that you're wearing one. A better option might be a Scottevest ( It has a lot of roomy zippered pockets in the interior of the jacket that allow easier access to money and lose chains. Their sizes run a little bit large for my body, but I'd much rather wear it then the money belt.

NeoPatrick Sep 6th, 2011 09:43 AM

I also have yet to figure out how to get a money belt out and get money out of it -- discreetly while sitting in a nice restaurant, or while standing at a stall in the market trying to buy a peach with packages in your hands. Not to mention how damned uncomfortable they are in hot weather!

daveesl Sep 6th, 2011 09:49 AM

Good move. Regardless of the age, a crime is a crime and unless people stand up and do something, it will just get worse. If the criminal (regardless of how small or petty) knows that nothing will happen, then why stop.

I applaud you!!!


ekscrunchy Sep 6th, 2011 09:54 AM

Good for you! Glad that you were not harmed, other than having the money stolen.

Mucky Sep 6th, 2011 09:58 AM

Lock her up and throw away the key.

Or better still deport her.

But please not to Britain. :-)


kerouac Sep 6th, 2011 09:58 AM

Good for you, Patrick. I know a number of policemen and one of their biggest complaints is that most people don't want to file a report -- too much trouble and some sort of weird fear that the criminals will manage to punish them.

No need for a moneybelt, though. 2,150,000 Parisians don't use them, so why should you? It is just super important to have sufficient "urban smarts" and leave nothing accessible. One thing I do is never sit in the front row of a restaurant or café terrace if I have anything stealable.

And I'm kind of glad that you saw what I wrote previously, Patrick -- those girls can dress completely normally when they want to.

Weekender Sep 6th, 2011 10:00 AM

I was pickpocketed this past Saturday afternoon while boarding the Metro in Milan. These two clowns opened a small zippered side pocket on my backpack. I do so hope they enjoy a couple of cheap pens and hotel notepads.

adrienne Sep 6th, 2011 10:07 AM

This is quite a story! When you said that the girl would be put into detention I was shocked at first but after a moment's reflection I regained my common sense. You did the right thing to report these people; it seems like other victims don't want to be bothered. I also applaud the Paris police in taking action.

As to the money belt. If you start pulling out and opening up a money belt for every purchase you run the risk of having more than money stolen. If thieves are so cunning they could unzip a pant's pocket and pull out a wallet within seconds they could surely grab the contents of a money belt and remove everything you think is secure. Money belts are not supposed to be constantly opened up.

cw Sep 6th, 2011 10:08 AM

That really was an adventure. Good for you, making the formal complaint. And you were so smart to return to the "scene of the crime." Lots of good lessons in this story. Glad you're okay. Thanks for the story.

The Paris police come off very well here. Good to know.

latedaytraveler Sep 6th, 2011 10:10 AM

Bravo, Patrick, and thanks so much!

november_moon Sep 6th, 2011 10:12 AM

Yeah - a money belt wouldn't have helped. How would he has paid for his lunch if all his money and cards were in his moneybelt? You only put stuff in the moneybelt that you aren't planning on using, basically your stash of extra cash and cards. 70 euro and a couple cards seems like a reasonable about to have in one's pocket.

kayd Sep 6th, 2011 10:13 AM

Patrick, thanks for this report and for your good deed in following up with the police.

For those who do not know how to use a moneybelt: One does not get things out of a moneybelt except in the privacy of one's hotel room! It is for keeping valuables (extra cash and credit cards,passport) safe while you are in crowds. For the day's expenses, have some bank notes and maybe one credit card in an accessible place -- trouser pocket or inside a handbag.

If a thief gets into your pocket or purse, then you go somewhere private to take out the reserve cash and cards from the moneybelt.

november_moon Sep 6th, 2011 10:14 AM

Oh - and good job reporting the crime. Even if this particular report doesn't decrease petty crime in Paris, if everybody starts reporting crimes and the police arrest people for them, then it will put a real damper on these criminals' activities.

YankyGal Sep 6th, 2011 10:18 AM

You sure know how to end your trip with a bang, Patrick. :-)

I'm so glad you took the time to file the complaint - and to report it to us. Thank you.

I hope you're treating yourself to some cocktails and a nice dinner tonight - you deserve it!

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