Statistically speaking, Paris is generally a very safe city, especially when comparing its low violent crime levels to ones in major American metropolitan areas. Unfortunately, however, pickpocketing remains a problem in the French capital, particularly in crowded areas like the metro and around popular tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. Pickpockets are known to operate heavily in areas frequented by tourists and use fairly predictable strategies to rip off the unaware.
Learning about these strategies, taking a few keys precautions and remaining vigilant at all times will go a long way in helping you to avoid an unpleasant or even scary experience. These are the key rules to remember as you set out on your first day of exploring the city.
Take Only the Bare Essentials During Sightseeing
As a general rule, leave most of your valuables in a safe at the hotel or apartment where you're staying. It's not necessary to bring your passport or other items of value along with you into the streets of Paris. Take along an alternative form of identification and bring along only a copy of the key pages of your passport. Additionally, unless you're wearing a money belt, it's generally prudent to keep no more than around 50 or 60 Euros in cash with you.
Empty Your Pockets and Wear Your Bags Correctly
Before pickpockets get a chance to quietly empty your pockets, transfer valuables like cash or cellphones to a bag with internal compartments. Never wear your purse or bag on one shoulder-- this makes it too easy for pickpockets to swipe it-- especially in crowded conditions where you're less likely to feel it. Sling your bag over your chest in crisscross style instead, and keep it close to you and visible. If you wear a backpack, you should never keep valuables in outside zipper compartments. You may think you'll feel someone opening them, but pickpockets are experts at being slick and surreptitious, and they often work in groups.
Beware of ATM/Cashpoint Scams
ATM machines can be favorite spots for potential scammers and pickpocketers. Stay extremely vigilant when withdrawing cash and do not offer help to anyone who wishes to "learn to use the machine" or who engages you in conversation while you are entering your pin code. If you can't figure out how to use the machine, never accept "help" or advice on how to use it, either. Type in your code in total privacy and tell anyone lingering too close to back off. If they persist in hovering or otherwise behaving aggressively, cancel your operation and go find another ATM.
Beware of Crowding and Distractions
Especially in places like the Paris metro, but also in areas around popular tourist attractions (including lines), pickpockets often work in groups. One member of a "team" may attempt to distract you by engaging in conversation, asking for money or showing you a small trinket, while another goes for your pockets or bag. In very crowded conditions, pickpockets may take advantage of the confusion. Make sure your valuables are safely stored in a money belt or in inside compartments of the bag you're carrying, and hold it close to you, preferably where you can see it fully.
When in the metro, it may be best to avoid seats closest to the doors, since some pickpockets adopt the strategy of grabbing bags or valuables and exiting the metro car just as the doors are closing.
What If I've Been Pickpocketed in Paris?
The United States Embassy recommends that victims of pickpockets in Paris to yell immediately for the police if they become aware of the crime as it happens. If no help arrives (unfortunately a likely scenario), it's generally best to head straight for to the nearest police station to file a report. Then promptly report the loss of any important valuables to your embassy or consulate.
Note: These tips were in part sourced from an article on the US Embassy in Paris website, but should not be treated as official advice. Please consult your Embassy or Consulate page for current safety warnings and guidelines issued by your home country for Paris and the rest of France.