Visitors to Paris this summer have been put on alert after a raft of thefts targeting tourists by a gang of petty thieves dubbed “hotel rats”.
The criminals operate by blending in with visitors – both on the streets and in hotel lobbies – before stealthily picking pockets, swiping valuables and stealing luggage.
Tony Mariet, the commissioner of the French capital’s anti-scam police unit, told Le Parisien newspaper: “Some of them mingle with groups of tourists and leave with their luggage and others book rooms in hotels under false names and tour the rooms looking for safes.”
Even the most prestigious hotels are at risk. Knowing that high-end hotels attract high-end clientele, it appears that those with a reputation for expense are being targeted more aggressively than others.
“We are dealing with international professional criminals,” Mariet explains, emphasising the need for visitors to be vigilant at all times. “They go to hotel complexes in Paris but also in suburbs around the city like Courbevoie or Vincennes, where there are also tourists.”
The area surrounding the Champs Elysées and nearby shopping district is another area of high risk. In November last year, 40 Chinese tourists were reportedly attacked with tear gas and robbed in the carpark of the Kyriad Hotel in the Val-de-Marne suburb of the city by a gang of six men.
To tackle the issue, an additional 5,000 police officers will be deployed in Paris until the end of September at seven key sites across the city, including Montmartre, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.
The UK Foreign Office advises those travelling to Paris to “take sensible precautions… Don’t keep your passport, credit cards and other valuables in the same place”.
It also warns against pickpockets that work in gangs to distract you while another rifles in your bag for valuables, offers advice on how to avoid common scams such as petition, three card trick and gold ring tricks, and advises that “thieves and pickpockets also operate on the Paris underground, RER lines and at mainline stations”.
But it’s not just in Paris that travellers should be on alert, Mariet advises, but other popular European cities; “[the thieves] work in teams. They carry out raids over a few months in Paris, before leaving for other foreign capitals like Rome.”
Last summer saw tourist numbers to Paris return to a 10-year high after a slump brought on by the terror attacks of 2015 and 2016. Last year the city attracted 89 million visitors.