Beware the Notorious Friendship Bracelet Scam in Paris

Paris is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, attracting over 30 million visitors per year with its iconic landmarks, world-class museums, fabulous food, and romantic atmosphere.

However, wherever there are lots of tourists, there are also plenty of scammers ready to take advantage of them. One of the most infamous scams travelers may encounter in Paris is the “friendship bracelet scam.”

I recently spent two weeks in Paris and had a phenomenal time. However, I also fell victim to the friendship bracelet scam near the Sacré-Cœur basilica in Montmartre.

As a savvy traveler who researches common tourist scams before any trip, I was quite disappointed in myself for getting duped. Nonetheless, I share my story here to help others avoid making the same mistake.

What is the Friendship Bracelet Scam?

This prevalent scam typically targets tourists climbing the stairs leading up to the Sacré-Cœur basilica in Montmartre.

As you ascend the stairs, young men and women approach you appearing very friendly. They tie a “friendship bracelet” made of colored string around your wrist.

Initially, they claim the bracelet is a free gift and talk about promoting peace, friendship between cultures, and unity. However, as soon as the bracelet is tied on, they demand payment for their “artwork.”

They start with 10-20 euros but often pressure you to pay more. They may employ guilt tactics, intimidation, persistent begging, or even lightly grabbing your arm.

While you’re distracted by the person tying the bracelet on you, their accomplice may pickpocket you as well.

My Experience Getting Scammed at Sacré-Cœur

On my third day exploring Paris, I headed up to the iconic basilica Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre. After taking the metro, I walked up the countless stairs approaching the church. About halfway up, I noticed a group of five young men and women lounging on the steps.

As I maneuvered around them, a bubbly girl with curly blonde hair jumped up with a huge smile. “Hello!” she exclaimed. “Where are you visiting from?”

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Before I could even answer, she gently grabbed my wrist and started wrapping a red string in an intricate crisscross pattern around my wrist.

Delighted by her friendly demeanor, I mistakenly assumed she was creating some type of traditional French friendship bracelet to promote peace.

She told me her name was Catherine as she tied the final knot. Then everything shifted. With a stern look, Catherine demanded 10 euros for the bracelet.

Caught completely off guard, I stumbled to communicate that I didn’t have any cash on me and hadn’t agreed to buy anything.

Another man from her group stood up and insisted I pay up. He claimed the bracelets were handmade and I owed them for the materials and artistry.

Catherine firmly grasped both my wrists, looked me in the eyes, and pleaded for money while the man pressured me to take out my wallet. Overwhelmed and intimidated, I gave them 5 euros just to escape the situation.

Common Victim Reviews and Complaints

Unfortunately, my experience getting bamboozled is far from unique. While researching the friendship bracelet scam, I found endless complaints from past victims:

“They surrounded me and forced a bracelet on my wrist before demanding money. Total intimidation tactics!” – Sarah M., USA

“I tried to walk away but the woman kept grabbing my arm. I ended up paying just so she would let me go.” – Edward T., Canada

“While one tied the bracelet on me, another man picked my pocket! Lost my phone and 100 euros.” – Valerie U., UK

” Extremely aggressive. Grabbed my hand forcefully and wouldn’t let me pass until I paid them.” – Diego G., Mexico

The most common complaints include:

  • Aggressive, forceful grabbing of wrists and arms
  • Intimidation tactics with groups surrounding solo travelers
  • Persistent harassment for money
  • Pickpocketing by accomplices during bracelet tying
  • Demanding more money after initial payment
  • Not letting go until receiving adequate payment

While scams happen everywhere tourists congregate, many victims felt Paris authorities could do more to protect visitors from such blatant criminal behavior in a popular tourist area.

Expert Tips to Avoid the Bracelet Scam

Heed these suggestions to avoid becoming another statistic taken in by the notorious Paris friendship bracelet scam:

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1. Research Common Scams at Your Destination

Before traveling anywhere, Google “common scams in xyz location” so you know what to watch out for. Simply being aware of prevalent scams like the bracelet scam helps avoid falling for them.

2. Just Say No

If someone approaches you trying to give you something or asking you to sign something, politely but firmly say “no” and keep walking. Do not stop to engage in conversation.

3. Use a Cross-Body Anti-Theft Bag

Carry a bag that zips securely with anti-theft features so no one can dip their hand inside without you noticing. A cross-body style also keeps your bag hugged tightly against you.

4. Leave Valuables at Your Hotel

Don’t carry more cash or expensive electronics than absolutely necessary while sightseeing. Leave precious items locked up securely in your hotel.

5. Be Firm and Confident

If you do get caught up in the bracelet scam, clearly state you never agreed to purchase anything. If they become forceful, speak loudly to draw attention from others and contact the police if necessary.

Be assertive and don’t allow anyone to intimidate you or block your path.

Is the Local Government Doing Anything to Stop This Scam?

With countless tourists complaining about the friendship bracelet scam each year, one would think local Paris authorities would implement measures to halt this criminal activity. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.

I found no evidence of any initiatives or sting operations by Parisian police to crack down on bracelet scammers. Review sites and travel forums contain endless frustrations from tourists regarding the lack of action taken:

“There were five police officers standing nearby while I got scammed – they did absolutely nothing!” – Amy F., Canada

“Authorities don’t care and have given up trying to stop them. No consequences equals no change.” – Brian W., USA

“I complained to three different officers after being scammed and pickpocketed. Literally laughed in my face.” – Susan P., UK

Without legal repercussions, scammers have no incentive to change their illegal money-making tactics. Based on multiple accounts, Paris law enforcement essentially enables the friendship bracelet scam by turning a blind eye.

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How to Report Friendship Bracelet Scams to Maximize Impact

If you or someone you know gets targeted by bracelet scammers in Paris, ensure the incident gets documented by reporting to the following organizations:

1. French Police: File an official report at the nearest police station. This creates an official statistic that may eventually trigger action.

2. US Embassy in Paris: American citizens should report scams to the US embassy. Reports from foreign visitors may illuminate the negative economic impact these scams have.

3. Tourism Office: Contact the Paris Office of Tourism with details to report unethical business practices. Enough complaints could compel city leaders to intervene.

4. Review Sites: Post detailed reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google, and other high-traffic sites to warn future visitors. Negative publicity applies pressure to clean up the problem.

Without adequate reporting, organizations often remain blind to issues plaguing tourists. Taking time to report your experience creates indispensable data to spur potential progress.

Don’t Let the Scam Ruin Your Trip

Having now deeply researched the friendship bracelet ruse in Paris, I’m quite troubled by the lack of meaningful efforts to protect millions of tourists.

However, don’t let the potential threat of this scam, or possibility of ineffective local authorities, deter you from visiting the amazing city of Paris!

Simply avoid the problematic area around Sacre Coeur, or firmly reject any bracelet sales pitch. Report any incidents to the appropriate channels. Then carry on enjoying everything else spectacular that Paris has to offer.

Despite getting scammed, I still fell head over heels for Paris. I splurged on a sunrise hot air balloon ride, ate my weight in pastries, and filled my camera roll with stunning architecture.

Connect with locals, dodge tourist traps, and don’t let schemers obstruct you from embracing the essence of this iconic destination.

Have you been caught up in the friendship bracelet scam or any other Parisian swindle? How did you handle the situation? Share your experiences to keep fellow travelers vigilant!

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By Don Billy

Don Billy is a veteran reviewer on Legit Source. For over 5 years, he has investigated companies and evaluated products to separate truth from hype. Don thoroughly researches and tests offerings to determine if they deliver as promised and these transparent reviews have helped protect consumers from scam artists. He is dedicated to arming shoppers with honest information.