Visiting Paris is high up on most travelers’ bucket lists. After all, who doesn’t want to see Eiffel Tower in person after seeing it being pictured as a romantic symbol in magazines and movies for practically all our lives?
But if you’re familiar with Paris Syndrome, you’ll know that many first-time tourists were caught off guard by this lesser-known aspect of the city. Despite its charm, Paris is actually notorious for the candidness of its residents which makes them appear unfriendly, or worse, the myriad of tourist scammers waiting to pounce on tourists.
While Paris itself is undoubtedly still a magical city with lots of attractions and delicious food to try (the French truly do magical things with butter), you do need to be vigilant when you are there.
So, I’m sharing how I, a supposedly seasoned traveler who had traveled to 36 countries, fell for the most basic taxi scam at the CDG airport. To be very honest, even five years later writing this makes me upset and that’s why it took this long for me to share the experience. I really hope it will help someone else avoid the same mistakes I made!
How It Started
I flew to Paris from Singapore in June 2018. It was my second visit to the city, having been there in 2011 on my first visit to Europe. On that first visit, I went during the colder months in November. This would be my first time in Paris during the summer. I love European summers with their neverending daylight and needless to say, I was pumped to be visiting Paris at this time.
On my first visit to Paris, I arrived on a day when there was a train strike on the Paris RER, and getting into the city itself became an adventure (which I later learned is a common occurrence). So I was glad that I went on a business trip this time, and a car had been arranged to pick me up at the airport.
The Modus Operandi of the Taxi Scam at Paris CDG Airport
I arrived alone, bright and early at CDG airport at 6 am. And… my promised airport pickup was nowhere to be seen.
No problem, I thought. I’ll just grab a taxi to the city. After all, I had survived arriving during the train strike before. How hard could it be?
I looked for the taxi line, which was immediately found outside the arrival gate. I was carrying my big luggage and the taxi line was empty. A man with a CDG airport lanyard greeted me at the line and asked me where I was going. Then, he told me that this line was only for taxis going out of the city, and that I should go for the taxis at Gate 16. I knew there was a right and left bank in Paris, so I had assumed that was what he meant.
Once I got to Gate 16, a taxi driver immediately greeted me and put my luggage into the boot of the car. Well, spoiler alert – unbeknownst to me at that time, this guy was a scammer and in collusion with the previous scammer, funneling unsuspecting tourists like myself from the official taxi line to their own cars.
I got in the car, and rolled out of the airport. Once inside, things felt off. I realized did not spot any meter so I asked the driver if this ride was going to be metered, and he showed me a taxi meter app on his phone. I also asked him if he was a licensed taxi driver, and he told me yes and showed me a taxi badge. But I couldn’t remember if the taxi had any other signs outside.
My instincts were firing off at this moment but there was nothing much I could do. I was already in the car, mid-trip on the freeway, and my luggage was in the boot. I had no choice but to just roll with it. I knew by this time that I was getting scammed, but I did not know just how bad it would be.
Once we got to the city in front of my hotel, he showed me the fake meter phone app. It says the trip fare was 360 euros! I fought back – by then I knew the official taxi ride should only cost a flat rate of 55-60 euros. Plus, I genuinely did not even have that much cash with me.
As if on cue, the scammer immediately changed his tone with me to be very aggressive and rude. He lowered the price to 200 euros and said he would let me off for that price. I told him I was calling the police, somehow got my luggage out from the boot, and ran with it to my hotel. He followed me, screaming and cursing that I was a thief and that I owed him money. He basically tried all kinds of ways to intimidate me. I was in tears by this time but stood my ground. Thankfully I was in a public area and I refused to back down.
Once we got to the hotel lobby, the hotel manager argued with him in French. The scammer did not budge and kept pestering me, screaming for money the entire time. He lowered the price further to 100 euros, which I still refused and told him that I would only pay 60 euros. The hotel helped me to call the police, but I was told there would be a long wait.
At this point, I was really over this whole thing and I was not keen to wait for the police so I told him I would pay him 80 euros, last offer. He agreed with lots of grumbling and still yelling profanities. We argued further as I insisted that he give me a receipt. To my surprise, he managed to produce a digital receipt from a company called Taxi Bleu (which I’m sure is a fake company) and left shortly after I paid.
How It Ended
The whole ordeal lasted about half an hour with lots of screaming (from him) and tears (from me). Was it worth it? Well, in the end, he only got about 20-25 euros over the market rate out of me. That’s an amount I was willing to sacrifice to let him know that even though I looked like an easy scam target (being a solo Asian female traveler), I was not going to go down without a fight.
I would say though, if I felt I was in an unsafe situation where I could be physically harmed, I would not have fought as much. All things considered, I was lucky that I was able to escape to a public space with people nearby.
After the scammer left, the kind hotel manager helped to calm me down. He asked me to please not let this one individual taint my view of Paris and not let this experience get in the way of my holiday. And you know what? I 100% agree with him. Despite all this, Paris is still a beautiful city and I wasn’t going to let this scum of the earth ruin my otherwise perfect summer vacation.
So I went for a walk by the Seine River after, enjoyed the clear blue skies of a Parisian summer, and had a croissant for breakfast. Then I walked around some more the entire day and took a short nap at the park while enjoying the fresh summer breeze on my face. It ended up being a good day after all.
A few months after that trip, I read on the news how a taxi driver was jailed for pulling the same airport taxi scam on another victim. But their experience was much worse than mine – the driver had locked the car doors and they were essentially trapped in the car until they were forced to pay up. I was very lucky that at least I was able to escape the car.
My Mistakes and Red Flags
Hindsight is 20/20. Looking back, there were many red flags and mistakes I made that could have easily prevented me from being scammed:
First, being what scammers probably consider an easy target (solo female Asian traveler), I should have covered all my bases. I should have known to look up the cost of a taxi from the CDG Airport. Of course, I would normally do all this if I were to travel by myself, but because I had expected an airport pickup, I did not do any research on how to get to the city. So, always research a Plan B! And never let your guard down.
Secondly, I should have checked his car and how unofficial it looked before he had the chance to put my luggage in the boot and before the car left the airport. This is basic safety 101 and to this day I’m so thankful that I was not physically harmed.
Third, I actually knew about the tourist scams in Paris. But it had been seven years since my original visit and I simply forgot. I should have researched and refreshed my knowledge of the latest scams in the city!
Safety Tips for Visiting Paris
So having been in that specific situation of falling victim to a scam in Paris, here are some tips that I can offer you to avoid getting into the same situation:
- Plan how you’ll get to the city from the airport – As my experience has told you, the most common scam happens right when you land in Paris. Even if you’re planning on taking a taxi, look up the official way to get there. Then look up what to do if Plan A fails, so you aren’t caught off guard and are able to make the best-informed decision on the spot.
- Paris is a city of many tourist scams – Familiarize yourself with the most common scams in Paris. There are tons of resources for that. Be extra vigilant if you’re visiting during Summer. Many more tourists visit Paris during the warmer months, and the scammers know this. Also, be aware of which areas in Paris are more prone to scammers – many touristy areas, such as the beautiful Sacre Coeur, are filled with scammers.
- Be wary of pickpocketers – Keep your belongings close to you and within your sight. There are many pickpocketing incidents in Paris, usually in touristy areas or in the metro. My own sister fell victim to this when she visited Paris. Someone had picked her crossbody bag and stolen her wallet while on the metro.
- Don’t travel with all of your cash – Diversify your risk and only bring what you think is necessary for the day. Keep pockets of money in different places so that if you do get mugged (knock on wood!), you still have other reserves.
- Don’t bring your passport with you – Leave your actual passport in a safe in your hotel, and bring a photocopy of your passport page instead. And always keep a digital copy of your IDs somewhere easily accessible.
- Don’t hesitate to follow your instincts and don’t be afraid to be rude. Local Parisians are… well, not afraid to be rude themselves, so why not follow suit? As long as you are in a safe situation, don’t feel that you need to give people your valuable time. And just because a stranger talks to you doesn’t mean you need to reciprocate.
Would I Still Recommend Visiting Paris?
Of course, 100%. Aside from the initial rough starts I’ve had in my two visits here, Paris is truly a beautiful destination. The rest of my trip to Paris in 2018 went swimmingly well and I came back with plenty of special memories that I still hold dear to my heart.
I got to support the Paris Pride Parade, which was a totally amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I also happened to be in the city during the FIFA World Cup 2018, and I even got to witness the ecstasy that filled the city every time France scored a goal. Even my quiet taxi driver to the airport (who was a much better driver than the scammers) was tuning in to the game and screaming when the team won. When France became the eventual world champion later that month, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride myself. It was indeed one of the best trips I’ve ever had in my life.
And that was my experience of being scammed in Paris. Again, I hope this helps some of you avoid the same unpleasant experience while you are visiting Paris.
Stay safe and keep exploring!