Crackdown as fake charities, pickpockets target Paris tourists

Several incidents involving pickpockets and scammers targeting tourists have tarnished the image of Paris.
Several incidents involving pickpockets and scammers targeting tourists have tarnished the image of Paris. Photo: AFP

Paris police said they would deploy more officers to protect tourists against pickpockets and launch an awareness campaign to fight fake charity organisations targeting visitors.

The efforts come in the wake of several incidents that have tarnished the image of Paris - the world's most visited city - including the brief closing of the Louvre museum in April by workers protesting increasingly aggressive pickpockets.

The Paris police prefecture said it was increasing the number of officers deployed at key sites including the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Champs Elysees shopping strip and the Montmartre district.

It will also begin distributing leaflets in popular tourist areas, in English and French, warning against a trend that involves young criminals asking visitors to make donations to false charities or to sign false petitions, distracting them from pickpockets.

Among tourists increasingly being targeted are visitors from China, with the Chinese embassy recently reporting an increase in the number of complaints regarding muggings and other thefts.

In March, 23 Chinese visitors were robbed in a restaurant shortly after they landed in Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport. Their passports, plane tickets and cash were all stolen.

Paris's image was dealt another blow this week by violence during a trophy parade to mark football club Paris Saint-Germain's first French League win in 19 years.

The violence on Monday saw unruly PSG fans run riot near the Eiffel Tower, throwing smoke bombs, damaging bars and restaurants and attacking several tourists.

A French court on Wednesday sentenced the ringleader of a gang that forced young girls, mainly from Bosnia, into picking pockets on the Paris Metro to seven years in prison.

Bosnian native Fehim Hamidovic, 60, was charged with running a widespread and elaborate pickpocketing operation, with police saying that at one time the gang was responsible for up to 75 percent of thefts on the Metro, Paris's underground rail network.

The gang trained the girls to pick pockets and find potential targets -- often Asian tourists known for carrying significant amounts of cash.

The girls were ordered to bring in at least 300 euros ($385) per day and if they failed were abused and tortured, including by being burned with cigarettes.

About 20 members of the gang were also on trial and sentenced to between one and five years in prison.

The gang was busted in 2010 and police estimated it stole a total of 1.3 million euros in Paris in 2009.

AFP

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