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While traveling in Paris 4-5 years ago, took the subway and saw a couple of guys doing ID checks. Not uniformed, maybe a colored arm band or something, don't remember seeing any badges. I think they were in a hallway on the way out of a station, pretty close to the exit turnstiles if I remember right. I assumed it was a scam and maneuvered past them.

Is this a common scam? Or are there really occasionally legit document checks on the way out of a Paris subway station being done by plain clothes cops?

3 Answers 3

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saw a couple of guys doing ID checks. Not uniformed, maybe a colored arm band

Usually, this is not an ID check. Except in a specific case

The Paris transport system has, like most, enforcement agents to make sure that the people taking the transportation system pay their tickets accordingly. They wear a colored armband.

I think they were in a hallway on the way out of a station

This is usually where they'd stand, in a group blocking the exit to check the tickets for their validity

If, during the check, your ticket/card is flagged as invalid for the exit station, you will be taken aside (usually a few meters next to the main check).
They will then ask you for an ID to make a procès verbal (a ticket) that you can then pay on the spot or later for a fee.

Many locals profit from the pay later facility to not pay, (turnstile jumping is extremely common) will try to say they don't have an ID and give false information so that they wouldn't get chased after not paying the ticket, which has some legal implications that I won't go into, but you can just be aware that police can be called if there are suspicions, to identify the person.

I assume what you saw was the enforcement team that finished a round of checks and was finishing up aside writing tickets/waiting for the police before leaving. The round of checks was finished because, in the contrary, the hallway would be fully blocked by agents, and you wouldn't be able to pass through without showing them your ticket/card.

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    to add to this: the RATP agents can't force you to provide an ID, nor is it mandatory to carry one in France. They can, however, detain you until the police arrives to control your identity.
    – njzk2
    Apr 8, 2023 at 20:22
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Here is how the RATP enforcement agents typically look (source: https://youtu.be/VE2Xe9lhn8Y?t=13) when checking to passenger tickets in the metro:

enter image description here

They'll form a wall that one typically (<5%) cannot circumnavigate, unless if one spots them from far away. But they'll often place themselves in a spot that can't be seen from far away (e.g., after a turn in a corridor).

SNCF agents (source), e.g. in RER:

enter image description here

Unlike RATP agents, SNCF agents sometimes enter the train itself (e.g., RER or TGV) to check passenger tickets.

If the agent only has a colored arm band and it's possible to maneuver past them (i.e., they don't check everyone), then I'd tend to think it's the police (source):

enter image description here

Police agents are much rarer than agents in the metro or RER though. The only time the police stopped me in the metro was just to check if I had any illegal drug or other illegal items on me. No ID given. Same for a friend of mine, at a different time.

I'm not aware of any scam around that theme, pickpocketing sounds much easier and legally safer.

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    I don't think these people were wearing colored vests or an armband that said "police." It looked to me like they were randomly approaching people in the foot traffic and asking for ID. Apr 8, 2023 at 13:22
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In addition to the other answers, it is worth noting that while the majority of agents are in uniform, since 2016, agents without a uniform are allowed (there are all sorts of additional rules for them, though).

They must have a distinctive sign and show a professional ID when they actually stop someone.

It is difficult to say what was actually happening in your situation, but indeed if they were RATP or SNCF agents expecting you to show your ticket, you most likely would not have been able to go past them without trouble.

Most likely, either they were such agents and they were “processing” people who had failed the inspection (asking for ID and doing the paperwork), or they were security agents or police checking or processing people for other non-transport related offences, most often theft (pickpockets and the like), drugs, public disorder…

Contrary to some other countries, people pretending to be the police and “arresting” people, asking for money, etc. are quite a rare situation in France, and most likely not in very public settings like the metro.

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    "They must [...] show a professional ID when they actually stop someone." is also the case when wearing uniforms, if requested by the person being stopped
    – njzk2
    Apr 8, 2023 at 20:23

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