Art museums appeal to all sorts of people: wealthy industrialists who like to see their names on plaques, children whose parents are too lame to take them to Six Flags, preppy girls from Connecticut, and many others. But it turns out that museums are also becoming popular among another demographic: petty criminals. The Guardian reports that officials at the Louvre—the famed Parisian museum that houses the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and many other works that you learned about in school—have reported an increase in counterfeit tickets:
Museum staff last month began noticing that several dozen Chinese tourists with tour groups held counterfeit tickets “of a strange consistency, [with] poor paper quality and ink that hadn’t set properly”, the daily Le Parisien reported. Later in August better-quality forged items began appearing with serial numbers – exact copies of the museum’s entry tickets. Also last month Belgian customs officials reportedly seized 4,000 counterfeit Louvre tickets hidden in a parcel from China.
Officials worry that the counterfeits come from organized groups of forgers, possibly in China, who are selling them in bulk to unsuspecting tour groups. Though the quality of these particular forgeries seems to have been rather low, I still think this is a pretty decent idea, as criminal schemes go. I’ve made no secret of my belief that counterfeiting American currency is an incredibly stupid crime that’s bound to fail. But there are plenty of other things to counterfeit that aren’t nearly as secure, like museum passes, or coupons, or event tickets. With the help of computer imaging software and the right paper stock, even a bad forger can make passable copies of these documents, while a good forger can make near-perfect ones. They still might not fool somebody who actually knows what the real thing looks and feels like, but that’s rarely the forger’s concern. If you can find a way to sell your forgeries to some third party—which isn’t hard; the world is full of gullible people who let their enthusiasm for a “good deal” trump common sense—you can make some good money while running little risk of getting caught, at least immediately.
As if the counterfeiting wasn’t enough, the Guardian reports that the Louvre is also apparently plagued with roving bands of aggressive pickpockets. Earlier this year, Louvre employees went on strike for a day to protest the pickpockets, who have apparently become so brazen that they insult and threaten employees who get in their way. (It is unclear whether the strike actually did anything to fix the problem.) This makes me wonder what else is going on at the Louvre that we don’t know about. Are the expensive pastries sold in its cafés actually from the French equivalent of Sysco? Did I.M. Pei really build that incongruous pyramid, or was it an imposter?
So what’s the takeaway? Stay away from the Louvre? No, the real takeaway here is that tourists are easy marks. The Louvre is the world’s most popular museum, which means that it’s filled with people who aren’t paying attention to their surroundings, which in turn makes them targets for counterfeiters or pickpockets or other rogues who prey on inattention and gullibility. All of these problems could probably be solved in a minute if tourists would just start being a little bit more observant. Take it from famed Pop Art icon Smokey the Bear: Only you can prevent counterfeit tickets and pickpocketry.