Burglaries & Gassings of Villas, Rentals and Hotels
Whilst burglary of luxury apartments and villas in the region are nothing new, statistics of crime rates throughout the French Riviera provide unpleasant reading. According to the latest government statistics (from the département des Alpes-Maritimes / French Riviera region), break-ins amount to almost half of reported crime, and within one year there has been an overall increase of 8% in robberies on the French Riviera. This includes a total of 48 armed robberies and a further 1,545 “unarmed” robberies, plus all the unreported robberies.
A security expert working in the south of France told Daily Star: “I would say around 90% of villa raids out here go unreported”, and the National Institute for Security and Justice estimated that 56% of break-ins go unreported. It’s the same situation with hotel room robberies. And when they are reported, they’re often swept under the rug, with hotel booking websites removing reviews that mention burglaries, and both the police and hotel or villa owners telling the victim that there’s nothing they can do.
Criminals commonly break in at night and use gas to sedate their victims before entering their villa or hotel suite (if they can enter via a terrace or balcony). It is thought the use of chemical gas in these raids goes under-reported because it is not obvious they have been targeted in this way.
While luxury villas are definite targets, hotel rooms, AirBnb and apartment rentals, and even tourists in camper vans are being gassed and robbed. Be aware that thieves have also been finding the car keys and using them to steal the rental car as well. Because the car was not “taken by force”, some renters have found themselves not covered by rental insurance and liable for the whole replacement value of the car.
Organized criminals follow people who look wealthy (which is another reason not to rent a Porsche or wear a designer handbag, unless you’re staying in Monaco) and then use drones to case their villas. It’s often celebrities that get the news coverage, but this is happening to both locals and vacationers at all income levels.
The police have indicated that break-ins have become a growing problem in the region, with perpetrators gassing their proposed victims before spending several hours stealing valuables — right down to removing the passed-out victim’s wedding rings and watch.
Here’s an interview with a French Riviera security expert, explaining how villa gassings happen, and what you can do about it:
The situation has got so bad that the US Embassy in Paris warned American citizens of “recent trends” in residential burglaries by “well-organized burglary rings” — mostly Russian and Eastern-European crime groups.
“Everything from burglary and money laundering to vice is controlled by the mafia from formerly-Communist countries. They’re into everything, from the Russian prostitute rings in resorts like Cannes and St Tropez to gassing tourists in their villa and stealing everything they’ve got,” a police officer told The Telegraph. Alain Bauer, a French criminologist, said: “This is one of the best structured criminal organizations in Europe, with a quasi-military operation”. Laurent Laubry, a representative of the police union Alliance, described the “ultra-violent methods of these people, who have no morals, no rules, and who are often heavily armed and beefy.”
Be aware that thieves don’t only use gas at night. Here’s a comment from TripAdvisor: “My family and I were just recently attacked at a luxury villa we had rented in south of France at the beginning of this summer. We were confronted by armed robbers with gas in our bedroom early morning. All of them were wearing masks and covered black clothing. They gassed us all (including our 10 month old baby) and stole our jewelries and valuables. We were targeted at a nearby Super U. There is a very horrific video of our attack that was captured by our Nest camera in our bedroom. The robbers attacked us with it while we were awake and we nearly lost consciousness, my husband was also badly injured as he tried to escape to call for help for us. Please be extremely aware of what is happening in France when planning to visit and rent villas. Make sure you rent villas that are extremely secure and be aware of rental cars as the car plate is a giveaway for these thieves to follow you around. We are extremely affected by this horrific event is to say the least.”
Tourists should make sure to deadbolt the doors and lock the windows at night. Do not travel with expensive possessions or a lot of cash. If you’re driving a rental car, be aware of anyone following you home, as both luxury cars and rental cars signal to thieves that you’ll have cash on you.
See our full list of tips on how to avoid the most common types of crime on the French Riviera.
Further Analysis: By City
Here is a detailed crime analysis of crime on the French Riviera, and the most dangerous locations, broken down by city:
- Marseille: Crime rates are over 5 times higher than any other city in France, especially the murder rate.
- Corsica: The highest murder rate in Western Europe.
- Nice: Rife with pickpocketers and petty thieves.
- This website will let you drill down on the type and amount of reported crimes by area.