Friday, July 22, 2011

The Old Ring Cycle

Seine Promenade, 2006

No, we're not talking about the Wagner Ring cycle, that seemingly endless series of operatic fantasies about rings and Nibelungs and Valkyries. No, we're talking about people who scam tourists, most notably along Seine in Paris.

I'm usually a very trusting person. I'm not at all like one of my neighbors who lives with the constant conviction that everyone is out to get her and that strangers are never to be trusted. I give people the opportunity to show me their best.

But I am not so naive as to believe that there aren't people who will take advantage of you, especially when you're in unfamiliar terrain. Like when you're in a crowded foreign city and you’re distracted by all the new and interesting things there are to see.

In Italy you’re warned to be wary of usual pickpockets in crowded places and around busy train stations. But the scoundrels you really want to avoid are the gypsies who will do things like throw fake babies at you, knowing that you’ll reach out to save the baby while the gypsies reach underneath your arms and grab your purse or wallet. This may sound like an urban myth. But I’ve actually watched it other gypsy scams happen.

I don’t have anything against gypsies, by the way. But they seem to have been relegated to such low status in western European counties that they’re left with only scams to support themselves.

It was in Paris, though, that we experienced the famous "ring" scam. I had actually read about this one somewhere before we went to Paris, so I recognized it when I saw it happening.

Unfortunately, my wife hadn't heard of the ring scam. So when a respectable looking woman called to my wife from the Seine promenade to ask if she'd dropped a ring my wife stopped to see what the lady was talking about.

I recognized the scam almost immediately. But my wife, never one to miss a jewelry opportunity, couldn't resist the call. Having learned over thirty years when to jump in and when to stand back, I hovered nearby while the con played out. The woman showed my wife a gold ring she'd supposedly found on the walkway where my wife had just passed and asked if it belonged to my wife. It wasn't hers, of course. But the woman said she felt bad about taking something that belonged to other people and instead offered to give it to my wife.

This was the set-up. The ring, of course, wasn’t made of gold and wasn’t ever on the ground. But at first glance it looked nice enough to be worth considering. The scam is that the ring is worthless, little more than plastic. The cycle plays out when the victim, aka the “mark,” also feels guilty about accepting something for nothing and offers the con artist some money for her time.

My wife might have fallen for the initial appeal of the scam. But by this point she realized she's being taken for a ride. I was standing not far away, so I knew she's in no actual danger. But I turned out to be unneeded altogether because by then my wife had started to yell at the con artist in her loudest Southern lady voice. I don't remember what she said, only that it was loud enough that it immediately attracted the attention of everyone standing and walking nearby. It was the very kind of attention that the con artist didn't want. She took off running immediately. We had a good laugh over the experience, chatted with a few people who had also observed it and then wandered off to a café to have a couple of cold drinks.

A few minutes later we saw the lady back out on promenade carrying a ring in her hand and calling out to another gullible tourist. "Madame! Madame!..."


  1. Wow--I never heard of that particular ploy. I am always so careful, but there are so many scams out there that I pretty much tell myself, what will be, will be. I've been very lucky so far--but, come to think of it, maybe it's my "don't mess with me" face and people just don't want to deal with that!

  2. While I was in the service the scam I ran across most often overseas was the money exchange "deal". I never got scammed because, as a military brat, I'd heard about this sort of thing virtually all my life. Even though we were warned about it during in processing briefings there was always some young airman who returned to the barracks showing off the huge pile of local currency he bought from someone in a bar only to learn the pile should have been much larger at the official exchange rate.