Riding the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can’t help but notice the signs posted in numerous languages warning of pickpockets.
I thought, “I’d like to see someone try.”
Nobody needed to pick my pockets, turns out, they could talk me into giving them a handful of Euros.
I got off the train from Frankfurt to Paris and knew my hotel was near the Arc De Triomphe, so I figured I’d walk across the city. It’s a good way to see and find cool things that maybe aren’t on the usual travel brochure. I had a smart phone and tablet with me; however, I didn’t turn on international data, so I couldn’t simply check my maps app. I spent the day simply trying to walk in the right direction. If you’re ever lost in an urban residential area and can’t seem to find a cafe, just scan for open Wi-Fi points near residential buildings and you will usually find one. I used this technique to periodically pull up the maps while walking in the general direction of my hotel.
A bit of background before I go on. At the time, I worked as a bartender as an international airport while in college. I found that, after a while, I could scan the restaurant and identify where people were from by the way they dressed and carried themselves. I knew this and I knew other savvy people also had this skill.
“He grabs the wad of euros and runs
off. I’m standing there stupidly
holding a five euro bill out in front
of me watching him run around a
corner and disappears.”
It was evening and I was in a relatively quiet area. Parisians enjoy their apéro and most had already left work hours before. I wound up crossing a street with a random couple and the con-artist, who I would soon be handing a wad of cash totaling several hundred Euros and learning first-hand about the Gold Ring Scam.
I crossed the street and heard the sound of metal hit the pavement. I paid no attention to it.
“Pardon me sir, you dropped your ring,” I heard a man say from behind me.
This was prior to my marriage and I never wore jewelry of any kind. I thought it was odd that this guy started a conversation with me in English in Paris and my alarm bells were ringing. Being that I was tired from walking all day, I deliberately tried to portray, both visibly and audibly, that I was irritated at being stopped.
“It’s not mine. I don’t wear jewelry. It might be theirs,” I replied, motioning to the group getting farther away, whom he made no effort to include in this conversation.
“But sir, I saw you drop it,” the con-man said as he handed me the ring.
I looked at the worn golden band–a men’s band. I noticed the S stamped on the inside indicating Stainless Steel.
“I don’t wear jewelry. I don’t want it,” I said in growing irritation.
“This is good fortune. It is luck. You cannot turn your back on luck in Paris,” said the man. I’m a pragmatic guy and his comments only increased my irritation.
We go back and forth for a minute with me repeatedly telling him that I don’t want it. He persisted, repeatedly telling me that it’s bad luck to turn your back on good fortune — especially in Paris. I finally relented and took the ring just hoping that he would go on his way.
He begins to walk away. He gets 10 feet away, stops — over-dramatically, mind you — pointed his finger and waved it in the air. Indicating to me that he has an idea and comes rushing back. The whole scene was completely ridiculous to me.
He comes back and says, “Will you not trade luck for luck. Your lucky new ring for some café.”
My brain was thinking that it’s worth 5 euro to get this guy out of my face, so I reached in my pocket, pulled out a wad of euros, deliberately pulling out a five-euro bill. Unexpectedly, he grabbed the wad of euros and ran off. There I was, downtown Paris, stupidly standing there holding a five euro bill out in front of me while watching him run around a corner and disappear.
I’m not about to chase him. The lyrics from the Modest Mouse song “Float on” popped into my head “A fake Jamaican (Insert Parisian) took every last dime with that scam. It was worth it just to see some sleight of hand.” It was a lot of money, but I wasn’t overly concerned about it: I had plenty of cash in my bank account, I had more cash in my wallet, and my hotels were booked for the remainder of the trip. I was really more bemused by it.
I just had to laugh about it. I saw it coming, I knew he was scamming me and I still walked right into it. I laugh even more when I remember my thought from earlier that day looking at the beware of pickpocket’s signs.
In this entire story, I then made the one choice I most regret most: I threw the ring back on the ground and walked away, reasoning that the con man might not have dropped it, although I’m certain he did, and that somebody may come looking for it.
I wonder how much he makes doing this? How many people fall for it? It could’ve been just me that day. I’d like to think that I was one of many because it makes me feel less like a fool.
I tell this story a lot to amuse my friends, but by doing so, I’ve also been able to re-frame the entire event and turn it into a positive lesson. Recognizing that I should have trusted my gut, especially knowing that he was up to no good, being dismissive and rude isn’t always enough. Sometimes, you need to walk away. He persisted and I allowed it. Despite knowing better, I still walked right into his trap. If I had ignored him, I would’ve kept my money. Ignoring strangers is problematic though. Ignore the wrong person and you’ll miss out on the time of your life, a best friend or even a future spouse. Maybe trust your gut.
If you wind up in Paris and somebody tries the Gold Ring Scam on you, pick up a ring for me. I lost mine.
Tips on Avoiding Pickpockets and Scams:
- When traveling to a place known for pickpockets, use a front pocket wallet or, if you forget to grab one and refuse to stick it in your front pocket, turn your wallet sideways in your back pocket to better detect if it is being removed.
- If you’re a woman and carry a purse, make sure it’s a smaller cross-body purse that can be completely zipped up.
- Pickpockets often work in groups, so be wary of people stopping in front of you, even briefly, to tie their shoe or block your access on a staircase, train or building entrance. It may sound paranoid, but that’s the time to pull your purse to your chest and grip it and place your hand over your watch.
- It always goes without saying, but bring multiple types of forms of payment: debit cards, cash, credit cards and travelers checks.
- Do not keep all of your valuables or payment methods in one location on your body or in your luggage. If possible, keep an emergency card or cash in a secure hotel safe.
- Be aware of your surroundings, even in areas you paid to enter.
- Wear a wedding band if you’re a woman.
- Be loud and brash — confidence intimidates people. If you’re not a loud person, carry a whistle.
- When traveling, always let someone who is not with you know where you will be every day.