“The second criminal class consists of cheats… and “flat catchers,” or ring-droppers, who cheat by pretending to find valuables in the street”
“London Labour and the London Poor” by Henry Mayhew, published 1851
I pride myself on being somewhat streetwise, knock on wood, I’ve not had to deal with anything too dodgy when I travel on my own by taking some precautions. Before I go anywhere I always do some research, study some maps so I do somewhat look like where I’m going and hopefully less of a target, and I’m always aware of my surroundings.
My camera bag looks like a regular bag, although with some hidden traps, I always have one snap closed as I wander, and it’s a bit difficult to undo without a struggle, then there’s the massive velcro patch underneath that makes a very loud noise, not to mention the amount of movement needed just to do that. Even if a very small hand does find it’s way through the slight opening they’ll get nothing, (without my knowing), out of it except for perhaps a tampon. When I do need to check a map I tend to drop into a restaurant or shop, and finally at times I allow my face to fall into “RBF” or Resting Bitch Face.
At the beginning of this month I was in Paris, I’ve been there a number of times before, but this was my first visit in about ten years, and well, it’s changed. I didn’t notice it at first, I met some people, but it was on a social level, they weren’t, and didn’t try to scam or rob me, that was day one, day two however was a bit different.
I was aware of the pickpockets, most of the scams such as those so called petition people that hang around the Louve, actually they can be found across the street from there, by the Jardin des Tuileries. I’ve seen them before, and until a few weeks ago they’ve never bothered with me, and I wondered after what I did wrong that caused them to target me. I was approached with the petition scam five times, by three people in the space of about 10-15 minutes, and you’ve read that correctly two of them approached me twice.
The first was this guy, apparently a stern “non” translates to, “no right now but if you wait a moment and ask me again my answer might change to a more desired
The scam, if you’re unaware, is that while one distracts you with a fake cause, trying to get your signature, a “colleague” will come over and help themselves to whatever is in your pockets, backpack, etc..
As I took another photo, I noticed this girl, as seen on the far right of the photo, notice me taking photo’s and sprint towards me, more like directly at me. I decided to make this into a game, I waited until she got closer and about to ask me if I spoke English, I said another stern “non” and walked away from her. She left me alone and went to stalk someone else.
I began to follow them with my camera, the man in the hoodie ran after this couple moments after he tried me, for the second time, and he went after them twice as well, this was his first attempt.
In his second attempt, he brought a friend but the friend, (in the red jeans), noticed me aiming my camera at them and moving on and away from this couple, although this photo it looks like they were perhaps going to still try. Moments later, they had all left the area as a police car had arrived, like cockroaches that scatter when the light goes on.
I then moved on as well, the show was over after all and I still had some wandering to do. I walked over to the Eiffel Tower without incident, but on the Pont d’Iéna I was stopped by young woman with a child. She called out to me, in English which I immediately thought as odd, saying that I had dropped something. I checked but I couldn’t find anything missing and she approached holding something small and golden. Well I say small, it was a huge, gold coloured ring, it looked like a mans wedding band. I told her it wasn’t mine, I thought of turning it in but I didn’t know where, and I was about to walk away when she again approached me asking me if it was gold, and showed me what looked like a mark. Again I tried to walk away and as I did she kept trying to get me to take it, saying it doesn’t fit her, I replied “you found it, you keep it, lucky you.”
I finally managed to get away from her although she kept calling out, still trying to give me the ring, this time I didn’t turn around and walked just a bit quicker. I didn’t think it was a ploy to pickpocket me, she didn’t get that close to try and nothing went missing, but it was a really odd encounter, one that did bother me.
About an hour later I was on the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, taking photo’s of the lovelocks on there, (to add to my collection), when a woman approached me from behind, she held out her hand and there was that very same ring, the woman on the Pont d’Iéna had tried to force onto me. I laughed, mostly at her and told her that one of her friends had already tried that scam. She gave me an odd smile, and I’m not sure if it was because it was what I said or because she didn’t understand me.
I was unaware of this scam, although it’s been going on for centuries, I’d never encountered it before, and didn’t know anyone else who had, but I had a bad feeling about this ring at the first attempt, and again was happy to have listened to my instinct.
I took a photo and was almost immediately confronted by a young man who yes, tried it with yet another identical ring. It was seconds later that the girl came by again, and tried her luck one more time, I had barely laughed her off when he tried the scam once more as well. It was at this point I lost it, swore a bit and said something like “do you not pay attention to who you are trying to scam?” I may of said it a bit loudly but it got the reaction I wanted, and they left me alone after that. This happened in the space of five minutes.
I hung around the bridge, observing in them in action, they didn’t drop or through the ring on the ground, they keep it in their hand and do a kind of lunge as they pretend to pick up something, then they try to get someone, (a tourist, specifically targeting those on their own), to take the “found ring” by saying any sort of excuse, ‘it’s too big, it’s against their religion, etc.,’ and when you accept it they try to get a sort of finders fee for it by saying they haven’t got enough to eat, etc., and they can get quite aggressive.
The ring itself is worthless, a piece of cheap brass is all it is. If you don’t give them enough they may accuse you of stealing the ring from them, usually if you let them try to put it on your finger, when you try to give it back that’s when they start to cry.
I tried to catch them in the act, but they are quick but when I began to aim my camera the girl, she left the bridge and was about to come back a bit later but when she saw my camera she backed off and disappeared down a street. However I did get a photo of the young man in the process of the scam.
He was unsuccessful, the tourist managed to give it back and make his escape, and when he noticed me with my camera directed towards him, he made a bit of a quick exit. The bridge was then free of these two and I continued to take a couple more photo’s, but as I left I came across him again as he tried the scam on a woman waiting for a local bus which I would think she was probably not a tourist, I suppose no one is safe from these cheats.