I’d heard a bit about this scam but had never seen it, nor have I had it done to me. But the other day, while passing the Louvre, I saw a couple a few metres in front of me, with a tall man just to the side of them picking up what looked like a gold ring. ‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘this looks interesting.’ Sure enough, the man offered it to the male of the couple who shook his head, but then the other man sort of pressed it on him (I didn’t really hear their exchanges and in any case I think it was done mostly by mime, since it turned out that the couple didn’t speak much English or French). By this time, I had passed the couple and sure enough they were moving off, with the man holding the ring in his hand and looking rather mystified, with the scammer just behind them.
I asked the couple if they spoke French, but no. English? A little. ‘Don’t take the ring,’ I said. ‘It’s a scam, he’ll ask you for money for it in a minute.’ The couple were looking mystified. Who should they believe? Me, a complete stranger, and an interfering busybody to boot, or the ‘nice’ young man who’d just found a ring on the ground and offered it to them, for luck, since his religion forbade him wearing such things/wasn’t his size, etc etc.?
But upon hearing me telling the couple it was a scam, the ‘nice’ young man yelled at me in loud and very clear if accented English, ‘F@#$ you! F@#$ you!’ Strong evidence that my interpretation had been correct. The young couple hastily gave him back his ring, and scuttled off.
Apparently, what usually happens is that once the ‘target’ has taken possession of the ring and started to move off, the ring-finder then says to them that he’s hungry, could do with a few euros, would like some recompense for giving them something valuable, or some variation on this. I have heard of people parting with as much as 10 euros. There’s some more information on this scam on this Lonely Planet discussion site.
But I don’t like to encourage paranoia, either at home or when travelling, so I hope I haven’t done that. Still, it’s always good not to look touristy, and if this scam does happen to you, it’s probably best that you pretend you don’t understand whichever language the ‘ring-finder’ addresses you in!
En revanche, as the French say, I’ve had countless experiences in France where people have picked up my gloves, scarf, shopping list, magazine, that I have dropped, and returned them to me before I’d even realised I’d dropped them; and I want to stress that this is far more the norm than anything else in France.