Yep, anyone can be scammed. With reports emerging internationally about fraudulent charities being set up in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings and and other scams like dogs being disguised as lions at Chinese zoos, it is wise to be vigilant about criminals and their cons. One of the latest bogus ploys happened recently in the Chelsea area of London, England along the Fulham Road when a man suddenly blocked my path by bending down to inspect something that had fallen on the sidewalk. He quickly picked up the item and feigned surprise and beckoned me to look at it. “Real gold,” he said.
It did indeed look like a thick band of gold so I nodded my head in agreement. Probably some dear man’s wedding ring. I despaired for its owner and wondered how he would explain its loss to his wife. I also wondered what this vagrant-looking-man was going to do with it. Maybe try to pawn it and never give a thought to its real financial value-not to mention emotional value. Although I needed no convincing the poorly dressed, but amiable fellow pointed out in broken English that there was a marking inside the ring which proved it was 14K gold. I agreed that it did look like the real McCoy. “Take it!” he said. I couldn’t imagine why he was offering me such a gift and so my cynical heart softened. What a simple sort I thought.
Wrong. He wanted money. So, I offered him some. “That is all?” he complained. I pulled out a few pounds more and off he went, content and oblivious to the real owner’s grief and assuming that I was as mercenary as he in profiting from something that didn’t belong to me either.
Feeling quite civic minded and a bit superior, I walked over to the police station on King’s Road to see if anyone had reported missing jewelry. I explained what had happened between the amiable fellow and me to the duty officer. He smiled. “Did you give him any money?,” the officer asked. I was a little startled at the question, expecting a thank you for my small act of good conscience and muttered “Well, yes, a reward.” “How much?” he asked. Starting to feel a little self conscious I told him I gave him ten pounds. “You got off pretty lightly, love.” With that the officer asked to the see the ring and then walked over to his desk drawer.
What he did next stunned me. On a chain which measured over 2 feet long there hung a coil of gold rings. Just like mine. Dozens of them. All paying testimony to gullible people and the men who had conned them. “No” I gasped. “Yep,” the officer said. “These guys get them at a plumbing supply store. They’re plumbing rings.” I vented for a moment “Do I look stupid?” The police officer was empathetic. “There are a lot of people just like you who come in here and still more who are too ashamed to report it,” said the officer.
Still, I was furious at the thief who had conned me out of a few pounds not to mention my pride. I subsequently learned that his gang had moved on to other parts of the city pulling the same scam among the unsuspecting public.
It makes me angry when I think about it. But there is also something quite comforting about that coil of plumbers’ rings. Yes, it is evidence that so many people were scammed. But the collection also reflects the civic mindedness of dozens of people who went out of their way to help an unknown citizen and right a wrong.