Recently I have approached twice by people pretending to find a gold ring in the street, and then asking for money for it. Here’s how it works:
As you walk down the street a person will rapidly come toward you, and a short distance in front of you pick up a large ring laying in the street. The ring appears to be solid gold. They will ask you whether it’s yours. You of course did not drop a ring, particularly in a place where you have not walked yet. You say no, and attempt to go your way. They will follow you and try to give it to you. Your natural reaction is to refuse it, and tell them it’s their lucky day. Then they will give you some story about being allergic to gold (gold is inert, no one is allergic to it), or not liking jewelry, or some such nonsense. In the end, they will be such a pain in the ass about you keeping it that you finally give in and take it. You go your way, and they pretend to go theirs. Then they come back and demand money for it.
I don’t know whether the ring is gold or not, but I know someone who paid five Euros to the person and got the ring. Even if the ring is 14 karat gold, it would probably be worth a few hundred bucks at a pawn shop. There are no identifying marks on it, other than a very small stamp on the inside appearing to be the gold stamp. I’m guessing, though, that the ring is worthless.
So, if you travel in Italy there are a few rules to remember.
1. Don’t take anything from anybody. Beggars and con men will often try to hand you something, like an envelope, or a rose, and then want money. I have even heard of them handing you a baby, and then going through your pockets. Simply refuse, and don’t worry about being polite. They are crooks and liars.
2. Don’t let anyone get too close to you. If you are in a crowd, well, you’re in a crowd, but otherwise try to keep your distance.
3. Do not take voluntary assistance from anyone. Unless you are a little old lady struggling to get her suitcase over a bridge, no Venetian is going to help you. There are Gypsies, particularly at the bridges near the train station and Piazzale Roma who will grab your bag acting all helpful, and at the other end demand money. Also, people will greet you at the train station and assist you in finding your train and your seat, and likewise demand money. There is no one at the train station to help you. If you fall for either of these scams, refuse to give them money. What they are doing is illegal.
4. Beware of anyone (other than fellow tourists) asking you for directions. They will come up and put a map under your face with one hand, and go through your pockets with the other.
5. Beware of swarms of young girls. They are out to pick your pocket.
Do some research before you come as to what scams are out there, and always be suspicious of any Italian offering you any kind of assistance. Venice is safe and generally free of scam artists, other than the beggars, but you still need to use ordinary care. There are plenty of pick-pockets.
Note: There are porters in Venice near the Vaporetto stop for St. Mark's, but they have badges and a list of fees. They are worth every penny, but make sure you know the fee in advance.