'Bachelor' Contestant Lauren B. Engagement Ring On ... Winner Winner?

EXCLUSIVE

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'Bachelor' favorite Lauren Bushnell looks like a taken woman, judging from the ring on her finger, but there's less here than meets the eye. 

The photo surfaced Tuesday -- Lauren wearing what looks like an engagement ring -- and it caused a ****storm thanks to her friend who posted the pic on Instagram.

Could it be ... Ben not only picked her but popped the question?  

No.

The photo was taken in September, 2 months BEFORE Ben picked the woman of his dreams. There's no way she was married during the competition, or even engaged, because it would mean the show was a sham and that would be a PR disaster for producers. 

So the takeaway is this ... a rose by any other name may be a rose, but a ring on the left ring finger is not always an engagement ring.