Three Cup Shuffle Scam on Muni
Photo by Flickr user photine
Muni rider Adam saw a group of people scamming Muni passengers on the 24 recently with the infamous “three cup shuffle” scam. I’ve heard about this scam being carried out on tourists at Fisherman’s Wharf and in some other tourist-heavy cities, but Adam’s description of what happened seems more threatening:
Today a friend witnessed a group of people gambling/scaming passengers on Muni. One guy would do the ‘which cup is the bottlecap under’ and bug nearby passengers about money, while flashing cash. A nearby passenger refused to pay attention so two other guys came up and threatened the guy into giving up his cash on hand. This was on a 24-inbound. They jumped off in the Haight. Not 10 minutes later another friend texts me that this same group of guys (whom he sees all the time) are on the 71-inbound doing the same thing. They intimidated a guy out of $40.
Adam said he called 311 and was transferred to SFPD, who then transferred him back to Muni. Adam also reports that the 311 operator would not take an anonymous report, but on the 311 site I found that you can indeed file an anonymous report about Muni.
Our own Jeff Hunt and Tara Ramroop said they have also seen this scam, on the F:
The game involves three little cups, a marble, and a flat surface. The cups are mixed around, only one containing the marble, and the participants guess which cup has the marble. One guy sat down with the board, facing across the middle aisle to a couple of female tourists. One of his (obvious) cohorts sat a few rows back, and on the other side. Another cohort was closer to the back door of the F, perhaps setting himself up as the lookout.
When guy with the board couldn’t drum up much interest, his cohort egged people on, making it seem like he was just a spectator. He pretended to “play,” and that got the tourists’ interest. After a few “feel good” rounds of letting the tourists win, it was on to the real money. Bets were up for $1 to $20 and more. After a few wins, a loss is hard to swallow. So the tourists go in even further, and now they’re out something like $100. It all happens really fast, but ends in slow motion. All three men get up and off the streetcar at the same stop. Ten seconds later, the tourists realize what happened.
We dialed our criminal defense lawyer friends, who said that this is almost certainly illegal, violating Article 3 of San Francisco’s Municipal Code. Specifically, section 227. The scammers are also probably in violation of the California Penal Code, which calls this scam “three card monte.”1
Threatening the passengers for money probably also violates a couple of laws, including disorderly conduct, we were told. Have you seen what Adam or Jeff and Tara described on Muni?
1 California Penal Code Section 332 provides:
(a) Every person who by the game of “three card monte,” so-called, or any other game, device, sleight of hand, pretensions to fortune telling, trick, or other means whatever, by use of cards or other implements or instruments, or while betting on sides or hands of any play or game, fraudulently obtains from another person money or property of any description, shall be punished as in the case of larceny of property of like value for the first offense, except that the fine may not exceed more than five thousand dollars ($5,000). A second offense of this section is punishable, as in the case of larceny, except that the fine shall not exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or both imprisonment and fine.
(b) For the purposes of this section, “fraudulently obtains” includes, but is not limited to, cheating, including, for example, gaining an unfair advantage for any player in any game through a technique or device not sanctioned by the rules of the game.