Muni Shell Game in the News, Again

A gang of thieves has been running a three-cup shuffle game to strong-arm Muni passengers of their money. Sound familiar? The reports just keep coming in. Back in March, rider Adam sent us an account of the shell game con he saw the 24. A few weeks later we got a video of the con. Last night, ABC7 aired another video of the shell game in action.

The scam itself isn’t new, but the intimidation factor and targeting non-touristy bus lines make this seem more menacing than before.

A rider wrote us after seeing the segment and told us she’s seen this game before. You won’t believe when she first witnessed this, though.

Rider Eve remembers this con…back in 1974:

This has been going on for years

I was just watching the news and saw that they are still using the same “game” to steal money on muni, that they got me with when I was in the 6th grade, in 1974. I got on the bus at 7th Avenue and Geary, they were already on the bus

It was Christmas time, and I was going downtown on the 38 Geary with money I had saved up all year from allowances, birthdays.

I had about $70.00, remember this was 1974, so that was a great deal of money for me. I was so excited to go buy presents for my sister, my father and my mother for Christmas with this money.

3 black men were sitting in the back of the bus playing a card game, 2 Kings and a Queen. Same game as the 3 nut shells.

I was facinated. I watched and in my head kept guessing the right card.
They asked if I wanted to play, and it seemed like a sure thing.

Little by little, dollar by dollar, they took all the money I had. I think I was stupid enough to tell them, too, I was 12 years old.

To this day, I think about it sometimes and wonder what kind of people can do this, and steal from a child, and I will never forget what he said to me as he took my last few dollars, so I had no more Christmas money, no more gifts to buy for my family.

He said, as he knew he was cleaning me out: “You aint gonna cry if you loose, are you?” Of course, being a tough young girl (I was raised by a father who wouldn’t allow me to cry “those crockodile tears”), I said, “no”, holding back the tears. I knew what was coming.

They took my money, and I got off the bus, I didn’t want them to see my cry. I cried, as I got off the bus, difficult to see the stairs as I went down to the street, and stood there, empty, lonley, scared, humiliated, violated, used, and broke at Christmas.

They didn’t just steal my money, they stole my Christmas that year, and I never trusted anyone on any bus again.

Some of you commented that this game is so old that anyone who falls for it kind of “deserved” it, but others commented about the intimidation from this group of people — even reportedly punching someone who called them out on the scam. What do you think — a scam as old as 1974 — can it be stopped?


  • Rob

    I saw this guy two years ago rip off two Australian tourists on a 47. He was very intimidating to the girls. When people said “Don’t do it.” all of the men yelled at them to mind their business. They took their soda bottle caps and ran at the next stop. Looks like the cops aren’t going to do anything about this one, so I guess it is up to us to stop it if we see it.

  • Rob Nagle

    awesome! Jeff Hunt in the news!

  • JimmyD

    It amazes me that in this day and age there are still suckers who fall for this crap!

  • Bernie

    I was a witness to these enterprising “gentlemen” a couple years ago en route to the Outside Lands festival. They could have easily made out with $500 bucks on just the one bus I was on.

    I won $20 dollars from them, and actually held on to it for about 20-25 minutes. Although, I was smart enough to never put it in my wallet. (partly so they wouldn’t see how much cash I actually had on me, but mostly because I knew what was up and wanted to taunt them).

    However, by the time the jig was up, and the suburbanite concert-goers were starting to revolt, they seemed insistent on at least winning back that $20 from me. I, exasperated, eventually gave in (by purposefully choosing the “wrong” shell) and our lesson in Grifting 101 came to an unfortunate end.

    After seeing the news report last night, and reading these entries… I WISH I held out just a bit longer. I would have framed that twenty!

  • Since the SFPD and SFMTA are seemingly uninterested in trying to do anything about this, the thought occurred to me that someone who witnesses it and is far enough out of earshot should call it in to that same SFPD. If the cops ignore a call stating what bus route they’re on, what intersection the call is coming from, and which direction the bus is headed, then we have a pretty sad excuse for a police department (go on, insert snide comments here). Just a thought.

  • JC

    Props to Muni Diaries for getting the brand out there. What’s sad for Muni (but good for MD) is that it’s portrayed as being completely out of the loop on the incidents when they’ve been known to be happening for some time.

    It’s easy to be all judge-y and say that people SHOULD know it’s a scam, but clearly they don’t. And MD is doing a service by letting people know that it’s a scam. Maybe MUNI should outsource some of the PR function to you guys.

    PS Beyond this particular scam, anyone who pulls out and displays two Ben Franklins on a MUNI bus seriously needs to consider having a legal guardian appointed. I get weird about brandishing $200 in a casino.

  • m2k

    I witnessed this almost 2 years ago on the 27. It resulted in a fight and the muni police being called. The bus had to go “off duty”. How is it possible that a “Muni’s spokesman has never heard of it.” ?

  • redseca2

    The first question to ask is, “what is the driver’s cut?”

  • Stephen

    I used to see this all the time on the CTA in Chicago years ago, but it was always on long subway trains. It seems ballsy to scam passengers on a bus, but maybe it’s easier to flee.

    Nice sound bite, Jeff!

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