Thieves run shell game on Muni busses

June 14, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Bus passengers in San Francisco say a gang of thieves is running a notorious shell game, but authorities won't do anything about it. Those passengers are hoping something will change now that they have caught the thieves on camera.

First of all, shell games are a con -- just walk away. The guys playing the game aren't playing for fun; they are out to steal your money.

Please note, there is a date stamp on the amateur video in this story, but that date stamp is wrong; the victim shot the video himself on Friday, June 11.

On a Muni bus heading down Van Ness Friday afternoon, a man in blue shirt was playing the shell game. He was hiding a small fuzzy ball under one of three cups. Three accomplices stand around pretending to be players.

They turn their attention to their victim, telling him he's won $100 and that all he has to do to collect is show he had enough money to cover the bet in the first place -- a bet he never made. The thief shows two $100 bills.

The victim asked that ABC7 protect his identity because he is fearful of retribution.

"He goes ahead and grabs both my bills and I'm sitting their going, 'How in the hell did this just happen?'" said the victim.

After they got his money, all of the accomplices leaned in, telling him to play. They said things like, "lift up the cup, you've already won."

Most victims bend to the pressure of the group, pick up one of the cups, losing the next game and losing their money.

"Pretty much from the get go, I knew it was a scam. The guy sat down with his board and the cups," said Jeff Hunt.

Hunt is co-founder and editor of MuniDiaries.com -- a blog about city's transit system.

Number of posts about scammers have been at least 25 over the weekend.

"People saying, 'Oh yeah, I've seen that on the 38, I've seen that on the 71, this and that,'" said Hunt.

Someone even sent in a video showing the same scammers running the same con on a different bus.

Still, Muni's spokesman has never heard of it.

"Our enforcement group reports directly to the director of transit and that's who I spoke with over the weekend," says SF MTA spokesman Murray Bond.

The victim in Friday night's scam reported it to police and to Muni.

The twist on this version of the con game is the intimidation factor. Add that to the con and it's also a public safety issue.

On Monday afternoon ABC7 called the San Francisco police for comment and was told someone from their fraud unit might get back to us on Tuesday.


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