Shell game scam

Paris-shell_game-scamAlmost everybody has heard of the shell game and although they all know that the chances of winning are extremely small, many people still fall into the game’s trap. If they wouldn’t, the game would no longer be around. It appears like Paris is the world’s capital of the shell game, as different versions of the scam are played in the streets of Paris. The original version features a small ball that you need to find under three cups or matchboxes, and an alternative is played with three discs of which one has a white marker on the bottom side. The challenge is to remember under which cup or disc the ball or the white marker is after the dealer has shuffled them around. But in reality, the shell game is rigged, designed to scam unsuspecting tourists thinking they are playing an honest game out of their hard-earned money.

The principle of the scam is the same everywhere: a group of people surrounds one person who deals the game on a cardboard box or simply on the pavement. They pretend to be casual passersby who are playing a game, betting large sums of money (€ 50,- or € 100,- per round) and often winning, especially when a potential victim approaches. They will loudly celebrate their victory to attract the attention and curiosity of the tourist walking by. If the tourist stops to take a look at the game, a new round of the game will start, and perhaps one of the players will lose, and then another will win again. This is to give the scam the credibility of a real game. Then one of the other players will deliberately bet on the wrong cup, leaving only two options under which the ball has to be. The dealer will ask if there’s anybody else who wants to take a bet at double the stakes, and may look at the tourist to invite him to play. The tourist is lured into the game this way and is sure to lose his money.

But bear in mind: everybody is in on the play. All the other “players”, pretending to be casual passersby trying their luck, are part of the scam, designed to make it look legitimate. And the shell game itself is rigged: the dealer has the ball in his hands and all the cups are empty, so the tourist will lose no matter which one he turns around. And if the victim wants to check the third cup as evidence that the ball actually is under one of the cups, the dealer will drop the ball under the cup in the same motion of lifting it. That’s how light-fingered they are.

shell_game-rip_off-ParisIn the version of the black discs, the dealer is even more light-fingered, as he is turning around the discs and showing which one is the one with the white bottom. He takes an all-black disc in his hands, turns it over and shows it’s black at the bottom, he then lays it on top of the white-bottom disc and turns them both over, showing the white underside of the bottom disc. Then he pretends to lay back the white-bottom disc, but in reality he quickly shoves the top (all-black) disc off the bottom one, and lays the one he has in his hand (the white-bottom one) on top of the third (all-black) disc and turns that around as well to show its black bottom. Then he does the switch again, laying down the white bottom disc, while the player thinks he lays down an all black disc.

So while you think the disc is (for example) on the right, it really is on the left. As soon as you appear to want to bet, someone else quickly places a bet before you and turns over the middle disc. This means that if you want to play next, you’ll have to double your bet, as the stakes have gone up from one-in-three to fifty-fifty. That’s how try to make you feel even more confident you’re right and at the same time force you to bet big money. Before you lose it.

If you are a victim of this scam, start making a big fuss about it and raising your voice to attract the attention of others around you. The scammers don’t like this and you’ll have a chance they’ll quickly refund your money to shut you up and get you to move on, so they can perform their act on the next victim. And they really don’t want to attract the attention of the police, because then all of their cash will be confiscated and they’ll spend the night in jail.

The shell game is most popular in the streets surrounding the Sacre Coeur Basilica, but it is found in every busy tourist area of Paris.

Find experiences from real victims or post your own story in our Paris and France Tourist Scams Forum.

Comments

  1. I lost 100 euros to the three shell game at the bridge near Eiffel Tower.
    The first moment I saw it I knew it’s a scam because I watched a magic show including the same kind of trick before, I was attracted to stop and watched it because I was wondering ‘there are scams in Paris, how the fools’ lost money’.
    In the end, I became the fool. I never want to participate it, but they targeted on me. In one round, first person(of course who is on the scam) lost the money, they suddenly pointed to me and said I’m the winner. I, a short girl traveling alone, was too shocked and my mind didn’t work functionally at that moment. The scammer put 200 euros in my hand and asked me to show €100 so the money will be mine. I refused twice to play and tried to give the €200 back to the scammer but it didn’t work. Another young girl (of course who is on the scam too) standing besides, kept saying ‘you are winning’. My stupid, then i decided to show him €50 but I took out 2*€50 from wallet. I didn’t have a chance to put back 1 note of €50. The scammer just swiftly grabbed all of my money from my hand. Then scammer urged me to turn over the black card (if it’s white, you will win but obviously I can never find the white one), I refused again and asked my money back, he said no. I was too shocked and scared so I had to turn over the card, of course it’s black.
    That’s how I lost €100 while I already knew it’s a scam.
    I felt really upset and blamed myself should not be attracted by curiosity.

    • This is interesting! Ive been googling this as I had a similar thing happen to me…they TOOK the money from my hand (I never should have opened my bag) when they asked me to SHOW the money. Not GIVE.
      Long story short…I caused a huge scene and they must have been surprised. I got my money back

    • OMG!!! I travelled from Canada, a health care professional. I thought that I was pretty smart and this is so damn easy. I watched for a while and decided to bet. I lost 150 Euros. I was so upset and shaking. How could this happen? Every one there was in on the scam. I was horrified. My son was with me, he kept asking me to leave because he didn’t like these people (he’s ten). He said, ” let’s go Papa, these are bad people. I’m scared.” I didn’t listen and lost all my money. I learned that the way the system is set up, one cannot win. Please stay away.

  2. Bonnie Davis says:

    Now I feel good because I ran into this last night at the Eiffel Tower near Metro station. And they were all yelling for me to show them my money and I said no way and they got tired of my refusals and moved on. I noticed that when they thought the police were near they pulled their operation up in a fraction of a second. What made me think it was a scam was how people kept missing the obvious location of the ball under the cup. Of course I spoke up and gave the right location which drew their attention to me. Then the group acted like I was so good and that I should play. They were all cheering me on to play which is their ploy. The guy held 100 Euro in front of me acting like he was going to go ahead and give it to me since I “won” without placing a bet. All I had to do was show him my money. You never get something for nothing and I flatly refused.

  3. Fool Lost100€ says:

    Lost a 100€ before I could blink with my eyes, all the screaming and yelling somehow got me confused and lost I lost 50€ I felt bad for losing it trying to get my money back and lost another 50€. Man man man was I pissed off. Still trying to figure out how they got me to play in the first place it just happened so fast. Thank god no one stole my wallet now that I think about it I could have everything stolen from me. Stay away from these magicians.

  4. Just got scammed out of 500 I’m dumb asf right me an my girlfriend were in the mall an someone came to us asking for an opinion he was the one who lured us in.. Then we see the guy with the game (in my head the guy that lured us in was trying to get us easy money) I don’t know why I thought that but I did stupid me right so the guy that lured us plays jabs loses an the one who deals the game said to my gf you get a free try I just need to see if you have money so she takes out her card an is like just a card he’s said great you can play so she did she won so he’s like I need you to show me that money’s on your card go to the atm in 7 mins an get it if you don’t make the time you lose what you won she looks at me like I don’t have 500 on my card so I gave her mine.. Keep in mind we aren’t dumb this shit literally happened quick as fuck it’s an impulsive situation your mind is every where besides common sense so she gets it he puts the money in her hand and takes the money and his money and is like all you gotta do is pick the right one again an you have a 1000 ..,. I shoulda hit this asshole in his jaw and took all the money he had including mine thanks for reading

  5. Jesus Cleanses the Temple – Matthew 21:12
    Then Jesus went into the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves. And He declared to them, “It is written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

    On the Sunday of the 14th of November I went to the Basilica du Sacre-Coeur Montmarte. As I walked up the street towards the shrine, there were three different “Shell Games”. I am traveling by myself and I didn’t know what it was but I watched. The game was three tin cups and a sponge ball underneath one of them. If you guess right then you get what you bet. As I watched, the ringleader called me over, and I bet 50 euros, but he stepped on my foot and told me to empty my pockets. Then underneath was no ball and he emptied my pockets (about 290 euros). Then the girl who was pretending to be a bystander was telling me how she had 300 euros and wanted me to go to the ATM and she would win my money back for me. I just walked away in shock of what just happened. As I walked up the steps I was approached by men about 7x trying to tie a bracelet to me or sell me an Eiffel Tower toy. I must had shouted ‘NO!’ about 10 times.

    Finally I get to the top, and don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful to see the view of Paris from this peak. I went up to the church to pray about what had happened. I then heard in my head that it was a ‘rip off’ so I looked up “Paris Ball Game Rip Off” and the name it is classified under in Wikipedia is the ‘Shell Game’. It states that it is ‘fraud’ and a ‘scam’.

    There are other testimonies of ‘Tourist Scams’ if you look it up on Google. The view outside and inside was beautiful, but the way to get there was like going through hell. It reminded me of the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple and he called the ‘house of prayer’ a ‘den of robbers.’

    I looked for police for help and the group of officers seemed very disinterested by saying ‘I don’t speak English. No time,’ and walked away. Then finally, I found another security guard who told me to go to the police station. I reported it to the Clichey police and they gave me an incident report, but I had to use Google translate to communicate to the police officer. I pray that I am going to get my money back. It was about 390 euros in total because I tried to win it back before looking on google and seeing that it was a complete scam.

    The ringleader had friends who pretend to be other players and he lets them win, but when they get an unsuspecting victim, they take all their money. They have big men behind them who are threatening who stand behind them. When I pulled out my phone they screamed ‘No pictures!’ and ran away. I took a photo of one of the people who gave me the middle finger, but the police, too, said it wasn’t necessary to give it to them.

  6. Yup. It’s a scam, a damn good one too. EVERYONE around is in on it too. Got me on the “love bridge” in Paris.

    Don’t play if you don’t want your money gone.

  7. San Francisco, California, USA
    Location: Pier 39.

    I thank my starts for having only $60 in cash on me at the time. Now when I look back, I feel so miserable. I got sucked in. Please be very careful if you or your friends ever visit San Francisco.

    Its the regular shell game. 3 cups and a sponge ball. I get there to the table thinking it is a magic trick as I had seen a few street magicians before. But it turns out people were bettting huge amounts of money ($100). The way to identify these scamsters is to keep a lookout for the guys who bet big amounts and alternate from winning and losing their bets.

    I was the mark. I waited for a good 3-5 minutes before I was scammed for $60. The guy behind the table was African American. The other players at the table we 2 African americans (one betting small and the other not betting at all but always seem to know where the ball is) , a white couple who may or may not have been in on the act as they never bet and a latino who was betting $100 and losing it by making wrong decisions by picking the wrong cup even when everyone else and in this case me know that it is the wrong one.

    Now there are only 2 cups left and you feel you know which one it is in. I went to take out the money and it is here where in by slight of hand the ball was either moved from one cup to the other or taken out of play altogether. Being a sponge ball it is easy for them to squeeze it in between their fingers.

    I am a person who gets really affected by such things and will henceforth always google scams in a city that I will be visiting in the future. I advise all to stay safe and not indulge in such things.

  8. Listen to my story: first day in Paris, I’m a gambler like the ones that go to every casino in every different city they visit, so walking around and taking some pictures and suddenly this guys appears, ofcourse I don’t play immediately. Instead I just stand and watch the game, I see how a girl loses her money, then another guy (all marrocans) pretends to be my friend and makes me play, telling me that I can win, of course they have got the right person: a gambling addict. So I pull out a 50 bill and immediately lose it, then another 50 so they guy took 100 euros from me. All of the sudden the guy starts to leave and I just chased the guy and bugged him asking for my money back (I speak french) the guy got scared and gave me back my money, but KEEP READING… the story doesn’t end here. The next day I woke up in the morning to go see the SACRE COEUR church, on my way down again like 10 marrocans playing the game. Fuck it, I’m a gambler, I couldnt resist. I thought I could just recover some money I lost in the casino, I had 60 in my pocket and BUMM they take it, there was an ATM, and 100 BUMM they take it, now again to the ATM another 100. I don’t know how but I triggered the guy and recovered 50, like I was supposed to open one box but I decided to open the other one and everyone started screaming: You cant do that!! So then I realized they all work together. Nevertheless I feel so stupid and the situation got me into the game, so I bet another 100 and I ended up losing 250 EUROS. I’m a smart guy and couldn’t believe how stupid I was, I was gonna hit the guy but there were like 5 of them so I just thought “ok you knew this was a fraud and you decided to play again, is your fault just leave!!!”. This is how I ruined my trip to Paris. I hope you guys enjoyed

  9. My first time in Las Vegas recently. Watched a bunch of tables set up on the sidewalk in front of Caesar’s Palace, all playing the shell game. All were black guys behind the tables. Something felt wrong and I could not trust them. I watched a young couple get taken for $300.00 in one shot. The guy was so sure he had the right answer. The couple obviously didn’t have a lot of money, and they were really hurt and upset when they lost their $300.00.

    After watching for a while, it became clear that the women (white and Hispanic) who were betting repeatedly were shills working with the scammers. Some big black guys were standing by to handle any trouble, and they were also members of the scam gangs. The gangs had lookouts posted, and the lookouts alerted others in their group to run if any police were spotted nearby. They also ran when someone called the police on her cell phone.

    You can also get pickpocketed while watching.

    The casinos aren’t really much better. The odds are always rigged in their favor, and you are bound to lose more than you win in the long run, in the games of chance.

    It’s a rotten business. Beware.

  10. I lost 100 euro then bet another 100 to get my money back but lost it too. So lost 200 euros. Then on another bridge I saw same game with little ball. I did not play but when they forced me to play I stayed away. Though when the cup was lifted, there was no ball in it. So I saved 100 euros… By not playing. Now I read and rechearched about it. Don’t play!!

  11. Gullible tourist says:

    This also happens in Budapest. The only euros we had in our pocket plus some of our own currency got taken. The game in which we played had at least 3 other men in on it. After we lost 185 dollars combined, a man came up to us and informed us that the game is rigged and pointed out the whole scam quietly and disappeared. Once we found out we got really upset and then started to tell others around us. That’s when all of the men involved decided to clear up their space and move on to a different site. Scary part (and no we weren’t just paranoid) but throughout the park while we were making our exit, we were followed by several men each at different times who were walking alone. We made sure to stay with large groups. Everytime we did, they would turn around and speak into a walky talky. When we found a security guard on site, we asked him if he knew of the game, he initially said yes, but when we told him they took our money, he acted as if he no longer spoke English. I think it’s safe to say that they can be found in most popular tourist spots throughout Europe. Be safe!

  12. Easy prey says:

    I was walking around the East Side Gallery (section of the Berlin Wall for street art) three days ago when I ran into several of these games lined up. There was one in particular that had a crowd. I did not know what it was, so I took a walking break to find out. I had no intension or desire to play, just some curiosity as to how the game works. It took only a few seconds before the guy’s accomplice (a large man in his 40s) forced two 50 euro notes into my hand and started speaking to me in German which I did not understand.

    I responded in English, told him I didn’t know what he was saying, and tried giving the money back. He wouldn’t take the money that I wanted to return, and along with the woman standing next to me, kept pointing at the 50 euro notes and my purse. In my confusion and shock at being the one targeted, I looked around for guidance. I was by myself. The crowd of people who I turned to also pointed at my bag and signaled for me to take out money. I was confused with what was happening, and when it didn’t seem like I would be following through, they seemed upset and angry. What I should have done in retrospect, was dropped the money and run.

    Instead, I took out my purse. I think in the moment, it felt like if I had not taken out the 50 euro, they might have taken it out for me. After I handed over the money, the man running the game told me to choose a box. I told him that I did not want to play the game, that I wanted my 50 euro back, but he said it was his and demanded that I choose a box. I remember feeling disheartened that the crowd was not on my side in the least bit. When it was clear that I was not getting my money back, in my confused state, I tried to explain to the person who had taken my money that I had not wanted to give it to him, as if this was going to get my 50 euro returned.

    I left only when one woman from the audience came over to me and told me I should let it go and leave, as I was beginning to get as confrontational as my non confrontational self could get. The woman shared that she had just lost 100 euro and was also a tourist (on vacation from Sweden). In retrospect, I’m not sure if she was also part of the scam or if she really did save me from whatever they would have demanded next. I’m inclined to believe the latter.

    In short, looking back on the situation, I was caught off guard, didn’t realize what goes going on, and was subsequently robbed by the mob in broad daylight. It certainly was not my decision to play the game. I wondered if I should have reported this to the police, but I thought this must be reported all the time – what can the police do for another dumb tourist? The fact that this still does not sit well with me three days later, makes me wonder if I should have approached the authorities if only for my own peace of mind. At least I would have spoken up and done something.

  13. Tourist says:

    Saw this game today at East Side Gallery. Total scam, we stood back and watched. We thought they were trying to distract people so they could pickpocket them. They had lots of spotters in the crowd and were really checking out people in the crowds. Can’t believe there are no police posted along this prominent strip. Sorry for anyone who got caught by these guys but really you must never take out your money unless you are very very sure what is going on.

  14. tourist says:

    For all tourists

    Shell game is never easy to win because they are mastered for this cheating game.
    The all crew surrounded is the part of the scam and encourage you to bet the money by clapping 👏 and other technics.
    I lost so much euros but not playing. When I just watching the game they ask me to pick the glass where the ball is available and free of cost. I picked the ball in the right glass and they told me to show if you have 500 euros they will pay me 1000 euros. I just shown in my wallet the money and they forcefully take the money from my wallet. I complained to police and only after I came to know it is a banned game and nothing can be done.

    Please stay away from this game when you are in Paris.they are cheap people and try everything to stolen your money. They will try to pick pocket, corner you by scam crew once you won the money, they also ran away during the game too.

    I feel guilty because they are still playing this game on the same street every day. I see them every day whenever I visit Eiffel tower. I hope tourisam and police should strictly banned this game to help the tourist not to spoil the money.

  15. I got scammed out of 100 euros today from this game. I still can’t believe it happened. I had never heard of this scam. I thought the game was legit, although I was hesitant to play because it seemed too easy to guess the right one. (The dealer in my version made it pretty obvious — he would “accidentally” flip match boxes over while shuffling them so you could spot the ball or at least one empty one)

    Immediately after losing, it dawned on me that all of the other players must have been planted, but I was too dazed to confront them about it.

    I’m normally fairly intelligent. I will say, that the scam works incredibly well with its psychology — everything happens so fast and you find yourself playing even though you really don’t want to. I was an idiot and only accepted their invitation to play cause I thought I would make a small bet (and I waited until after watching for a few minutes). I don’t minding losing 5 euros on a small bet (I enjoy gambling and card games) — but then they said the minimum was 50 and with everyone talking to me so quickly and with my confidence so high that I had the right one, I just went with it. After losing I walked away, and someone “befriending” me and tried giving me advice. I wasn’t going to play again, but I after seeing obvious misses and wins from others, I gave it a shot to win my 50 back. Still can’t believe how quickly I lost 100 euros. I left with 5 left in my pocket and had a grocery store dinner instead of a restaurant one. (Small note — the grocery bought dinner was actually fantastic)

    Ugh !!! Glad this happened my last day in Paris instead of my first haha.

  16. lost 150 euro by playing such a stupid scam, But please anyone let me know, how can I get back my money

  17. Very lucky today when I walked past the fabric/tissu area at the bottom of Montmartre and Sacré Cœur.

    All the testimonies here are correct. There is a fuss being made, but I thought it was too obvious how people could get it wrong, and I stood right back. They kept asking me to play, but it was very suss since the dealer would accidentally flip over the cup with the ball.

    I didn’t notice any other guard like types around, but was able to walk away without being involved, and thought maybe they were trying to distract people and pickpocket them.

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