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Avoiding Street Scammers and Con Artists

Hütchenspieler in Berlin

On Berlin streets, con artists playing shell games try to lure tourists with quick winnings. Should you fall victim to this scam, more than just money is at stake.

A typical scene in Berlin's city center: A small group of people gather around a person playing the shell game. What might look harmless is a popular trick to lure money out of the pockets of unsuspecting visitors to Berlin. Here's what Berliners and tourists need to know about the shell game and how to protect themselves from street scams.

Where do you encounter shell game scammers in Berlin?

In Berlin, the perpetrators are mostly found at the popular tourist spots in the Mitte district and the western city center. Many of them can be spottet near sights such as the East Side Gallery and the Mercedes-Benz Arena, on the bridge near the City Palace, in front of Zeughaus, and on the Liebknecht Bridge near the Berlin Cathedral. They are also regularly seen on Kurfürstendamm, especially around the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.

How does the shell game scam work?

  • A perpetrator squats in front of a small carpet on which there are three boxes and a small ball.
  • Several people who seem to be interested in playing along gather around the perpetrator.
  • The perpetrator now hides the ball under one of the three boxes and begins to move them, asking the bystanders to determine the whereabouts of the ball.
  • One of the bystanders now places a bet on the box under which the ball is located and wins.
  • This makes passers-by believe that they can easily win money.
  • If an unsuspecting outsider decides playing, the perpetrator now increases the speed when moving the boxes and lets the ball disappear - unnoticed by the outsider. Thus, he/she has no chance to win and always loses.
  • Protests by the victims will be met with verbal abuse or even beatings by the scammers.
  • In addition to the perpetrator and the associated bystaners, there are other associates who observe the surroundings from a distance and warn if police shows up.
  • Sometimes, pickpockets mingle with the bystanders and use the distraction of the shell game to commit thefts.

Shell games are fraud

In a legally binding conviction of a defendant by the district court Tiergarten, the negotiating judge gave a reasoning which, according to Berlin police, is proof that the shell game constitutes fraud. It starts to be fraudulent the moment the scammer changed the modalities unbeknownst to the player. "This is the intended deceptive act," the judge declared.

Report shell game scammers to the police

If you sight shell players or have been scammed: Call the police at the telephone number 110.

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Source: BerlinOnline/Polizei Berlin/

Last edited: 4 February 2022