Stockholm: Avoid this popular tourist scam in Gamla Stan

Posted in: Stockholm


Gamla Stan in Stockholm

Some cities in Europe are known for the various tourist scams that relieve you of your money or your wallet. Or both. Stockholm, for the most part, is a very safe city, but even the Swedish capital has a scam to watch out for.

Wandering through Gamla Stan is a wonderful way to get to know the medieval history of Stockholm. The Old Town is one of the best preserved in all of Europe and has a beautiful array of churches, historic buildings, and museums. It is also a great place to pick up overpriced knickknacks and souvenirs. Despite my feelings towards those overpriced souvenirs, what goes on inside the stores is not any kind of scam. It is what goes on just outside of the stores that you need to watch out for.

On Västerlånggatan, the main tourist street in Gamla Stan, the street where you’ll find enough Swedish souvenirs to send you over the luggage limit, you’ll also find a classic street scam.

What to look for (and avoid)

A group of people gathers around a man kneeling on the ground. In front of him is a simple game. Find the ball. It seems easy enough, just watch which box the man hides the ball under and follow along as he scrambles the boxes.

Yep, it’s the old shell game. We’ve all played the game at some point in our life. Of course, usually it only costs a dollar and will result in a stuffed animal being won at the county fair. Here you are “shelling out” 500 SEK notes (about $70). The problem is, you’re not really playing. At least not by any standard of fair play.

The scam is just as simple as the game itself. Instead of actually putting the ball under one of the moving boxes, the man keeps it hidden in his hand. You can’t win. It doesn’t matter which box you choose, there will be no ball and there will be no payout.

Walk on by…

Don’t stop to play the game. Don’t even stop to watch the game. Often times, the scam works with a team. The scammer with the quick hands, maybe even a scammer who plays and, lo and behold, wins, and of course a few cohorts wandering around the crowd, rooting through pockets, purses, and backpacks.

Recently, the Stockholm police force has been cracking down on this, but the scams continue. Warning signs are posted in shop windows throughout Gamla Stan, but tourists and scammers alike pay no heed as the games often take place in plain view of the warning signs.

The best thing you can do is simply keep walking. Don’t slow down to gawk, instead walk past, and enjoy the beautiful sights and history that Gamla Stan has to offer.

Tell us about your experiences

Have you seen this “game” in action? Have you been scammed yourself? Tell us about it in the comments section.

About the author

Marcus Cederstrom

About the author: Marcus Cederström was born in Sweden and moved to the US just before his sixth birthday. After 17 years in the US, Marcus moved back to Sweden. His daily adventures and musings are chronicled in his blog, A Swedish American in Sweden.

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7 thoughts on “Stockholm: Avoid this popular tourist scam in Gamla Stan”

  1. These scams are operated by Eastern European gangs and are common everywhere, not just in Stockholm.

    Just stay away from them and you’ll be fine.

  2. I visited Stockholm April 2013. My husband and I were walking along the streets and this guy across the street pointed to the back of my jacket to say that I have had bird shit on my jacket. There was a huge patch of white liquid of the back of my jacket. He then walked away.

    Another guy on the same side of the street came to say the same thing and pointed to the nearest bus stop and asked that I removed my jacket etc. while we followed him towards the bus stop my husband smelled the liquid and realised it was fragrant. We then decided to go to a nearby hotel to borrow the bathroom. That guy followed us. We felt he was being wierd and decided to stay at the hotel lobby for another 15 mins and he left.

    It turned out that the liquid was just moisturizer. It was a lot of moisturizer and there was no way they stained my jacket accidentally.

  3. This has been happening for a long time now, In 2006 we were there for workshop which was organized by our employer and one of my friend lost month worth of salary to these ball hiders in Gamla Stan. I don’t know how these people are operating avoiding police

  4. Jakob Svensson

    these guys took two of my kids for a total of 1000 kronor. I went after them noisiliy demanding my kids’ money back and telling them I had called the police and would follow them all night until we got our money back. This worked and they gave it back. Make a lot of noise, hurt their business in front of a lot of people and these cowards and cheats will give in. Attention costs them time and money. Fight back!

  5. Hi, we have been to Stockolm, 3 months ago, some Swedish men, tried to make us visiting a historical, old town (the Stortorget .Big Square) , we trusted them..

    during the walk, in a small street , one of them showed us his arm, and forced us to give him all what we have (money and phone) just pay attention to people who insist to you to visit any things there…or invite you for anythings..especially to play a fake game…many of our friends had the same troubles ..

  6. We got caught up in this game in Budapest today so I decided to look it up. Foolishly we got involved and handed over 10,000 Ft (about £30). When we realised what had happened, we were determined to win our money back. Unfortunately…this meant risking losing another 10,000 Ft. My sister watched carefully as the guy moved the ball around the three boxes yet point blankly refused for the vendor to lift the box himself (which would have enabled him to hide the coin). A small altercation occurred but once my sister persuaded him to let her lift the box herself and pointed to the ball, we made him return the 20.000 Ft we handed out. As we watched others play (his conmen) and how he let them pick the box up themselves, we didn’t back down! A little bit of force and firm talking can make you win…admittedly you do have to be silly enough to get involved!

  7. Yes I witnessed this in both Stockholm’s and in Copenhagen’s busy streets. A man was scrambling three boxes and a ball hidden (!) in one of them and people were paying 100 USD or EUR to make their guesses. They were so sure that they would win but eventually all lost the game. One man paid even the last penny in his wallet. Once in Copenhagen I was going to play and stepped on scammers hand to make him stop. In the same moment, there were 4 more feet on mine. Scammer asked me to pay 100 EUR to play but in the last moment I gave it up (Thanks GOD)


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