33 Most Common Tourist Scams in Russia

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Red square dome

Red square dome

 

As the world’s largest country with 9 different time zones, there is much to see in Russia.

Here, you can immerse in the country’s rich history and culture – you can visit magnificent orthodox churches, top museums as well as take in a show at the majestic Bolshoi or Marinksy Theatre.

If adventure is what you seek, you can head out to the mountains, valleys or cruise along river Volga, the largest river in Europe.

However, there are a number of tourist targeted scams and low level crime which you have to look out for.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Ballet rip-offs

Bolshoi Theatre

Bolshoi Theatre

 

How it works:

Watching renowned ballet performances is a popular tourist activity in Russia. However, if you are not careful, you can be scammed.

The two best theatres in Russia are the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and the MariinskyTheatre in St. Petersburg.

However, tickets here sell out fast, due to the large number of resellers who snap these tickets up.

As a result, there have been tourists who have paid premium prices for low quality seats, and even tourists who have fell for fake tickets.

 

What to do:

Avoid buying tickets from streets touts or unofficial sellers.

Only buy a ticket through these sources:

  • Direct from company / official counters.
  • Licensed retailers.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided.
  • Day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (best in Europe) – some bestselling tickets:

 

 
Also, especially for Bolshoi or Mariinsky, book your tickets as early as possible (available for sale 3 months in advance).

If you can’t get a ticket there, other venues you can consider include:

  • Moscow: Stanislavsky theatre,The Kremlin Palace Theater.
  • St. Petersburg: Mikhailovsky Theatre, Hermitage Theatre.

 

2. Fake / overpriced amber

Amber. Source: mutatdjellyfish / Flickr

Amber. Source: mutatdjellyfish / Flickr

 

How it works:

Amber memorabilia is popular with tourists to buy as a souvenir.

It is basically a resin of tree sap that has been fossilized over 2.5-4 millions of years.

However, most souvenir shops will overcharge you for it with some even selling you imitations made of plastic or copal (incomplete fossilization).

 

What to do:

You can find these sold at jewelry shops, souvenir shops as well as at departmental stores.

Some places you can check these out include:

  • Moscow: Arbat 8, GUM (expensive here).
  • St. Petersburg: Eketerina’s palace, souvenir departments of shopping malls like Passageand Gostinydvor, jewelry stores along Nevskyprospect.

Next, there are several ways to determine if a piece of amber is real:

  • Heating: a real piece will smell like burning wood rather than burning plastic. The real thing will not melt as well.
  • Floating: a real piece will float in dense fluids like sugar / salty water (as amber has lower density than plastic) but sink in fresh water. A fake will sink in both.
  • Imperfections: a real piece should have some.
  • Alcohol / acetone drop (e.g. from a fingernail polish remover): there will be no effect on a real piece. A fake piece however will be discolored.
  • UV banknotes detector: a real piece would have emit a fluorescent glow that is bluish while a fake piece will not or will only emit a white/yellowish glow.

 

3. Pickpocketing

 

How it works:

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelry / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they surround you and then work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another blocks, pushes or distracts you (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes.

Beware of gypsy children as well who use these distraction techniques such as fighting amongst themselves, bumping into you or swarming you.

Some hotspots (non-exhaustive):

  • Moscow: Red Square, Paveletskaya Metro station, on metro; dark deserted streets at night, Ismailovsky tourist market.
  • St. Petersburg: GostinyyDvor Metro Station, on metro,NevskyProspekt, Cloakroom of Catherine Palace and Park around it.
  • Sochi: unlit spaces at night, crowded places, markets, transport terminals

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target.

Further, make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Keep your wallet in the front pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch.
  • Store large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables, etc.

 

4. Photo taking scam

Sparrow Hills. Source: Svetlana Asanova / Flickr

Sparrow Hills. Source: Svetlana Asanova / Flickr

 

How it works:

Most tourists visit the Sparrow Hills in Moscow to take pictures of the beautiful panoramic shots of the city.

However, watch out for those dressed in costumes who pressure you to take photos together.

A huge fee will then be demanded, just like at the Colosseum in Italy and on Time Square in the US.

You might also spot people carrying exotic birds who then forcefully placing the birds on you so you can’t refuse a photo.

Also, there are women dressed up in olden day clothing who throw themselves at male tourists to get them to take a photo together.

Over at the St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, you find the same set-up.

There will be people dressed up like Catherine and Peter who will pressure you to take photos together and then demand a large fee after.

They have also been spotted stealing tourists’ valuables once you get close to them.

 

What to do:

Do not be pressured into taking photos together.

If you wish to, negotiate on a price before taking one.

However, note that they have the bargaining power if you were to pass the camera to them – they can hold your camera hostage while demanding a higher fee than what was initially agreed upon.

And to prevent thieves from ever having a chance of stealing from you, consider these measures:

 

5. Overpriced souvenir and products

 Nevsky Prospekt

Nevsky Prospekt

 

How it works:

In Arbat and Nevsky Prospekt be careful of how the prices have been inflated as it is a tourist area.

The trinkets, paintings and even bottled water at airports and stations are all over priced compared to what you could buy elsewhere.

Even the products at Russian airports have been increased in price, which will cancel out the tax break you get from purchasing in duty-free.

 

What to do:

A good place for souvenir is the Izmailovsky Market , but make sure you haggle hard.

To find out what is a fair price to pay, you can do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff.

If you do not wish to bargain, alternative options are to:

  • Fixed price shops: slightly higher prices than average, but you won’t be ripped off.
  • Shopping tour through GetYourGuide: best day tours platform in Europe –some shopping tours:
 

 

6. Fake police

 Kremlin towers, Moscow

Kremlin towers, Moscow

 

How it works:

Although not that common, there have been sporadic reports of this in Moscow so it is better to be safe than sorry.

For instance, one incident was that of a tourist at the Kremlin who was asked to cross through the garden for a bag check.

Along the way however, he was intercepted by fake police officers who demanded to check his identification and wallet.

Should these be handed over, cash and / or cards inside will obviously be stolen.

 

What to do:

If you have not obviously broken the law, be very skeptical when a “police officer” approaches you.

Three steps you can use to shake them off:

  • Verify badges and identification. Threaten to call the police hotline (end of this article).
  • Never give your passport if asked. Show only a photocopy of it.
  • If they want to fine you or check your bags, insist to only do so at a police station (use your GPS to find it or check with a local) with a lawyer or someone from your embassy.

Next, you should have hidden your valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This way, the scammers may simply let you go since you do not seem to have much cash.

 

7. Dropped money scam

 Red Square, Moscow

Red Square, Moscow

 

How it works:

At the Red Square and Nevsky Prospekt , there have been reports of this where a scammer will drop his wallet in front of you.

Upon witnessing that, you will find yourself feeling obligated to pick it up and return it to them.

As you do this, they will claim that you have taken money from it.

Almost immediately someone dressed as a police officer will turn up and will insist you return the money, and maybe even pay a fine.

Of course, this is not a real officer and this is part of a common scam.

 

What to do:

If it’s being dropped in an obvious way, do not pick it up.

Else, follow the steps as listed above when dealing with fake cops.

 

8. Fraudulent tour operators

Hermitage Museum

Hermitage Museum

 

How it works:

There are rogue tour operators / agents who help you buy a ticket for a certain attraction or event only to add on a large surcharge for their service.

Others may direct you to places only where they have a tour guide who can take you and be paid a fee, rather than helping you see what you want to see or see the best parts of Russia.

 

What to do:

Engage a licensed, reputable tour operator which you can find via:

 
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operators : reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

 

9. Unofficial tour guides

Catherine's Palace

Catherine’s Palace

 

How it works:

While queuing at tourist attractions like the Hermitage or Catherine’s Palace, you may encounter unofficial guides who claim to have a genuine tourist license and want to bring you around.

It’s likely that they will charge a high fee and the tour will be of poor quality.

 

What to do:

In Russia, it’s difficult to obtain a tourist license as a lot of studying has to be done.

As such, do not sell yourself short by going with an unofficial guide.

 

10. Zero dollar tour scam

Chinese tourists in Russia

Chinese tourists in Russia

 

How it works:

This is something that currently affects Chinese tourists.

However, we do not know if tourists from other countries are affected, as sometimes it may simply not be reported.

There are Chinese tour operators which bring large groups of Chinese tourists into Russia with low rates, free food and free accommodation (hence called the zero dollar tour).

Throughout their trip, they are taken to Chinese-run businesses and coerced into spending all their money and shopping at a significantly higher rate.

All prices are inflated and supported by the tour guides who will tell them what a good deal they’re getting.

These tourists are frequently rich, first time travellers who want to see Russia and will be happy to pay in cash and would not imagine that Chinese-run businesses will scam them.

In many cases, Russian tour operators partner with these schemes or are invested in them.

 

What to do:

To determine if an operator is legitimate , ask these questions:

  • Is the operator licensed and is there a professional website, physical office, business email and working telephone number?
  • Are there online reviews? Do they sound legitimate?
  • Is the price too low to be true? What does it cover (vehicles, guides, safety, insurance, hidden fees, etc)?

When paying:

  • Avoid paying in full upfront unless through a reputable platform / operator.
  • If using an online platform, do not make payment off the platform.

 

11. Bar scams

Nightclub in Moscow

Nightclub in Moscow

 

How it works:

This is a common scam in Central / Eastern Europe (e.g. Hungary, Turkey).

In Russia, you may encounter this at St Petersburg where a girl approaches you.

She’ll ask if you want to get some drinks together, and may even offer to buy these drinks to build trust with you.

Once trust is built up, she will offer to show you around to her favorite bars in the area.

After speaking to a friend, she’ll let you know that the club you wanted to go to is closed, so will take you to the Crystal club on Griboyedov channel embankment instead.

In the Crystal club they’ll provide food and drinks as soon as you arrive and then you’ll be stung by an enormous bill at the end.

The police will not respond to complaints about this so the only thing you can do is pay the bill.

 

What to do:

Do not head to a suggested bar together with a random stranger on the streets.

If you do want to make new friends, why not consider this well-reviewed pub crawl in Moscow or this in St. Petersburg?

Else, if you do want to take the offer, some questions to ponder:

  • Does the bar seem legitimate? Are there customers?
  • Is the stranger reading from a script? Evasive about things?
  • Is he / she only bringing you to a particular restaurant or bar?

Some other tricks you can use:

  • Pretend that you have company by suggesting to go another place where you have a few friends at.
  • Ask for prices before ordering. Only drink what your waiter or you have poured.
  • Take a photo together.

If you fell into the trap:

  • Pay with a credit card but call the bank to dispute your charges immediately after leaving.

 

12. Fake alcoholic drinks

Russian vodka

Russian vodka

 

How it works:

This has been going on for years.

For instance, in 2006 in Voronezh , the police raided a warehouse which was producing vodka which included brake fluid, anti-corrosion solution and even cologne.

Meanwhile, they also found vodka elsewhere containing window-cleaning fluid, lighter fluid, de-icer and antiseptics.

At that time, over 42,000 Russians died of alcohol poisoning annually.

In 2016, the police also discovered a warehouse in Irkutsk with fake bottles of Boyaryshnik and various vodkas.

The Boyaryshnik contained methanol, which is in antifreeze. This led to 48 deaths in Irkutsk as a result of the fake alcohol.

 

What to do:

Buy from official retailers rather than from street side shops.

Always inspect your product before buying – does your product look to have been tampered with?

Finally, before drinking, taste a small sample of it first.

 

13. Drink spiking

 

How it works:

Drink spiking, in particular with GHB, is becoming increasingly common.

There have been reports of tourists who find their drinks spiked with drugs in a nightclub or bar which cause them to pass out.

The victim will then be robbed or assaulted.

 

What to do:

Do not accept any drinks that you have not seen made in front of you, or to leave it unattended.

Canned or bottled drinks are recommended as it is more difficult for someone to put a sedative inside.

 

14. Overcharging restaurants

Russian pelmeni

Russian pelmeni

 

How it works:

In popular tourist locations in Russia, a common trick restaurants use is to get you to order before paying and without telling you the price.

Once it is time to pay, an inflated bill will be delivered.

Other ways tourists are commonly tricked include:

  • Charging a higher price from what was advertised.
  • Providing different food from what was ordered.
  • Charging for items not ordered.
  • Pricing in grams and not per portion and not revealing this or the weight of the dish before cooking.
  • Restaurants buying fake reviews on TripAdvisor (spiked during the World Cup in 2018).

Areas to watch out for include: Arbat Street, Izmailovsky Park, VDNX, Peterhof Grand Palace area.

As for restaurants with shady business practices, some examples include: Lastochka, Krambambulya, Chainaya S.I.D amongst others.

 

What to do:

Avoid restaurants promoted by aggressive touts.

Do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff on recommended places locals go to eat at.

Also, always check the menu carefully (prices, fine print), do not eat what was not ordered, and check your bill carefully.

Otherwise, you can also consider joining a food tour for an authentic, local food experience!

  • GetYourGuide: best day tours platform in Europe – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport – popular food tours include:
 

 

15. Fake puppy photo

Fake panda

Fake panda

 

How it works:

There was an incident in Sochi where a man offered tourists the chance to pose for a picture with a panda cub.

However, the panda cub was actually a Chow Chow puppy dyed to look like a panda.

 

What to do:

We really have nothing to say! 😀

 

16. Spilled liquid scam

 

How it works:

To distract you and pickpocket you, locals will spray a liquid onto your back or pretend that you have bird droppings on you and come over to offer to wipe it off.

As they clean your jacket for you, they’ll take the opportunity to steal your wallet or other valuables too.

If you are carrying a bag, they will also pressure you to put it down. They then distract you so that an accomplice can steal your bag.

 

What to do:

If someone spills something on you or if they point out a stain on your clothes, reject any help and quickly move to a safe spot.

While moving, check that your valuables are still secure with you.

To prevent thieves from ever having a chance of stealing from you , consider these measures:

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Corrupt customs

 Novosibirsk Tolmachevo Airport

Novosibirsk Tolmachevo Airport

 

How it works:

There is some corruption in Russia, and you may encounter it when dealing with customs officers.

A corrupt officer will discover a problem with your documents and will require you to pay a fee to resolve the issue.

 

What to do:

Unfortunately, there is nothing much to do besides to pay.

However, if a preposterous amount is demanded, make a scene, ask to speak to the head of the department and threaten to call the police or your embassy.

This may help you either avoid paying a bribe, or at the very least negotiate the amount down.

 

2. Overcharging taxis

 Moscow taxi

Moscow taxi

 

How it works:

Note that taxis in Russia do not use meters. Rather, a fixed fare is negotiated.

So if you are unable to speak Russia, chances are you are going to be overcharged.

In fact, a Chilean journalist was charged $900 for a ride from the Domodedovo airport to his hotel in the city – 50x the real price!

Should you refuse to pay, there have been reports of tourists being locked in the taxi and not let out.

Common areas where this scam happens are airports like the Domodedovo airport and tourist spots like the Red Square in Moscow or State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

 

What to do:

If you do not know Russian, we recommend that you avoid hailing a taxi off the streets.

Instead, use the metro, walk or ask your hotel to arrange a car for you instead.

Should you take a taxi, always negotiate the fare (currency, price for everyone and not per pax) before getting into one.

You can estimate the fair price of any route by checking:

  • With your hotel / hostel staff.
  • An online taxi fare estimator/ online travel forums.
  • Taxi booking apps like Yandex or Gett.

Take a photo of the car plate and also of the driver’s license in case anything goes wrong.

Else, you can also consider arranging private transport through your hotel / hostel or day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (best in Europe) – 40+ options).

 

 

3. Unofficial taxis

 Moscow traffic

 

How it works:

Unofficial taxis can be extremely dangerous and costly in Russia, and are often hard to spot.

They will position themselves at airports, stations and in popular drinking areas at night, in the hope of attracting tourists.

However, taking a ride from one of these drivers puts you at risk of extortion, kidnapping and assault.

In fact, at Domodedovo Airport , you will even find signs warning you of “private taxi drivers”.

 

What to do:

Do not take unofficial taxis, especially if you do not know Russian.

Instead, do follow the earlier guidance for the earlier scam of overcharging taxis.

 

4. Fake ticket inspectors

 Sapsun train in St. Petersburg

Sapsun train in St. Petersburg

 

How it works:

If you’re travelling on public transport in St. Petersburg , watch out for ticket inspectors who will find fault with your perfectly legitimate ticket and will expect you to pay a fine as a result.

These are actually fake inspectors and you are not obligated to pay as they are just there to extort tourists.

 

What to do:

If you are sure there is perfectly nothing wrong with your ticket, you can threaten to call the police.

Ideally, we would recommend hiding your cash and valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This may allow you to negotiate the bribe down when you show that you have not much cash on you.

 

5. Fake train officials

 

How it works:

Around train stations, be careful of anyone who offers help or direction.

At some stations, guys wearing construction uniform will offer to escort you to the right platform for your journey.

They’ll then insist that you pay a fee of 1,000 RUB or will threaten you or call the police if your refuse to pay.

 

What to do:

It is better to solicit help than to receive unsolicited help in this case.

 

6. Corrupt traffic police officers

Moscow

Moscow

 

How it works:

There is also some corruption amongst the police within Russia, especially traffic police within the centre of the city.

The officers will find a problem with your visa or will find a way to accuse your of a driving offence, which will need to be handled.

They will make it clear that you could go via the official routes and face arrest, or you could just settle the issue in cash immediately.

The police will often have hidden behind a wall or billboard to catch you for your driving offence and it will nearly always be completely fictional.

 

What to do:

If you drive, follow all laws and make sure to bring your driving license along.

Hide your cash and valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This may allow you to negotiate the bribe down when you show that you have not much cash on you.

 

7. Hitchhiker scam

Kremlin Bridge

Kremlin Bridge

 

How it works:

Russia is actually hitchhiker friendly, though there have been past reports of hitch-hikers turning out to be robbers or drug smugglers.

 

What to do:

It is your call – to be safe rather than sorry, or to take the chance to make a new friend.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. SIM card scam

 

How it works:

During the 2018 World Cup in Russia, there were individuals who pretended to be working for a telecoms company called MTS, where they sold sim cards to visitors.

The sim cards would stop working shortly after the sale had gone through.

 

What to do:

There are many telecom companies here – the big three are MTS, MegaFon and Beeline.

Buy direct from the official shops or official retailers which you can find at the airport, transportation hubs and in shopping malls.
Note that only locals are allowed to buy one online.

There are of course, online resellers but avoid buying through them as prices are usually higher and there no guarantees that they work.

 

2. Corrupt police

Kuznetsk street

Kuznetsk street

 

How it works:

Should you encounter corrupt police officers here, they will claim there is a problem with some of your documentation and demand a bribe from you on the spot.

 

What to do:

If you are good at Russian and bold, you can explain clearly to them that everything is fine and offer to travel with them to the police station to clear the matter up.

Or you could pay the bribe and hope that the officers accept this and do not continue to exploit you for more money.

The other option is to threaten to call your embassy and not participate in the corruption. This is of course risky that it will anger them more.

Finally, we recommend hiding your cash and valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This may allow you to negotiate the bribe down when you show that you have not much cash on you.

 

3. Money exchange scam

St. Petersburg street

St. Petersburg street

 

How it works:

When exchanging money in Russia, avoid changing currency with street exchange booths or with individuals on the streets, especially if you don’t know Russian.

You may find these scammers near the airport and major transportation hubs.

Typically, the exchange rates will not be fair. You may also be provided a calculator to do your calculations but it will have already been rigged.

There are also vendors who will trick and misdirect customers to steal some of the funds as they do the exchange.

 

What to do:

To exchange currency, change it at the currency exchange bureaus, banks or hotels.

The ones at the airport are reliable but the rates are awful.

 

4. Rigged ATM

Signs of a rigged ATM

Signs of a rigged ATM

 

How it works:

Generally, ATMs can be rigged in two ways.

First, the card skimmer and pinhole camera / keypad overlay set up:

  • A card skimmer is installed over the card slot to capture your card details.
  • The pinhole camera / keypad overlay is used to capture your PIN.

Second , the card trap:

  • The card slot can be rigged with cheap tools to trap your card.
  • When your card is stuck, someone will come over and tell you that if you retype your PIN, your card will be unblocked.
  • Obviously, your card will still be stuck, but the scammer will now have seen your PIN.
  • Should you head into the bank / somewhere to seek help, the scammer will unblock your card and escape.

Besides rigged ATMs, there are even fake ATMs , as scammers canbuy and refit retired ATM machine for not more than 100k Rubles – a mere USD 1.5k.

 

What to do:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas. Use only at controlled environments such as in banks.

Scan the area for suspicious looking characters, look out for red flags of a rigged ATM and cover your PIN when typing it in.

Also, although not directly relevant, consider using a RFID blocking wallet.

That will prevent your cards’ details from being skimmed by thieves with a mobile RFID reader / scanner.

 

5. Wrong change

Russia ruble

Russia ruble

 

How it works:

This can happen anywhere, though prolly more at tourist attraction or at markets.

It is easily executed – a rogue vendor can simply pretend not to understand English and give you less change than required.

 

What to do:

Always check the amount of bills you hand over and the change you get.

To be safe, you can count the notes out loud in front of the vendor before handing it over.

 

6. Watch my bag scam

 

How it works:

Be wary if any stranger asks you to help watch their bag.

Often this is a set-up for fake police to appear on the scene, find illegal items in the bag and demand a bribe from you.

 

What to do:

Decline.

 

7. Snatch theft

 

How it works:

Generally, there are two versions of snatch thefts – strike and run, or distract and grab, in many possible contexts:

  • Bikes / mopeds riding past, with a pillion rider doing the snatch.
  • Snatching from behind you, then running into a getaway car to escape.
  • At restaurants , stealing unattended bags / valuables on the chair or table.
  • Hotels & airports , where distracted / tired tourists carry all their valuables out.
  • The beach where tourists are relaxed, or when they head to the water.
  • Seats beside a train’s doors where a thief gets out just before the doors close.
  • Stealing of bags on overnight trains / buses.
  • Valuables snatched through a car / bus window.
  • Thefts around ATMs.

 

What to do:

When seated / not moving:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Avoid carrying valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.

Other measures:

  • Leave valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

8. Hotel theft

Moscow cityscape

Moscow cityscape

 

How it works:

During the World Cup in 2018, a Colombian singer, Maluma, had USD $800,000 worth of valuables stolen from his hotel room in Moscow.

Besides Maluma, other tourists have also reported having valuables stolen from their hotel safe.

To understand how hotel thefts work, first , there are a couple of ways a hotel room / apartment can be broken into:

  • Hacking: electronic locks can be hacked to create a master key card.
  • Inside job: by hotel staff.
  • No locking chain / latch: if you are not in the room or if your door does not have one, a simple paper menu can unlock your door.

Next, hotel room safes can be broken into too:

  • Inside job: all hotels have a way to get into your safe.
  • Master code: some hotels do not change it. It could be a standard “0000”, found in the user manual in the lock, or even on the Internet! Simple codes such as “1234” are easy game for burglars too.
  • Master key / master magnetic card: each safe the hotel orders comes with one, so a hotel will probably have hundreds of these. If these are not secured properly, they can used by staff / thieves to steal.

Mike Moske, a private investigator who has worked in hotel security for over 26 years, estimates that 60-70% of hotel thefts are inside jobs.

  • If that happens, it is difficult to prove that you have been a victim of theft, as there are no signs of forced entry.
  • Sometimes, you won’t even know! E.g. A staff opens your safe and captures your card details without taking it.

 

What to do:

There are four potential solutions:

When not in the room, use a:

  • Portable safe
  • Hotel safe lock

When in the room, use a:

  • Door lock
  • Door motion alarm

Check these out under hotel safety tools.

Finally, get a good travel insurance policy (World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) to cover loss of valuables from theft.

 

9. Beggar

Vladivostok

Vladivostok

 

How it works:

While in Sochi and Vladivostok , you may be approached by beggars in the popular tourist areas asking for money or food.

They also may spend time near doors or crowded areas where they can quickly reach into a pocket or bag to steal from you.

 

What to do:

Avoid donating. If you want to help, donate to established charities instead.

 

10. Drunk fights

 

How it works:

In the outer parts of Moscow there are a number of drunk individuals known for robbing or fighting with strangers, completely unprovoked.

Known as gopniks, they generally hang out in quiet residential areas or industrial zones.

In St Petersburg , the problem more typically is with bar fights which are seen frequently in local, cheap pubs.

The police will not take any fights seriously as they happen so often, and will not respond to your call.

 

What to do:

Avoid getting intoxicated / wasted and stay alert of your surroundings.

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

This is not meant to be a fear mongering exercise, as most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise some common sense.

However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Information below has been compiled from:

 

1. Violent crime and terrorism

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Russia

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Russia. Source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime:
    • Exists but tourists are not usually targeted. However, you have to stay vigilant in certain situations (e.g. when withdrawing money, at bars and clubs, unlicensed taxis).
    • Foreigners of Asian and African descent and LGBTQ may be harassed.
  • Hazards: unexploded mines and munitions in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia republics and Stavropol region.
  • Hotspots:
    • North Caucasus Region (e.g. Chechnya, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya, and Kabardino-Balkariya): terrorist attacks, civil unrest, kidnappings and frequent counter terrorism operations.
    • Ukraine – Russia border (Rostov Oblast): armed clashes and violence with significant military presence.
    • Georgia – Russia border
  • Terrorism: Moscow, St. Petersburg and the North Caucasus region have all seen attacks by Daesh.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations may occur.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and don’t look like an easy victim (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

Do not / avoid travelling to these areas:

  • North Caucasus Region, Mt Elbrus
  • Crimea

 

2. Medical care

JSC Medicina Clinic in Moscow

JSC Medicina Clinic in Moscow

 

How it works:

Healthcare standards may be acceptable in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but are below Western standards outside of it.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include

  • Insect borne diseases:Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, Lyme Disease, tick-borne encephalitis (at risk if traveling in rural areas / forested areas from March to November), West Nile virus.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea,hepatitis A, typhoid.
  • Animal borne disease: avian influenza, rabies.
  • Human borne disease: HIV, STDs, tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles.

 

What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads – our review), you can’t afford to travel, as:

  • Emergency health services can cost a bomb.
  • Insurance providers can make complex logistical arrangements to get you the best medical treatment fast.

Vaccinations to consider:

  • All travelers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Most travelers: Hepatitis A
  • Some travelers: Hepatitis B,Japanese Encephalitis (if in rural areas / outdoors), rabies (if traveling outdoors or working with animals).

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing.
  • Insect repellents.
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets.
  • Plug-in insecticides.
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass.

Food safety:

  • Practise safe hygiene such as washing hands with soap.
  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, ice cubes, uncooked and undercooked food.

 

3. Natural disasters

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Earthquakes:Chechnya, the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands are prone to seismic activity.
  • Forest fires: June to August,can affect Siberia, parts of Western Russia and the Moscow region.

 

What to do:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) that covers natural disasters.

Check the latest media reports, weather forecasts and sources such as:

Reacting to one:

  • Earthquakes: drop (to hands and knees), cover (head and neck with arms), hold on (to sturdy furniture); expect aftershocks.
  • Forest fires: make yourself seen (e.g. spread out something large and bright), find shelter with little vegetation, stay low to avoid smoke.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Road safety records here are poor, some factors to watch out for:

  • Aggressive drivers who do not give way.
  • Drivers usually drive and park on pedestrian areas.
  • Poorly maintained roads outside major cities.
  • Unmarked construction sites and road hazards and with signs only in Russian.
  • In rural areas, encountering livestock is common, roads may be non-existent with non-existent shoulders as well.

As for public transportation:

  • For long distance travel, either planes (have reached international standards) or rail (well developed and extensive) works well.
  • Other options include inter-city buses, minibuses (marshrutka) with fixed routes but not timetables, registered taxis and unofficial taxis.

 

What to do:

Driving:

  • Check latest media reports and weather forecast.
  • Stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.
  • Avoid picking up hitch-hikers.

Public transportation:

  • Don’t flag taxis from the streets or share cabs with others. Book a registered taxi via phone or taxi booking apps like Yandex or Gett.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Moscow police

Moscow police

 

  • Fire: 101
  • Police: 102
  • Ambulance: 103
  • General emergency: 112

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