37 Scams To Avoid in Russia

moscow russia red square

Beware of These 37 Scams If You Visit Russia

Whether it is about Russian visa, medical insurance or travel packages, your trip to Moscow or the other cities could be a disaster if you don’t educate yourself with tips and tricks that will save you money, time and mental health. If you are traveling to Russia soon you need to be aware of a series of travel scams that you could be a victim of.

For example, watch the shocking video below to see a tourist robbed of his expensive camera lens in St. Petersburg – without even knowing:

In case you missed it, the male with a hat unscrews and steals the lens at 0’09, holds it under newspaper at 0’12, then passes it (at 0’16) to the other guy with a hat, who throws it in his bag and walks away.

Want to see more? We have a lot more. We collected a list with 37 scary scams that you should avoid when you go there. Here they are:

1. ATM Skimmer in Moscow and St. Petersburg [WITH VIDEO]

You ran out of Rubles, so walk up to an ATM to get some cash. You insert your bank card, type in your PIN, get the money, walk away and enjoy the city. A few days later, you start to notice some unusual charges on your card. You got all your money stolen! How did that happen?

Watch the video below to see in action the ATM Scam exposed:

ATM Skimmer in Moscow Video

Little did you know, the ATM you used had a thin device in the slot where you inserted your card. This device can read your card number. Meanwhile, a minuscule video camera mounted just over your shoulder recorded your PIN. After you had left, scammers came to collect the device and empty the accounts filed using the PINs they captured on camera.

Always make sure the slot where you insert your card has nothing attached to it. These devices may be cleverly disguised to look like regular parts of an ATM, so watch carefully.

 

2. Money Drop in Moscow

kremlin red square in moscow russia

 

As you’re enjoying the famous Red Square somebody is running fast by you and “accidentally” drops a bunch of Russian Ruble banknotes. The tourist beside you sees it as well.

He starts picking up the money, but because he knows you noticed too, offers to share it 50-50. You look after the owner of the money, and he is long gone. You take your share of, say, $100 and walk away.

<p”> A minute later, the real owner of the money – now with a couple of buddies – taps your shoulder and asks for it back. The full amount. As you only have half, you will need to see the closest ATM to get away without being hurt.</p”>Never take the cash from the other “tourist”.

3. Sports Tickets: Official Partner Contest

You want to attend a highly anticipated match, soccer or any other sport, but tickets are sold out. Naturally, you turn to the Internet and found a potential ‘in’!

Scammers create fake contests claiming to be on behalf of the official partners of the event/organizers (Coca-Cola, Adidas, Gazprom, Hyundai, Qatar Airways, etc.). Then they advertise phony challenges to “Get a free ticket here”. It is similar to what happened during the FIFA World Cup in 2018.

2018 FIFA world cup tickets

 

By clicking the link, you are asked for your personal information (including your credit card, for “security purposes”) to receive your prize. Thousands of victims fall for this because the email contains the sponsor’s official logo and branding.

Whenever you come across this kind of web page, go to the sponsor’s real website, but not by clicking on the link provided. Type it in your browser and open their official page to look for that contest, if that exists.

4. Russian Visa Application Form

Whether you are from the US, UK, Canada or Australia and want to go to Russia you need to fill out applications to get a Russian travel visa (voucher). You are required to have one.

Because the process is not simple, cyber crooks create fake Russian consulate websites and have the victims send their credit card numbers and personal information via these bogus pages.

Weeks after, applicants don’t receive anything since the consulate websites are fake. Meanwhile, their credit cards got charged.

russian visa application form

 

*How to get a Russian visa? See below:

How to Get Russian Visa for UK Citizen

How to Get Russian Visa for US Citizen

How to Get Russian Visa for Canadian Citizen

How to Get Russian Visa for Australian Cizien

 

5. Playing Street Soccer With Locals

street soccer in russia

 

While wandering the streets, you may be approached by neighborhood youngsters to play football with them. You may even ask yourself to join, as you see they’re kicking the ball already, at some competitive level.

Be aware of where you leave your bag (if you have one) or your valuables. It is in common in Russia to be robbed of your stuff if you leave it on the side while joining the group to play.

When you will notice your jacket missing it might be a little too late, as the other players will claim didn’t see anything while kicking the ball.

6. Shell Game [WITH VIDEO]

The shell game has existed since at least the 80s all over the world, but people still lose money over it. The same thing happens in Russia.

Scammers set up shop on street sidewalks, especially in high tourist areas. The game requires three shells (lids, bottle caps, plastic cups, etc.), and a small object, usually a soft round ball, about the size of a pea. It can be played on any flat surface.

The operator of the game (the scammer) begins by placing the pea under one of the shells, then quickly shuffles the shells around. When he is done, he tells the audience to bet under which shell is the little ball. The operator has a couple of partners in the audience, so they will act as tourists, betting on the game.

shell game explained

 

After a few winning hands from the audience (his partners), it seems pretty easy to spot where the pea is going to be. That’s when real tourists and soon-to-be victims get involved. They start betting little amounts, and they win.

Feeling that they could handle more and see themselves winning big, the travelers increase their bets. When they are finally hooked, and confident they are winning, victims bet hundreds of dollars – and that’s when they lose.

The scammer waits for this moment to palm the pea and lifts the shell chosen by the tourist, revealing the losing hand. Do you want to see how the scam is done?

Watch the video below to see the scam exposed:

 

Sometimes, the game is played with three cards instead of shells. The three cards faced upside down, are two tens and a queen, and the audience is invited to guess which one is the queen. When pulling the scam, the crook is just too fast for the gambler, while somebody else distracts him for a second.

Don’t think you can win. These crooks are fast and do this a thousand times a day – you’ll never make money out of it.

7. Travel Medical Insurance: Russia

Certain travel agencies have their agents paid by commission when it comes to medical insurance. There is nothing wrong with that.

Unfortunately, frequently some of these agents trick their customers into buying insurance which they don’t necessarily need. Or, if they do, they could get it cheaper elsewhere. The agents make their quota and get the commission.

According to studies, over 70% of tourists don’t have the medical insurance details adequately explained to them. Fees are added without a correct explanation and consumers just pay without knowledge.

Ask for full details.

8. Currency Changer in Russia

russian Rubles banknote

 

At the time of this writing, the conversion of the Rubles is as following:

$1 US = 66.64 Rubles

1 EURO = 73.83 Rubles

1 British Pound = 76.30 Rubles

$1 CDN = 50.15 Rubles

One of the most common travel scams is pulled when tourists change their money at questionable local vendors or directly with individuals.

Not only the conversion rate is incorrect, but the scam works by the crooks handing you a calculator, to do the math yourself. What you don’t know is that the calculator is rigged, registering fewer Rubles than you should get.

Always use official exchange centers, or pull cash from ATMs.

9. Found Your Wallet in Moscow

This scam is a very dangerous “full-meal deal” one, aiming to rip off everything you have: wallet, personal information, and bank account access. How does it work?

After pickpocketing tourists of their wallet, pickpockets follow the victims to their hotels.

leather wallet with money

 

Then they call the reception, asking to talk to the victim, as they know their full name from the wallet.  

Once the victim answer, the thief pretends to be an officer from the local Police. He says that someone found the wallet and dropped it off at the Police station. The tourist will then be directed to come down in a few hours to pick up his wallet.

At this point, the victim feels a massive sense of relief. Minutes later, the scammers call again using an accomplice with a different voice without Eastern European accent. This time, he impersonates a rep from the victim’s bank, using the cards found in the wallet.

He says the police just informed them about the situation. The scammer (acting as the bank) proceeds to encourage the victim to cancel the cards right then. 

As the tourist agrees, the scammer claims that he needs to confirm the victim’s identity: the name, address, birth date, PIN, etc. It is the PINs they want so they can get some cash fast.

The victims are not worried anymore because they think they’ve gotten lucky, and their wallet was found.

Banks never ask for your PIN so that should be a giveaway that something is up. One way to be sure you are talking to the police station or the bank’s rep is to tell them politely you’re going to ring them back to be safe. 

Be sure to look the number up yourself and not ask them for the number. It’s pretty easy to hop onto the computer and get the number from their official website.

Before going to Russia send yourself an email with all the copies of your documents, in case things like this happen. Scan your passport, ID bank cards, and store them in your inbox.

10. Luggage Storage Robbery

Travelling for a long time typically requires a more significant amount of luggage and packages to carry. Bus and train stations, as well as airports,  offer storage lockers for travelers who arrive early but don’t want to drag everything around with them.

Let’ say you get a locker while in Russia. The luggage storage key scam begins when a stranger is “conveniently located” near you when you are about to open the locker. He may even pretend to be a city or airport employee. 

lockers with numbers and keys

 

“Oh, the keys are tricky to use. Let me show you how they work”, he says. He offers to open the locker and help you load it. The person then loads your bags into the locker, closes it and hands you the key.

Later on, when you head back to the locker to get your things, you discover that the key doesn’t fit or the locker is open and your stuff is gone.

 

11. Being Picked Up From Airport

You just got off in Moscow after a long flight, ready to enjoy the country. As you walk out of your gate, you see a chauffeur holding up a sign with your full name on it! You didn’t schedule a pickup, you didn’t tell anybody what time your flight arrives, but apparently, someone is looking out for you.

The introduces himself as a driver for the hotel you stay at, which he also accurately knows! He tells you he was sent to pick you up. You appreciate the gesture and hop in the car. He takes you in the city but at some point stops along the way.

people walking through moscow airport

 

He then tells you he won’t take you there unless you pay him $100 (or EURO/Rubles) as fare. It’s night, so you have no other option than to pay him the money.

How did he get your name and the hotel? He does not work there. He had an insider within the airline crew, who called him as soon as all the passengers filled out the Customs cards during the flight. If you think about it, you need to write down your name and place you stay at.

It only takes two seconds for a crew member to catch a glimpse at your card and memorize the names. Crazy, but true.

12. Fake Arrest

You are walking down the St. Petersburg streets when suddenly you find yourself being stopped by the Russian police. When you ask for the reason, the officer tells you it’s for having counterfeit bills on you. They check your pockets and guess what: you DO have fake Russian banknotes!

How is that possible? This trick is an organized scam. The street market vendor you just bought souvenirs from three minutes before meeting the “cops” gave them to you on purpose, as change. Then he told his friends, who are posing as officers stopping you.

You are “arrested”, while they say the only way out is to give them some money. Cash extortion 101.

13. Broken Item Compensation

While you’re admiring a colorful market, a man strategically bumps into you and drops his bag. Both of you hear something that doesn’t sound too good.

As he picks up the satchel and looks inside, his fragile porcelain souvenir (or tablet, photo camera, eyeglasses, medicine bottle, etc.) is broken into pieces. 

bag on street with banana skin

 

He starts a big scene as he is loudly accusing you of breaking his valuable item. He yells and threatens with the police.

Being on holidays and not willing to deal with local authorities, many tourists prefer to pay compensation so that they get away. Some scammers collect up to $500/day.

Call his bluff; you be the one calling the police. Move towards a crowd, raise your voice. He will vanish right away.

14. Public Phone Trap

 

Public phones still exist in Russia. You are in a public place, say in Krasnodar, and need to make a phone call back home. However, you don’t have a great roaming plan on your mobile nor the proper Russian coins. Luckily, you find a public phone that takes credit cards. The phone, just like many others, has a sticker on it: “For international calls, dial “1-800-xxxx” (see pic below).

public phone in Russia

 

Following the directions you make your call keeping it brief, thinking it’ll save you from some of the outlandish charges. But a month later when you finally get your bill, you notice that two-minute call cost you $90!

Scammers post stickers on public phones advertising their own hotlines which they set-up to rip off victims who believe it’s a long distance deal. Several train stations are very well known for this scam.

Do not make phone calls using your credit card, especially in tourist cities. Not even if the rates are posted. Buy a coffee or a pack of gum to get the change you need. If you wonder how to make international calls from Brazil, do your homework before the trip. Get phone call plans and use reputable services.

15. Patio Pick-Pocketing aka The Key Tossing

This scam occurs mostly in places where sidewalks are packed with patios and coffee shops. You are sitting at a table on the side of the street, enjoying the vibrant city you’re in. People pass by you and everyone is friendly.

While you are sipping on your coffee, somebody is squeezing by your chair with the intention of passing by on your right-hand side. It’s a busy place, so you politely try to make some room.

restaurant with patio and people

 

As you are moving, he “accidentally” drops his keys right at your feet. Because you are sitting, it’s easy for you to bend slightly and pick them up, returning them to him.

Everything happens in those four seconds. As you are facing him while he’s apologizing for your trouble, his partner in crime grabs your bag or purse, which was on the left-hand side of your table (the first suspect walked to your right, remember?).

Victims are distracted just for a few moments, but scammers are ready to operate. Since they’re doing this several times a day, they are so smooth that it’s almost unnoticeable.

Hold your bag between your legs and if it has a shoulder strap, put your foot through the strap.

 

16. Filling Up At The Gas Station

gas tank in grey car

 

If you rent a car, be careful at gas stations when three or four attendants come to help you.

While one starts washing your windshield, another points to the front whee (“u vas yest ploskaya shina”), saying you have a flat tire. Meanwhile, the third guy starts pumping the gas.

The flat tire ploy is just a reason to divert your attention to the front of the car and don’t pay attention to the third guy, who fixes the pump’s payment clock.

When you have a few attendants coming at once, get out of the car and go straight to the pump. Keep an eye on it and make sure it flows correctly. They see a rental car (read “money”) from a mile away.

17. iPhone 8 and iPhone X For Sale


identity theft protection

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