Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Crime in Russia

Pictured above is the Lukyanka, headquarters of the Russian federal security services. It is known to readers of spy books as Moscow Centre.
 Crime is a fact of life everywhere, but seems to be on the rise in Russia. This is my conclusion based on a totally unscientific survey of my own experiences travelling with tour groups to Russia over a number of years.
On the most recent tour in September, two members of our group of 19 had items stolen, and two others were badly ripped off by taxi drivers in St. Petersburg. The trip before that, a child on the Moscow Metro tried without luck to pick the pocket of the one group member who was a former FBI agent.
This time, two women were overcharged when they took airport taxis without booking them first at the Pulkovo arrivals hall. There, you can book a taxi for your destination under a sign that says "Pulkovo Taxi." A trip to most central destinations costs about $16, around 1,000 rubles. However, if you get a taxi yourself outside the airport, you may pay as much as $100 for the same trip.
Also in Petersburg, a member of our group lost her purse when it was snatched right off the seat in our hotel dining room. She lost her passport, smart phone and tablet and a couple of credit cards. Luckily, she was able to get the passport replaced the next day at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, but with considerable inconvenience. She was also able to cancel her credit cards and deactivate her smart phone.
Shortly after the theft, a plainchothes police officer arrived to take down the report in longhand. The theft had been captured on video, and I believe she eventually retrieved some of the lost items. However, I found the boldness of the crime surprising. Apparently the people who stole the purse had followed several of our group into the restaurant from the street. That is one of the downsides of group travel--a gaggle of people speaking a foreign language is more likely to attract potential thieves than a single individual or couple. Some other group members foiled attempts to pick their pockets on the Metro in Peter.
Later, near Moscow, another woman had a smartphone and tablet removed from her bag. So, more than a quarter of our 19 members suffered thefts, attempted thefts, or rip-offs. Most of the problems occurred in Petersburg which, as a major port for Baltic cruises, attracts more Western tourists than Moscow.
I have heard from reliable sources that street crime is a big problem in many cities of Western Europe too. Perhaps I live in a bubble in Montreal, but street crime is not something people here tend to worry about.
The rate of petty crime in Russia is certainly not a reason to forego a visit, but it is good to be aware of the possibility and take precautions. For instance, always carry photocopies of your passport and credit cards in your luggage. Leave them there or in a hotel safe when you sightsee. Also scatter cash in various locations, so if need be you will not be wiped out totally. 


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