Like any major European city, Kiev has its share of scams. There’s no need to panic, Kiev is still a safe and friendly city. Nevertheless there are dark forces at work, plotting and planning a number of inventive schemes which, unless you have your wits about you, will leave you significantly lighter in the finance department. So read on...
The abolition of visas for citizens of the European Union and the general rise in tourism since Eurovision has had many locals rubbing their hands in eager anticipation. Owners of hotels, bars and cafes are stocking up on extra linen and drinks for the expected flood of spend happy tourists while the hawkers of Andryivska Uzviz are raiding the spare room for Soviet memorabilia and turning out paintings with giddy abandon. But these are not the only people who are looking forward to easy pickings. Kiev’s criminals too, have been hard at work perfecting their scams and improving on their punches. There is nobody in town these days who doesn’t know somebody who has fallen victim to an elaborate swindle though few would admit that they themselves were the gullible party. And therein lies the reason why there are relatively few scams amongst the official list of crimes perpetrated against foreigners. The victims, who usually pride themselves on their worldliness, are simply too embarrassed to report the crime or see no point in it with the damage already done and the Ukrainian police not known for their crime-stopping abilities. Besides scams often involve comparatively little money and many would rather just forget about the whole thing or put it down to experience. It seems that the Ukrainian capital’s opportunists are becoming increasingly inventive with their schemes. However, if you know the scams in advance there is really no reason why you should be taken in and left out of pocket. So read on dear tourists, businessman and sexpats, to learn more about Kiev’s top eleven most popular street scams.
#1: The Wallet Trick
A time honored favorite which reels in foreigners time and again, the wallet trick has gone down in local folklore. Having spotted a likely looking stranger, a con artist will drop a wallet in front of their mark before a partner in crime bends down to grab it. ‘It must be my lucky day’ exclaims the rascal to the nearest passer-by who just happens to be a bemused foreigner. And what do local men sporting ten year old tracksuit bottoms and a stained Disney Land T-shirt do when they happen to come across three hundred dollars worth of Indian rupees? That’s right, they offer to share it with a complete stranger in a five hundred dollar suit because, as he explains with impeccable legal logic, if he doesn’t he will have to report the find to the police. The ‘owner’ soon comes storming back demanding the return of his property. He will often have a policeman with him, too! On inspection it seems that some money is missing and with the sword of riotousness in hand, the owner proceeds to search pockets, leaving the poor foreigner well, poor. Before you laugh this one off, be aware that hundreds, if not thousands of foreigners have been caught out by this one in Kiev, with the whole thing over in a matter of seconds.
#2: The Gypsy Curse
Waiting for a train or enjoying a picnic in the park can be a traumatic experience at the best of times what with stray dogs, drunk homeless people and extreme sport loving students all lurking around. But even the most sex starved of hounds or disco dancing tramps are nothing compared to these areas’ biggest hazards; the fortune telling gypsies. Hunting in packs of three and four, the toothless crones will search their immediate surrounds for emotionally frail targets. In a scene straight from Macbeth, the head gypsy will then approach the target, saying ‘I know your mother is in danger’ or something equally vague and terrible. But help is at hand. For a few hryvnia and a snippet of hair the gypsy will be able to ward off any imminent trouble with a spell. Magic may be a mysterious thing, explains the gypsy, but if there’s one thing that’s known about the astral plane, it’s that the spell has more chance of working if another ten hryvnia is handed over. Failure to comply will not only cause the spell to fail but prompt the gypsy to damn you to infertility and death by drowning. Another option is for the gypsy to take away some jewelry which will help them with the spell. They agree with the victim on a time and a date to meet up in order to return the items. Strangely, they fail to turn up, but you’d be amazed how many gullible, superstitious folk actually do come back, hoping to have the curse lifted!
“You’ve got to pick a pocket or two” chimed the lovable scamp ‘The Artful Dodger’ in the musical adaptation of Charles’ Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist. Kiev’s pickpockets certainly agree with this worldview and know a trick or two which would have even Fagan ‘My Boy’ing in admiration. Before jumping onto a busy metro car or trolleybus, locals with busy fingers like to take a big bite out of a clove of garlic. This is done so that when the thief finally does get up close and personal with their target, the intended victim will turn their head in disgust. While the hapless victim struggles for air, the criminal helps himself. Women, who make up twenty per cent of pickpockets, often prefer to go the other way, dressing in an overtly sexy style which causes people to take their eyes of their bags. Pickpocket gangs also like to cause distractions, allowing a member of the group to liberate a mobile phone or two from rubber necking onlookers. And then there’s the cardboard children. A small band of youngsters will confront a person for change. The children plead loudly while at the same time pressing pieces of cardboard against the person’s body. The shouting is a distraction while the cardboard desensitizes the sense of touch, allowing the young schemers to walk off with a glut of valuables.
#4: Cash Machine Coup
Hacking into accounts and transferring money is a well known dodge but now rogue members of the local computer programmer community have built a machine which is able to read PIN numbers as well as card details! Such devices are usually stuck onto the cash dispenser and for all the world look as much a part of the machine as the display panel. The customer puts in their card to make a withdrawal and the machine then reads all the vital details allowing the rogues to make a fake card with identical details. So long as the crooks don’t go overboard on a spending spree it could be years before the victim discovers that they have been robbed, so make sure you give any strange looking bits of equipment a good pull before sticking in your card. Also be on the look out for any boxes containing leaflets near a cash point. It could be holding a James Bond style camera which is recording your details for later use. And keep an eye out over your shoulder for anyone hovering in the background. They are most likely to be innocent individuals who are simply unaware that hanging around behind people using cash machines may be considered suspicious or anti-social behavior, but it is better to be safe than sorry. All expats using Kiev’s ATM machines should as a rule check their bank statements thoroughly for any suspicious-looking withdrawals.
#5: The Watch Swap
A prosperous though disheveled looking gentleman approaches you wailing like a fox in heat. It seems that the poor soul is in Kiev on business and would you believe it, he’s lost/had his wallet stolen. The robbery has clearly shaken him and all he wants to do is get back home to see his wife and family. But how can he buy a train ticket without any money? It is at this moment that the flustered unfortunate makes an offer that’s too good to refuse. Luckily, he still has his gold and diamond encrusted watch. It’s worth a thousand but as he needs to raise cash, it’s yours for fifty. Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to go to a jewelers to get a fairer price or even stay in a hotel for a night and arrange for his family to transfer him some money in the morning? Of course it would but by now your heart is already racing at the thought of your great luck and, after all, the guy has just received a phone call from his concerned wife so he must be genuine! You soon forget the suspicious looking man armed with a phone who has been watching the whole episode from fifty meters away and part with the money, put on the watch and discover in two days time that the hands of your new timepiece have stopped moving and the diamonds have turned green.
#6: The Breath Test
Anybody who falls victim to a scam should go straight to the militia but it’s worth pointing out that even the gallant boys in blue aren’t adverse to a bit of foul play. Having stopped a car, the more unscrupulous members of the transport police will ask a motorist to take a breath test but instead of a new tube, the driver will be given an old one, one which was used previously by a drink driver. The result comes back positive and after much brow furrowing and trouser adjusting the police officer agrees to let the driver off with a fine of around 300 to 400 hrv.
#7: Hear No Evil
A battered Lada comes to a screeching halt and out steps a man. He approaches a passer-by, imploring them through a series of over dramatic gestures which would embarrass the most amateur of dramatics to take a look at a piece of paper, on which is written an address. It seems that the man is a deaf mute who has lost his way and that the address written down is a long way away. Either that or the address is unknown as it is often made up. While the helpful stranger tries to help the ‘deaf mute’ helps himself to any loose change and valuables. The crook then runs back to the car, shouting at his friend to put his foot down.
#8: All Flash, No Photo!
Would you really trust a man with a mangy monkey on his arm to take your photo? A surprising amount of people do. The persuasive photographer will approach a group of out-of-towners, usually a gaggle of peasants from the country or a gawping foreigner, and ask them if they want a copy of the photo he’s just taken. The marks then hand over their money and the cameraman takes down an address of the sitters and promises them their photo in a few days. The tourists walk off happy while the cameraman pockets his fee without the slightest thought of putting it towards buying some film.
#9: Mobile Madness
In today’s technology obsessed world, losing a mobile phone signal is almost as traumatic as losing a limb, and that is certainly the feeling you will have when a hysterical women asks you if you could lend her your mobile to make a quick call. Of course you are only to happy to help the troubled beauty who wonders around a bit while you shuffle your feet pondering just how long she’ll be. A minute later and the now calm person returns your phone to you and you both part company. In a few days you find that your phone doesn’t have a signal. In fact it doesn’t have much going for it at all. You see, your legal phone has been swapped for a cheap substitute which was bought at a local radio market. Well, that’s where generosity gets you!
#10: An Inside Job
A foreign gentleman is catching up on the football results back home and browsing the local marriage sites in an internet cafe when an attractive young girl approaches him. The young lady is pleasant, speaks fluent English, happens to live in the same area as the guy giving them plenty to talk about and has a figure to wake the dead. Unsurprisingly the two of them leave together but when they turn the corner the girl lights up a marijuana joint. This attracts the nose of a handily-placed nearby ‘policeman’ who accuses her, and the infatuated foreigner, of selling drugs. The fake cop marches the couple off to a nearby hidden car and after searching the girl (usually uncovering what he claims is cocaine) proceeds to beat the poor creature, who is in on the whole thing from the beginning, naturally. The act is a charade but Hulk Hogan couldn’t do a more convincing job. Our gallant foreigner demands to speak to his embassy to which the naughty officer of the law merely laughs, informing him that whatever he does he will be detained for two weeks and deported for drug dealing. But what’s this? The young lady believes that a deal could be reached with the policeman and at this stage our victim is ready to do anything. Our chap empties his pockets and in the event that he doesn’t have the necessary 500USD to 1000USD is marched to the nearest ATM. The fake cop takes the money the girl makes her excuses and the sad sap is left a dejected quivering wreck.
#11: Deadly Double Act
Ever since Delilah wooed Samson into bed and promptly took a pair of scissors to his resplendent mane, men have woken up after a night of passion feeling somewhat lighter than before. Our final sting is a classic but a remarkable number of Romeos still fall for it and with Kiev’s dating game so active and full of surprises it is not hard to understand why so many victims fail to smell a scam before it is too late. Perhaps if fewer fifty year olds had teenage girlfriends the whole sting would appear a little more obvious! A man is in a bar when he is approached by one of the hottest women in town. The fellow can’t believe his luck but then again, he tells himself, what woman wouldn’t fall for a twist as well executed as his. The two of them get talking after which they go over to a table where sits the mysterious girl’s friend, who looks like Mila Jovovic’s better looking younger sister. Drink follows drink and with one girl blowing into his ear and another taking an interest in his pert paunch, the gentleman starts having fantasies which would make Hugh Hefner blush. One of the girls goes back up to the bar and after a few minutes brings back a special cocktail. Never one to disappoint the ladies, the gent downs the beverage in one masculine gulp. After five minutes he starts to fell sleepy, which is when the two sex kittens suggest going back to his place for some ‘fun’. He shoots, he scores. Or maybe not. Shortly after getting through the front door the silver tongued cavalier collapses on the bed drugged, leaving the girls to raid his house at leisure, often joined by the gang members who they work with. More unlucky punters may find themselves held hostage while their credit cards embark on a tour of Ukraine or the CIS. In such cases readers are advised to remain calm and not to attempt escape, as in most cases victims are released, unharmed within a few days and encounter few difficulties when reclaiming lost cash from their banks. The best way to avoid getting stung in the first place is exercise a little discretion!
Article Originally Printed in "What's On"