As I left the Russian Museum around mid day, I was accosted by a cute young Russian girl in a Victorian or old Romanov period costume, quickly followed by a guy in another period appropriate garb. I knew as soon as she asked me where I was from, that something was amiss.
At first, I thought she might be part of the museum staff. Then, I realized she was too friendly, too young, and too cute to be one of the dour staff at the Museum. As soon as she suggested taking a photo, I knew they either wanted money, or would take my camera, toss it to a runner, and be off with it!
Now, sometimes, things like this seem like fun. In Buenos Aires, I met several tango dancers in an almost identical fashion. They wanted to teach a few tango steps, and wanted a little money. No problem. But to pose for a photo, alone, without my pal Mike to protect me? Not bloody likely!
Three other scams are popular here. One is that when they find out you are on the train to Moscow, they want the ticketed passenger to take a “package” to their old and sick (probably dying too) momma!
The second scam involves money changing, done very quickly, and offering a great rate. Never, ever change money on the street!
The third involves someone who wants to help with your luggage. They have a little cart, speed you to the front of the train station, or airport. Before you can ask how much, they demand an outrageous amount. Then, withholding your luggage, they and their brethren encircle you and your bag. Tough spot to be!
These scams are not unique to Russkies. I have seen them all over Europe, and Africa. They like to find the old and infirm. Or the young and the firm.
Funniest of all is the proverbial guy in the raincoat with a bunch of Rolex watches inside. The scam today is not for a watch, but rather stolen cell phones. It looks rather legitimate, since they cover the phone in plastic wrap. Very official looking. I bought two here.
Just kidding, of course. I much prefer the guys selling pirated CDs and DVDs. Even lousy T-shirts would be fine. But their level of sophistication keeps going up, leaving rookie travelers at risk.
My Swiss friend ran into a few problems in a private drinking club in Moscow. Personally, I would never go into a private club without a real member. They want a huge deposit upon entry. Then, as you order drinks for you and a young woman or two who appear mysteriously, your deposit is quickly gone. More deposit is required, or you are asked to leave. Now that is pretty clever!