Pickpockets, Saint Petersburg
Friend of mine just told me something scary. After going around Russia and St Petersburg, my friend said her fellow tourist went to take a pictures and found instead of her Canon powershot hanging from its wriststrap, there was just the neatly severed wrist strap. The thief had extremely skilfully selected a moment to home in and surreptitiously cut the wrist strap and make off with the Canon.
I don't know how widespread this is.
Even if the victim had noticed it would have been too late, as the thief would no doubt pass it to an accomplice who could probably out run Usain Bolt.
As a photographer and traveller who's never had his camera nicked, I offer some advice. Put some black gaffer tape over your camera's brand name, thus obscuring the 'Nikon' 'Canon' etc. logos. This not only stops you from attracting attention (and therefore get you better candid shots anyway) but would deter a lot of thieves as they may not risk a theft if all they're getting is a 'cheap Chinese copy.'
Don't use wrist straps.
Keep your hand on your camera at all times.
Don't accept offers by others to 'take a picture for you'
Compact digitals give comparable quality to SDLRs these days and are a lot less conspicuous.
Dropbox gives you 2Gb of free space. You can upload your daily shots each day to 'the clouds' to your Dropbox folder from the hotel computer (or your laptop) and you'll have a nice safe backup. You can replace your camera but not your shots.
Neck straps look 'touristy' but they are probably the most secure way of keeping your camera safe.
Just a few idle thoughts that I hope will save someone a lot of grief.
People in Russia are generally friendly and will stop and give you directions.
Be careful when approached. Foreigners are approached more often for another reason.
A sneaky trick is to be in a car. Two guys crusie around looking for a victim. As they approach one rolls down the windo as if to ask directions of someone, then gets out of the car and approaches the mark.
He will point down the street and ask something, then touch your shoulder as if to get your attention to look that way. DO NOT LET ANYONE TOUCH YOU. They touch in one place and feel in another. They are very light fingered and you won't know what happened until they have driven away.
One guy approached seeming unable to talk, muttering nonesense sounds, pointing, to get your sympathy and put down your guard. He tries to write words onhis hands to show you and get you to lean close to him. Then he grabs his coat shoulders and points, then grabs your shoulder and points, or looks away. Meanwhile his hand is looking in your pockets!
He is not handicapped, he is just fooling you.
Yell No or Nyet. Get away, push him away. Just get out of his reach.
If you do get ripped off you do not have many options.
You call the police. As a foreigner you can call a special number for foreigners where you can speak in English. The police will probably not come to you. You can go to the police office and file a report. Maybe it takes an hour. Maybe it is possible that they fidn your wallet on him someday. But probably not. As always in Russia, be prepared for the attitude that it is your fault that you let someone streal from you.
If you have any credit cards do not waste time in the police office. Immediately find a phone and cancel your cards. Then go to the polcie office. The professional crimial will try your cards within the hour.
Usually you can feel safe in Russia, just be careful and don't worry.
We recommend the necklace pouch under the shirt for passport or money.
Be prepared and enjoy a hassle free trip!
Be aware when you are in the Metro station or anywhere with crowds.
My Russian friend insisted that this very rarely happens in Russia. I was so aware and I was telling her that I have read about it and that she has to be careful with the way she holds her handbag.
The same day, somebody at the metro picked her wallet and she lost more than 1.000 rubles and her credit card, luckily without money as she had withdrawned all her money the previous day.
The Gypsis are quite agressive in the Nevsky and underground - avoid them, as well as the pickpockets, who use to push you before they steal your purse. Police is quite lazy and bribable here - have no confidence in its help.
In every big city in the world it is possible to get targeted by a pickpocket.
It happens in St. Petersburg too.
It has been practiced by professionals, homeless boys and gypsies for hundreds of years.
Better be prepared and not worry about it happening to you.
Never leave your wallet inyour back pocket, those belong to everyone else.
Wear tight pants and put inyour front pockets. Better yet in a zippered pocket inside your jacket. Or better yet wear a necklace pouch and keep your self buttoned and zippered up.
The professionals use simple tricks and sometimes a partner.
Never let someone touch you on the street.
The oldest trick is to bump you seemingly innocently in one place while their hand reaches to another and you never feel it.
Sometimes two people will pose as street sellers, come up on both sides of you and try to show you some trinket to buy. One guy bumps against you on one side, the other reaches into your pockets and the other side, then he bumps you and lets the partner reach into your pockets on his side.
They need to get close to you. On the metro, waiting for buses, standing with other tourists near attractions, all are common places to be hit. Stay aware of who is around you!
See part 2 for more and what to do!
Be very careful when traveling near or visiting the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia. I witnessed an lone elderly traveller being robbed by a mob of Gypsies about two meters in front of me. The Gypsies were mainly women and young children. If you must go near this landmark travel in a goup only.
A friend of mine was also robbed on the local bus on our way to the local museum also not far from the cathederal.
Incident three involved the local Police who took half my money from my wallet late one night on the pretext of searching me for drugs.
I was the target of a pick pocket on the Metro. I was wearing denims with tight deep pockets and at this time had my passport and wallet together in my leftside pocket. The time was about 6.30pm and busy, I decided not to take the first train as it was very full, I waited and others did too, including the thief ( yes I know who he was dark skinned in leather jacket). The next train arrived and when a few people got off I went to get on and seemed to get stuck, a big space was there but felt jammed and could not get to it. This was the thief at work pulling and pushing to remove my wallet, release and gone. The doors were shut, I put my hand to my pocket and felt my passport only.
I have nothing against any specific ethnical group, and believe me I have met many through the years. But in this city I have noticed how a few gangs of gypsies systematically work the main street hunting down easy targets like tourists. Before you have noticed your wallet is gone...
How can I say such a thing, only because I have seen it wíth my own eyes. As I saw them twice a day for almost a year on my way to the university. When my family came to wisit me, they didn't melt in too good and where attacked. but a safetypin stopped them that time... In the evening they are collected in nice cars, so I doubt they are really in the need of money for bread as they say.
A lot of people ask whether travelling in Russia is dangerous. It's not. A little common sense goes a long way. One thing St. Petersburg does have is a lot of petty crime (larger crime seems to be reserved for those involved in the mafia, such as high-profile businessmen, not foreign tourists). Keep your money and passport in a safe place on your person and keep copies of your passport , visa, and credit card numbers and information in a separate location in case your stuff does get stolen. While credit cards are still not widely accepted in St. Petersburg (except at the fanciest locations), it is fairly easy to change traveller's cheques, so you might want to bring some, although it's always good to have a little cash handy in case.
In broad daylight, while I was walking along crowded Nevsky Prospekt, the main drag here, some sleazy dirty creepy punk of a cigarette-smoking pickpocket nearly made off with my camera...from my backpack which I was wearing at the time! Later that afternoon, I was walking in the same general area with my Russian host and she nearly had her purse stolen right off of her arm!! So be very aware of your surroundings here, the pickpockets and thieves are brazen!
Before leaving your country, please be sure that you can read russian as in the underground, nothing is written in latin.
And be aware that there is lots of pickpockets. Take good care and also dont speak unnecessarily to people in street (they wont speak to you as they are quite cold!)
Be very careful of pickpockets when visiting museums or the opera or ballet. They are so clever and so quick. Valuables should be locked away in the hotel safe and money hidden on your body under clothes.