Common scams in Kyiv

9 Common Scams in Kyiv (and How to Avoid Them)

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Millions of tourists and business executives visit Kyiv, Ukraine annually. And because it’s a popular city and already home to around three million people, it’s easy to imagine that there’s a huge market for scams. Some of these scams are so simple or play on human emotion so well that you may not even realize they are happening until it’s over. To better prepare you for your next visit to Kyiv, I’ll take you through some of the most common scams as well as offer tips on how to spot and avoid them.

Before I continue, let me offer my perspective on crime in Kyiv to put your mind at ease. Speaking generally, Kyiv is a very safe city. It’s likely one of the safest cities you can visit, and it’s a lot of fun. My purpose in writing this article is to inform you about some of the schemes you may encounter, not to alarm you unnecessarily. Given the number of people visiting the city each year, the statistical odds that you’ll be targeted are very low. With that said, let’s go through some of the more common scams below.

1. Injured Persons and Beggars

Kyiv and many other cities in Ukraine often fall victim to this popular scam. Dirty, shabbily dressed children, women caring for their babies on the street, or adults with physical handicaps or other problems will often ask for money while telling you their hard-luck stories. Sometimes, these people can back up their stories with medical “proof” or other records. And you should be aware that desperate beggars can be quite forward, even following you around or, in the case of some children, physically restraining you until you give in and pay them.

I’m certainly not suggesting that all of these folks are a fraud, but many make a decent living from begging or are part of a larger gang that uses charity as a revenue stream. You may be surprised, but someone who exerts enough effort into begging can earn quite a bit of money.

The Lesson

I am by no means saying you shouldn’t give money to the homeless or those down on their luck. You will run into a fair number of people that truly need financial assistance and your goodwill. If you’re able, I think it’s great that you want to help people in dire straits. The need for charity is real. I’m just pointing out that certain criminal elements understand this all too well and may take advantage of it. They see it as a form of weakness that they can exploit.

From personal experience, I’ve been approached by people in legitimate need of help, and I’ve given them money after first walking some distance away to pull out my wallet to get the money I intended to give them. Someone who is truly in need of this help will understand why you’re taking these precautions.

Possible Locations for This Scam

Public transport areas, store entrances, and church buildings are all venues for this scam.

Avoidance Tactics

Keep an eye out for overly suspicious beggars and don’t pull our your wallet when they’re in your immediate facinity. If you still feel the call to help, consider buying them some food or clothing.

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2. Fake Volunteers or Military Personnel

Because of the military conflict in the eastern part of the country, you’ll run into many war veterans at the moment. Many veterans of the recent conflict sport artificial limbs and work to collect money for the war effort. On a positive note, I’ve seen the volunteer movement grow in recent years as more people have become aware of the suffering going on in Ukraine. But on a less positive note, criminals have noticed this too and have found ways to take advantage of it.

People in Kyiv have great respect for the military, so fraudsters will dress up in soldier’s garb and pretend that they need money for prosthetics or surgeries that they have no intention of getting.

A related scam is that of the fake volunteers that will claim to be collecting money for various charitable efforts. While there are certainly many worthy charities in Ukraine and hardworking volunteers to match, I recommend looking for some signs that the “volunteer” you’ve run into is a fraud. In particular, I would observe out how the city’s natives act around this person. Remember what I said about people being sympathetic and wanting to help victims of the war and charities in general? It’s true, so if you look around and see that none of these people are helping a particular volunteer, it may be a sign that something is not quite right.

Possible Locations for This Scam

Store entrances, metro stations, and busy streets are where this scam happens most frequently.

Avoidance Tactics

I recommend checking out the most reputable and well-known charitable organizations and finding out how you can give directly to them.

3. The Photo Op Scam

This is a scam that you’re more likely to run into the closer you get to the famous landmarks of Kyiv or other areas rife with tourists. It’s a fairly common one because it’s easy to do and takes advantage of the one thing almost every tourist wants: photo memories of their time in beautiful Kyiv. While it may seem like a stroke of luck that a friendly native happens to be nearby, ready, and willing to help you out, I assure you that it’s often not luck at all. Rather, they’re simply waiting for you to hand over your camera so they can make off with it.

A similar alternative to this scam can happen where the scammer will offer to take your photo with a character or animal, only to demand inordinate sums as payment after the fact. They also may have an accomplice waiting in the wings to grab your camera and run.

Possible Locations for This Scam

Public venues and tourist hot-spots are the most likely places to find this scam.

Avoidance Tactics

I recommend simply finding someone on your own if you need help to take a picture.

4. The Honey-Trap Scam

The making of a cocktail at a swanky bar

I can tell you from experience that while Ukrainian women will make eye contact with you in a club or bar, they come from a culture that expects you to approach them. This means that if you’re a tourist on your own in such a place, you should be wary if a woman does indeed approach you. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but it’s certainly not the normal behavior. If a woman does approach you, it may be because you’re about to fall victim to one of Kyiv’s popular romance scams.

A common scam in these places is to drug your drink and then steal all of your stuff. And I do mean all of your stuff, including watches, jewelry, money, and in some cases even clothing. You may wake up the next morning not knowing where you are, what happened, or who stole your designer pants.

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Possible Locations for This Scam

Bars, hotels, and restaurants are some of the most popular places for this scam.

Avoidance Tactics

I recommend being on your guard and using keen observation when you’re in a bar or club. Yes, it’s flattering to be approached like this but use common sense. Buy your own drinks.

5. The “Help a Girl Get Home” Scam

This is a variation of the scam above. It doesn’t involve drugging you, luckily, but it’s one of the romance scams that will soon part you from your money. If a Ukrainian woman — even one that you approached — does agree to go on a date with you, it’s still possible she may try to scam you. An easy way to do this is for her to claim that she lives far outside the city and has no money for a taxi home. In reality, it’s more likely that she lives in Kyiv and takes a metro line to her apartment for just a few cents. This means she can pocket potentially quite a lot of money for that expensive cab fare you were so kind to provide.

Possible Locations for This Scam

Pretty much anytime you actually go on a date with a woman in Kyiv, the possibility of this scam taking place exists.

Avoidance Tactics

One of the strongest indicators that a woman may be setting you up for failure is if she states up front that she only has a limited window to go out with you, such as for one hour on a particular evening.

6. The Friendly Local

Most average folks in Kyiv are nice, but I’d be wary if an overly eager guy approaches you with an offer of help. Most people aren’t going to go out of your way to help you.

Let’s say it’s early morning in Kyiv and you’re waiting for a metro. As you stand there, a cheerful man walks over and informs you that you have some dirt on the back of your nice coat. He then hands you a cloth so that you can wipe it off. If you accept his offer, you’ll likely place your bag on the ground to wipe off the dirt and he’ll be off with your bag like a jackrabbit.

This same scam can even happen when you’re being kind. For example, you may notice a guy “accidentally” drop his wallet on the street, continuing on his way without realizing it. Being the good Samaritan that you are, you retrieve his wallet and attempt to return it to him — the rightful owner. But that’s when instead of accepting it with grace, he accuses you of theft. The guy will make a loud ruckus, inviting the attention of a so-called police officer. And since you’re a foreigner afraid of going to jail in a foreign land, you’re more likely to hand over your money that the guy falsely claimed was taken from him.

Possible Locations for This Scam

Most streets, high-traffic areas or public transport spots are ripe for this scam.

Avoidance Tactics

Don’t accept any unsolicited help from strangers that seem too cheerful for their own good and never pick up any dropped wallets.

7. The Taxi Fare Scam

This scam isn’t necessarily unique to Ukraine but rather, a consequence of many travelers being unfamiliar with both the language and the general area of Kyiv. The result is a perfect recipe for taxi drivers to take advantage of your ignorance. If you’re not familiar with the typical rates for taxis in the city, an unscrupulous driver will spot that right away. Before you know it, you’ve been taken for a ride on “the scenic route” and end up owing way more money than you should. The only option is to pay or risk the consequences.

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Possible Locations for This Scam

Any taxi services on the street can use this scam. I recommend calling for a professionally listed service and even then, check the rates and agree on a price for a ride.

Avoidance Tactics

I recommend familiarizing yourself with the average rates per kilometer that taxi services in Kyiv use that way you’ll know right away the true cost and if someone is trying to get extra money from you. Also, it is helpful to agree on the price of the ride before you enter the taxi so that there is no ambiguity.

I also highly recommend Uber. But the problem with Uber is, it’s not always available. You could be in a situation where you need a ride home and don’t want to wait.

8. The Fraudulent Rental Scam

Many tourists look for cheaper alternatives to the fairly expensive hotels that dot the cityscape of Kyiv. Cheap apartment rentals are one of the more popular ways to do this since they provide convenient living arrangements for a few days or weeks at a time. Shady people are aware of this market and take advantage of it for their own gain. They’ll rent apartments in the short term while posing as the owner of the place. They’ll walk you through the apartment as if it were their own, selling you on the high points. Once they’ve convinced you to put down a pre-payment, they’ll disappear completely. Often, a tourist in this situation may live there with no trouble for a few days only to discover they’ve been removed on short notice or the owner will take your stuff and lock up the place.

While I used to recommend AirBnB in Ukraine because I’ve never heard of anyone having a problem, I sadly don’t make this recommendation any longer. A few visiting expats found themselves in scenarios without power or water! And because it’s the policy of AirBnB to charge you right away, it often takes some time for them to process refunds in the case of fraud and there is, unfortunately, no guarantee you’ll see that money again.

Possible Locations for This Scam

Online services that provide apartment rentals.

Avoidance Tactics

What I would recommend is making sure you have a good backup plan in place. Even if you’re renting an apartment for a short amount of time, I advise you to check out hotel prices so that you can prepare in case the worst should happen. If you must use AirBnB in Ukraine, do it only for the first couple of days at most. You can always extend your stay via AirBnB’s interface if you decide you like it there. In short, Airbnb is still generally safe in terms of apartment rentals in Ukraine, just not as much as it is in other cities.

9. ATM Scams

Protect your password when you use the ATM
Protect your password when you use the ATM

Many criminals in Kyiv will use a skimmer — a device that can make a copy of your debit or credit card and its data — to get what they need to take your money right out of the ATM as though they were you. I advise caution, and you should only use ATMs located inside banks. I also urge you to keep in mind that laws surrounding ATM fraud are pretty weak in Ukraine, making criminals more confident. This is probably the most likely of all the scams in Ukraine that you’ll face and it comes with dire financial ramifications.

Possible Locations for This Scam

ATMs

Avoidance Tactics

You should check ATMs for evidence of tampering and always cover the number pad when entering your PIN.

Random Quote about Kyiv:

"For me it's very important to turn Kyiv into one of the main centers of contemporary art in the world. There is New York. There's London. And there will be Kyiv. Everyone will come and say, 'Wow!'"
-- Victor Pinchuk