Travellers tales – the Red Square mugging

I mentioned I was trying to organise a visa so I could get to Moscow, well, on only the second attempt they stuck the thing in my passport and so I’m free to travel!

This is a mixed blessing. It is good because I get to go and do what my bosses boss (and his boss) want me to go and do thus avoiding any unpleasantness about my ability to ‘make things happen’. It is bad because I have to go at least once more (I suspect this may be the beginning of a series of visits), to Moscow. This is truly a “Just when I thought I was out….” moment!

I’ll save you my views on the city until I get back as things might have changed, for the worst most likely. But here’s one little tale that is worth passing on just in case you find yourself in the same situation.

There I was in Moscow, about three years ago, with some spare time on my hands. I had strolled around Red Square and was making my way, alone, from the square towards Tverskaya and crossing that open area that is above the underground shopping centre and outside that massive building they were finally getting round to redeveloping.

As I walk along looking at the ground I am suddenly shocked to see a roll of dollar bills dropped at my feet as if it fell out someone’s pocket. The person who dropped the wad (we’ll call him guy A) is rushing off in front of me. I do not pick it up but start shouting after guy A who seems not to hear me and is disappearing from view. At that moment another chap sidles up to me (we’ll call him guy B) , picks up the wad (must have been at least $1,000) and starts engaging in hushed-tone conversation with me.

Guy B’s banter is along the lines of “Hey, this is a lot of money. Stop calling guy A and let’s go over there (gestures to quiet side street) and share it between us”. My reply is that I have no intention of doing that but why don’t you go give it to guy A. He persists and is actually trying to pull me away. By now I don’t like guy B and so tell him to keep the money, I want nothing to do with it and start walking off.

Before I get very far, guy A comes back and starts shouting at guy B to give him his money back. Guy B says he hasn’t got his money. An argument ensues between guy A and guy B and results in guy B getting out his wallet and handing it to guy A by way of proving he does not have his money. Guy A appears to be satisfied and then turns on me, accusing me of having his money and wanting me to give him my wallet to prove I don’t.

Finally, but thankfully not too late, the penny drops and I realise that I’m rather tightly squeezed between two large Russians who are working as a team. As much as this thought is on my mind, I’m also aware that I could be wrong and this guy could get nasty if he thinks I’ve got his money, which has mysteriously disappeared, presumably in guy B’s pocket. I decide that some effort to show I don’t have his money might be worthwhile and so display my wallet whilst keeping it close to me and definitely in my hands and not theirs.

Guy A is not satisfied and insists on having a look at my wallet himself. I refuse, put my wallet away and make it quite clear that if this is going any further it’s going to be in front of a policeman. I start walking in the direction of the nearest policeman / soldier.

Guy A and guy B disappear together. End of incident.

I relate this tale to my colleagues when I see them later and am told this is a recent and dangerous scam. The idea is to get me to go with guy B to share the money somewhere quiet at which point guy A reappears and the pair of them beat me senseless and steal everything I have. If that doesn’t work, as in my case, they then do the wallet trick and steal my wallet when I hand it over for inspection.

Forewarned is forearmed! Be careful out there!

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4 thoughts on “Travellers tales – the Red Square mugging

  1. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Russia: A Scam

  2. That scam happens still, but rarely. The rule in Moscow is, if a wad of dollars (more likely these days to be Euros) is dropped in front of you quickly turn and walk swiftly in the opposite direction.

    It happened to me in my first few months here (four years ago); and I was foolish enough to pick up the wad and run after the guy… He also tried the wallet trick, as guy 2 arrived.

    Furtunately I have company security on ‘crash code’ and as soon as he realised MIG was on its way they fled as fast as they could.

    This still happens, though, to US-looking tourists and business-people exiting the Metropole Hotel. But these days only there. It is almost a performance art work now…

  3. This trick has been depicted many times in fiction and in movies (a 2007 Russian glamourous comedy “Zhara” comes to mind). It’s hard to tell why they only try this on foreigners.

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