No-matter where you go as a foreigner there are going to be tricks, scams, and dangerous situations that you need to learn to avoid. I have described below the scams in Odessa, Ukraine that I am aware of and want to warn you that this is in no way intended to be a complete list. As always as a traveler your best defense is your awareness and avoiding bad situations before they escalate into something more dangerous.
First a story about John
I was inspired to write this post after speaking to an old friend that I had met during my last trip to Odessa. I have changed his name in this post to protect his safety and dignity. I met John at a bar one night called Mick O’Neills. John was sitting there drinking tea and we chatted as I proceeded to have more to drink than I probably should have. I mention this because John does not drink heavily. I have sat with him at Mick O’Neills more times than I can count as John was living in Odessa during one of my longer trips. He also is not known as the kind of guy that would be indulging in prostitutes or any other obvious risky behavior. The only thing about John that was risky to his personal safety is being overly nice to a fault. When I first met him I actually suspected he may be targeting me for something because of how interested he was in talking to me. Over-time John became one of my favorite American’s living in Odessa, Ukraine. So what happened to John? John met a man in Odessa and after a night of hanging out together John saw his new friend the next day. His friend informed him that been kicked out of his apartment by his wife and was without a place to stay. Being the upstanding citizen and friend that John is he quickly invited this man to sleep on his couch for a night. Together they walked home and on the way the man bought a beer. Once they got back to John’s apartment they poured the beer equally into two glasses to split and soon there-after John falls to the ground while being fully conscious but completely paralyzed. John had been drugged. He can see the man moving quickly throughout his apartment gathering cash, jewelry, electronics and anything else valuable. The man then made a cellphone call explaining to the person on the other end that he could not find John’s passport but thinks he got everything else. The man then took a pair of rubber gloves out of his jacket and put them on before washing the glasses they used for the drink and left. Luckily John had hid his passport and some emergency cash because this man had taken everything he owned. I could tell John was traumatized by this event and he has shared with me that he now suffers from PTSD.
Odessa Airport Taxi
This scam is actually rather harmless and I have mentioned it in a prior post. When you arrive in Odessa International Airport (ODS) you will be approached by taxi drivers in the terminal who want to give you a ride to your hotel. This ride will cost you 600-800 UAH ($20-30 USD) or really as much as they can get. In general, its usually a real taxi driver and a safe ride but using your phone to hail an Uber will only cost 60-90 UAH ($2-3 USD).
If you spend some time in Odessa you will at some point be propositioned by a prostitute. First off, I want to mention that in Ukraine prostitution is illegal and indulging in this activity could definitely get you arrested. Secondly, prostitutes in Odessa are notoriously known by the locals for drugging foreigners and robbing them blind. In general, I don’t have a problem with people who decide to work in the sex industry. I believe this should be their personal decision. With this being said I still recommend against even talking to these girls because even if you don’t take them home there is a strong chance that they will be trying to pick your pocket, slip something in your drink, or talk you into disclosing critical information so that other cons can target you later.
After spending some time in Ukraine curiosity had gotten the best of me and I decided to open Tinder to see what the local dating market is like. As I began swiping right I noticed that I was matching with an abnormal amount of women. Upon messaging these girls I noticed that they are all super interested in me and looking to meet up immediately. This gave me a serious red flag and I declined their invitations for a date. After speaking with some other American’s I learned that a common con is for these girls to invite a foreigner on a date and then order everything on the menu. This would typically be fine but these girls have special arrangements with certain restaurants and men on dates are given “special pricing” which can be 2-3x the normal price of the restaurant. In return the girls earn a commission of the sale. I also would not be surprised to hear that your date goes “extremely well” and the girl wants you to take her back to your hotel. In this case, I have heard of foreigners being drugged and robbed by their lover.
This sort of violent crime usual happens at night and is pretty strait forward. You will be walking in a dark area and be approached by a stranger with a knife or gun requesting your wallet and cell phone. I have heard of this happening to several foreigners especially in the Arcadia Beach area. If you are targeted by this exploit the best thing you can do is remain calm, keep your movements very predictable, and comply with your attacker. No material item is worth your life so don’t be a hero. Give them your stuff and move on. The only time that it is acceptable to fight back in this situation is when you think your attacker may harm you regardless of your compliance. Also, do everything in your power to avoid turning your back to your attacker. You need to see whats going on with the weapon and get a read on your attackers intent.
ATM Card Skimmers
The ATM’s in Odessa, Ukraine are very susceptible to skimmers due to the current economic situation in Ukraine. I’m not sure how they get installed but they are able to get your debit card information and your pin number. I have fallen pray to this exploit more than once. My advice is that if you want to take money from ATM do it at the nicest hotel in the city where you can visibly see security posted 24/7. After you identify the ATM you will use stick to your plan and make your withdrawals only from this one machine. This way if your card is compromised you know what ATM to avoid in the future. After using ATM machines in Ukraine make sure to monitor your account for unauthorized activity. A good tactic is to open a new checking account prior to your trip and transfer small increments of cash to this account for ATM withdrawal as needed. This way if your card is compromised you are not left without a way to access your money and the damages will be limited.
This is an extremely common scam targeting foreigners. I have spoke to many American’s in Odessa, Ukraine that have fallen pray to this scam and it has in some cases costed them >$20,000 USD. The way that it works is that you will email these women through a dating agency service each email costs you $5-7 USD and you can pay more for Skype or telephone contact. These girls are beautiful and will suspiciously fall in love with you even if your 60 years old and they are in their early 20’s. After months of email and Skype contact you will be invited to visit them in Odessa where you can get to know each other better. You will pay a large to the agency for the opportunity to meet and court these women. To your surprise despite their excellent english on Skype they will request that you hire a translator for your date. The fee for translation service will be ~$50 per hour. The women often then will recommend extremely expensive restaurants where they will receive a commission for the money you spend. The restaurants are able to pay this commission because you will receive special pricing (2-3x the normal price). After the girl you are courting detects that you have spent as much money as your able to on courting them you will be informed by the agency that she just isn’t interested.
I have heard many reports of corruption amongst Ukrainian authorities. The one scam that I’m particularly aware of happened to another American I spoke to that spent some time in the Arcadia Beach Area. He was approached late at night by what appeared to be a police man and asked for identification. He presented his passport and was informed that he was in a dangerous area and for his own safety he must pay 500 UAH ($18 USD) for a police escort home (by foot). In this situation I would recommend complying and would avoid asking for badge numbers or other identifying information.In most cases you are being extorted by a figure of authority and by nature could be accused of crimes you did not commit. However, if they are offering you a escort by vehicle DO NOT COMPLY UNLESS YOU SEE IDENTIFICATION.
Again, this is in no way intended to be a complete list of scams targeting foreigners and American’s in Odessa, Ukraine. I have only shared with you the scams and cons that I am personally aware of. In general, your best defense as a traveler will always be to maintain a heightened state of personal awareness. I also do not want to make Odessa, Ukraine sound overly dangerous. Odessa is a wonderful city full of very kind and helpful people. The fact of the matter is that no-matter what city you visit there are dangerous areas and situations to avoid. As travelers the best thing we can do for our personal security is be aware of the risks associated to each city so that we can better avoid them. I will also be releasing a post later this week with general safety tips for travelers and will link to it here when it becomes available.
Are you aware of a scam or con that isn’t listed here that targets foreigners in Odessa, Ukraine? Post about it in the comments below to help keep fellow travelers informed!