How to avoid being extorted on trains?

All about Kazakhstan. Experts: Julia, walkingalmaty
unborderedlife
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How to avoid being extorted on trains?

Post by unborderedlife »

I've been reading some unsettling reports on blogs of how officers on trains will try and extort foreigners for money.

For example, this female blogger said train officers tried to hide her passport and pretend it was "lost". She kicked up a fuss and was able to resolve the issue.

https://jiakhonggirl.wordpress.com/2018 ... traveling/

And another, the author of this blog post (a little dated) says the office said he had to pay a fine even though all his papers were in order. He just said no, and they let him go, easy as that.

https://yomadic.com/almaty-to-tashkent/

I have a feeling that may not always work. In such cases, does anyone have any tips on what to do in such a situation? Refuse to follow the officer to his coupe? Make a huge fuss? Or just pay the bribe?

Thanks in advance.
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Julia
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Re: How to avoid being extorted on trains?

Post by Julia »

Hi
Scams like that involve illegal actions. So you definitely can call the police if anything illegal happens.

On the train get acquainted with as many people as possible. They might be helpful.

Don't give your passport to anyone except border controls. You can hold your passport in your hands and show it to a conductor like that. They don't have a right to take your passport away from you.

Bribery is illegal. Never ever give a bribe.
If someone looking like an officer says that you broke a law and have to pay than they must fill in a report. It's a special form with details of the incident and info which article of law is violated. And then one pays a fine in a bank (not cash to hands).
They can mention a prison, problems, whatever to make you scared and get some cash from you. Just ask to fill in the report with the exact details. If they see you know the law and not afraid they'll give up.
This works in case you really didn't break any laws and have all documents in order.
But I believe this type of scam is rare nowadays.
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unborderedlife
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Re: How to avoid being extorted on trains?

Post by unborderedlife »

Thank you very much for the tips, it's very helpful. Reassuring to know these scams are rarer nowadays, but I will definitely be firm in insisting a report is made should it occur. Thanks again.
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Julia
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Re: How to avoid being extorted on trains?

Post by Julia »

Talking about scams.
Although those scams seem to be rare but there is another type of scam you need to be cautious about.
Unofficial taxi drivers in airports and train stations may extort money from foreigners. Unfortunately I often hear about that from travelers.
Better use official taxi.
Or if you take one of those private drivers waiting outside, than take a picture of the car's plate. Make sure that the driver saw that. Tell him you sent the plate number to your local friend. Write a cost on a piece of paper and write that it's a total price in tenge. Show it to the driver so they can't say different at the end of drive.
Usual scam is a driver tells you at the end of the trip that it's not total price, but price per km. Or that you misunderstood and agreed for another bigger price. They also may not have change.
Some of them aggressive and pushing. Don't get on a car if a driver looks suspicious.

Private unofficial taxis are very popular in Kazakhstan. Usually they cheap and efficient. Locals often use them.
So I don't say strictly avoide them. But be very careful.
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Milad
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Re: How to avoid being extorted on trains?

Post by Milad »

Hi,

first of all: I never had such a problem in >30 rides on FSU night trains.

If you experience something such as the traveller in the first link, to get the train manager (nachalnik poezda), who is on the train the boss of the sleeping car attendants (provodniki). Also, most importantly, ask for the "train book" (kniga poezda). Every formal complaint written down in this book will be read by the management of the respective railway company. The provodniki will want to keep the book empty under all circumstances, but you have a *right* to get the book to write down your complaint. I cannot imagine a situation in which this shouldn't suffice to make them back off.
In the past years, all railway companies have put in stringent measures to combat corruption. I know a case a few years ago, where a traveler bought both beds in a lyuks-compartment in Ukraine (where the railway works the same as in Central Asia as it's former Soviet Union), the provodnik tried to put another person (who bribed the provodnik) on the empty bed, the traveler got the train manager, the person without ticket was removed from the train at the next station, and a few weeks later the traveler got an E-Mail by Ukrainian Railways Anti-Corruption department informing him that the responsible provodnik had been fired. Although bribing provodniki to get on the train is still a normal thing in some countries in Central Asia, it's highly unlikely that anyone would risk their job to get a few dollars out of a westerner. Note that the following advice given by the traveller who got scammed in the Omsk-Astana train:
To avoid potential extortion or similar events. Choose to stay in kupe instead of platzcart. The price difference is only around 1000 rubles (17 USD), which save you lots of trouble. The train attendant in kupe can speak a little English which is a plus point.
is complete nonsense. That there was an English-speaking provodnik in the kupe car was pure luck, and there are fewer people you can get involved in kupe.

In the second link, the scammer is not a railway employee, but a cop. In this case, the nachalnik and kniga poezda will be useless, rather tell them, that you know that it's corruption and that what they're doing is illegal. In some countries, there is a government anti-corruption hotline. If you have this number written down and threaten them with calling, they'll back off immediately.

Safe travels!
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AreWeThereYet?
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Re: How to avoid being extorted on trains?

Post by AreWeThereYet? »

I've found Central Asian long distance trains very civilised. Sure, I haven't been in the Russian cars of the long-distance trains and, sure again, I'm a bearded 6-foot-man, but my hairiest experience on rails was on an East Midlands train where I was sat with a bunch of Derby County returning from a defeat, all well pissed even before we left London. Or seeing punks and DB guards beat the respective daylights out of each other at Frankfurt Hbf at the tender age of 15. By comparison, travelling in Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan was a piece of cake. They even wake you up before your station.

I, too, would advise against choosing kupé instead of plazkart. Families travel plazkart and where there's families there's enforced tranquility for the sake of the kids (there's also a "no windows down" policy but hey, you can't win them all). My other advice is not to look too flashy. Occasion makes the man thief they say in Italy: if you're reading a book and not your iPhone X it lessens whichever mugging risk there could be, however remote.

Finally, as others have said, no one but cops or soldiers need to see your passport and even them are to be encountered, in my limited experience, at the entrance of stations or at borders. I've been asked for passports by cops or security guards in situations that were neither of the two; I don't know whether they were fishing for a bribe (once in Dushanbe bazaar they clearly were) or not but, when in doubt, I played dumb and gave them a photocopy of the information of my country's embassy.
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unborderedlife
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Re: How to avoid being extorted on trains?

Post by unborderedlife »

Julia wrote:Talking about scams.
Unofficial taxi drivers in airports and train stations may extort money from foreigners. Unfortunately I often hear about that from travelers.
Better use official taxi.
Thanks for the heads up. I've read about this scam as well and have no intention of taking unofficial taxis. A lot of people have recommended using the Yandex app - would you agree this is the safest option?
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unborderedlife
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Re: How to avoid being extorted on trains?

Post by unborderedlife »

Milad wrote:Hi,

first of all: I never had such a problem in >30 rides on FSU night trains.

If you experience something such as the traveller in the first link, to get the train manager (nachalnik poezda), who is on the train the boss of the sleeping car attendants (provodniki). Also, most importantly, ask for the "train book" (kniga poezda). Every formal complaint written down in this book will be read by the management of the respective railway company. The provodniki will want to keep the book empty under all circumstances, but you have a *right* to get the book to write down your complaint. I cannot imagine a situation in which this shouldn't suffice to make them back off.
In the past years, all railway companies have put in stringent measures to combat corruption. I know a case a few years ago, where a traveler bought both beds in a lyuks-compartment in Ukraine (where the railway works the same as in Central Asia as it's former Soviet Union), the provodnik tried to put another person (who bribed the provodnik) on the empty bed, the traveler got the train manager, the person without ticket was removed from the train at the next station, and a few weeks later the traveler got an E-Mail by Ukrainian Railways Anti-Corruption department informing him that the responsible provodnik had been fired. Although bribing provodniki to get on the train is still a normal thing in some countries in Central Asia, it's highly unlikely that anyone would risk their job to get a few dollars out of a westerner. Note that the following advice given by the traveller who got scammed in the Omsk-Astana train:
To avoid potential extortion or similar events. Choose to stay in kupe instead of platzcart. The price difference is only around 1000 rubles (17 USD), which save you lots of trouble. The train attendant in kupe can speak a little English which is a plus point.
is complete nonsense. That there was an English-speaking provodnik in the kupe car was pure luck, and there are fewer people you can get involved in kupe.

In the second link, the scammer is not a railway employee, but a cop. In this case, the nachalnik and kniga poezda will be useless, rather tell them, that you know that it's corruption and that what they're doing is illegal. In some countries, there is a government anti-corruption hotline. If you have this number written down and threaten them with calling, they'll back off immediately.

Safe travels!
Thanks for all the great advice. From what I gather the best course of action is to ask to see their superior, and if their superior is also corrupt, ask for the complaint book and threaten to call the anti-corruption hotline?

Yes, I didn't think that first blogger made logical sense regarding the kupe/platzcart. But I have already bought a ticket for a kupe, in any case. Mainly because from personal experience (I've taken a number of overnight trains in China and Europe before) I sleep better in a berth than an open car. Just going to have to pray I get good people in there with me.
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unborderedlife
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Re: How to avoid being extorted on trains?

Post by unborderedlife »

AreWeThereYet? wrote: I, too, would advise against choosing kupé instead of plazkart. Families travel plazkart and where there's families there's enforced tranquility for the sake of the kids (there's also a "no windows down" policy but hey, you can't win them all). My other advice is not to look too flashy. Occasion makes the man thief they say in Italy: if you're reading a book and not your iPhone X it lessens whichever mugging risk there could be, however remote.

Finally, as others have said, no one but cops or soldiers need to see your passport and even them are to be encountered, in my limited experience, at the entrance of stations or at borders. I've been asked for passports by cops or security guards in situations that were neither of the two; I don't know whether they were fishing for a bribe (once in Dushanbe bazaar they clearly were) or not but, when in doubt, I played dumb and gave them a photocopy of the information of my country's embassy.
Thanks for your insights. What do you mean by "no windows down" policy?

So is it okay to refuse to show your passport to random police officers and guards when at a metro station or strolling in the city? I don't speak any Russian, by the way. I plan to leave my passport in the hotel and carry around a photocopy, but it some cases this isn't possible (for example when moving from city to city).
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AreWeThereYet?
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Re: How to avoid being extorted on trains?

Post by AreWeThereYet? »

unborderedlife wrote:
Thanks for your insights. What do you mean by "no windows down" policy?

So is it okay to refuse to show your passport to random police officers and guards when at a metro station or strolling in the city? I don't speak any Russian, by the way. I plan to leave my passport in the hotel and carry around a photocopy, but it some cases this isn't possible (for example when moving from city to city).
Basically some windows, on some trains, can be lowered (and that, when it's 35C outside, is a bit of a must). It happened to me that, if I was in a plazkart with small kids, I was asked not to open them "because of the kids".

With regards to passports: I always travel with them when in Central Asia, but unless I really need (airport/train station security, borders) I don't dish them out to anyone and so far I haven't had to. If the officers ask sternly and it feels like a legitimate question then I'd comply, but if it's something that I feel is a scam then I'll play dumb and give them a photocopy of the embassy's address. I've to say, though, that this happened only once and only at Dushanbe's bazaar (which is quite a hotspot) and only because my travel mate was taking photos with a camera the size of Hubble. Don't worry, chances are that the worst you'll find on the trains would be a farting world championship.
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