Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Muscovites Beat Expectations in Honesty Test

New Codes
(out of 30)
SeoulSouth Korea27
New YorkUnited States24
BudapestHungary 23
PragueCzech Republic23
OaklandNew Zealand23
Sao PauloBrazil21
Mexico CityMexico20
LondonGreat Britain19
Buenos AiresArgentina16
Taipei Taiwan 16
AmsterdamThe Netherlands14
Hong KongHong Kong13
Kuala LumpurMalaysia13
Source: Reader's Digest

When it comes to cell phones, it's safe to say that Muscovites are madly in love with them -- clutching them in the metro, texting on escalators and chattering away during movies.

So just how tempting would a forgotten cell phone lying around be for the city's denizens? Not as tempting as you might think, according to a survey published this week that used cell phones to measure honesty around the world.

Moscow finished 24th out of 32 cities in the "Global Honesty Test," conducted by U.S.-based magazine and publishing house Reader's Digest. Staff members placed 30 brand-new, midpriced cell phones in the most populous cities of 32 countries to see whether locals would take the bait.

Seventeen phones were returned by honest finders in Moscow, while 13 were whisked away unscrupulously.

The Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, topped the list with 29 phones returned, followed by Toronto with 28. Hong Kong and the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, tied for last place with only 13 devices returned.

Reader's Digest stressed that the survey was totally unscientific.

"Otherwise, we would have to exactly replicate every local environment, which is impossible," spokesman William Adler said by telephone from company headquarters in Pleasantville, New York.

"We actually deliberately put in variety," he added, referring to the fact that mega-cities like New York and Moscow were included along with smaller cities like Ljubljana.

In Moscow's Vorontsovsky Park, a mother walking with her 8-year-old daughter passed by a telephone resting on the ground near a pond that suddenly rang. "After reconsidering, she went back, answered the phone and promised the owner to wait for him to pick it up," Reader's Digest reports in the September issue of its Russian edition.

"First, I really did not want to pick up the phone, but then I imagined how I would feel if I lost mine," the mother is quoted as saying.

The worldwide average return rate was 68 percent. Adler said the results were surprisingly positive. "We did not expect so much honesty," he said.

One reason for the results might be today's ubiquity of cell phones.

"Since everybody has one, everybody knows what a hassle it is to lose it," Adler said.

Attitudes toward property do depend on cultural traditions, said Sergei Kharitonov, a senior researcher at the Moscow Psychiatric Research Institute. "People in big cities, where money is earned more easily, are less concerned about someone else's property than in smaller cities like Ljubljana."

He added that in Siberia's traditional hunter culture, stealing was quite acceptable because it proved that a person was smart enough to survive.

Cell phones have featured prominently in Russian police statistics. Authorities say thousands of crimes have been committed in recent years, including multiple homicides and arson, in which the primary motive was to steal cell phones.

In April, a man in the southern city of Pyatigorsk snatched a cell phone from a judge's office in a local courthouse. A few minutes before, the culprit had been tried for attempting to steal a patient's phone in a local clinic, authorities said.

The survey, however, was basically a human interest story that defied stereotypes. For instance, young people defied expectations and showed no proclivity for five-finger discounts. The results were mixed for uniformed people: "We got some bad results from private security guards, but good results from official police people," Adler said.

In Hong Kong, when a security guard picked up the phone, he asked a group of smokers whether it belonged to one of them. No one claimed it, so he wrapped it in a piece of paper, Reader's Digest reported in its International English edition. When approached by the reporter, the phone clearly grasped in his hand, the guard stammered: "What phone? I didn't see any phone. If you've mislaid something, report it to Lost and Found."

While a total of six shopping center security guards were observed pocketing the phones, it was reassuring that all of the actual police officers acted honestly, the report said.

Reader's Digest, which claims to be the world's most widely read magazine with nearly 80 million readers in more than 60 countries, conducted the survey as a follow-up to its global courtesy survey last year.

In the 2006 survey, which assessed how politely people reacted in situations like dropping a newspaper or holding open a door, Moscow finished near the bottom with the likes of Bucharest, Seoul and Singapore. The survey triggered a debate in India after Mumbai finished last. The Indian metropolis did well this time, with 24 phones returned.

Staff Writer Svetlana Osadchuk contributed to this report.