14 Most Common Scams in Turkey

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Turkey

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One of the hottest destinations in the world, Turkey is where the world meets. Since ancient times, the Trojans, Mongols, Romans, Greeks, Ottomans and many others have traversed these plains. Today, it sits right at the cross section between Asia and Europe. The result is a fascinating cultural experience.

However, despite being known as country with friendly people, there is still a whole bunch of crooks out to fleece you of your money. Getting recourse is difficult too, as the police does not have a good command of English. Further, from most anecdotes, they are not readily willing to help. So what better way to protect yourself than to learn through this article?

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES       

1. Would you like a drink my friend?

Turkey bars and pubs

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Be wary whenever you hear this. This is such a common scam that in 2008, when police raided 6 nightclubs, they arrested over 100 people accused of this scam. They include bar owners, bar girls, employees and sometimes even the police! Weapons and drugs were seized as well. It also happens everywhere round the world (e.g. China, Greece, etc).

The scam is wickedly simple. A stranger (e.g a well dressed man fluent in English; a pair of random dudes, etc) first approaches you (usually targeting single travellers). Then, he asks if you have a lighter/know the way/can help take a photo or what have you. As the conversation is carried on and rapport built, he will ask if you would like to grab a drink with him.

Should you accept, you will be brought to a “highly recommended” restaurant or bar. Girls will join you, and you will be coerced into buying drinks. These drinks will easily rack up a thousand dollar bill. If you have not passed out from a spiked drink, be prepared to be escorted to the nearby ATM machine by a group of hooligans to make payment.

Rule of thumb:

But, what if you really want to make friends with the locals? Well there are a few steps you can take:

  • Does the restaurant/bar seem legit? i.e. are there customers?
  • Is the stranger reading from a script? Evasive about things?
  • Is he/she only bringing you to a particular restaurant or bar?
  • Pretend that you have company by suggesting to go another place where you have a few friends at
  • Only drink what your waiter or you have poured
  • Take a photograph together

 

2. Fake carpets/coins/goods

Turkey bazaar carpets

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Be especially wary of “helpful” souls wandering around in Sultanahment and the Grand Bazaar who offer to bring you around the shops. He will claim that he knows the sellers with the best quality items and that he can get for you a “local price”. Reality however, is that he will bring you somewhere where lousy quality items are sold at an inflated price. And he gets a cut.

In Turkey, carpets are a hot seller. To exploit this, many Chinese fakes made of synthetic materials are sold. Another common fake would be coins and artefacts claimed to be from the Byzantine or Roman eras sold at historical sites such as in the town of Selcuk.

Some shady shops to be careful of: Benny’s Shop/Benny’s Leather in the Kusadasi Bazaar,

Rule of thumb:

To protect yourself, learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff, or only visit licensed, experienced dealers with a good reputation. You can find these by simply doing some online research or by asking your hotel staff.

There are many “quality” fake goods out there, so if you don’t how to differentiate them, play it safe and not buy.

 

3. Over-priced items/services

Some stall owners/service providers are highly opportunistic. Should you not enquire about the price first before purchasing (it can be anything, such as a souvenir, a taxi ride or even a shoe shine service), be prepared to be hit with an astronomical bill after.

Even worse, there are restaurants who might charge you for items that you did not order.

Rule of thumb:

Always negotiate the price before and check your bill after.

Also, always negotiate in Lira, the local currency (and keep local petty cash with you), as a foreign currency will often be charged a higher price.

 

4. Currency scam

Turkey currency Lira

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Just like the over-priced scam, always clarify the currency before doing any transaction.

Rule of thumb:

There’s a huge difference between Euro and Lira. So besides checking verbally with the stall owner, check your credit card bill as well should you use it.

 

5. Shoe shine scam

One common trick these scammers use is to pretend to drop their shoe shine equipment accidentally beside you. Should you help pick it up, they will offer to provide shoe shine services to you for free.

Should you accept, two things will happen. First, the scammer will strike up a conversation during the service, and casually mention add on services he is providing you. Alternatively, he may began telling you about his sad life story, making you feel bad for him.

At the end of it all, you will be charged with a hefty bill. Argue, and you will suddenly find many shoe shiners surround you.

Rule of thumb:

Stay far away from these shoe shiners.

 

6. No change back/more money needed

As the title suggests, some stall owners/service providers/taxi drivers will “forget” to pass you your change. This is done by distracting/engaging you in a conversation.

A reverse of this situation is for the stall owners/service providers/taxi drivers to pretend to have received less than what you have paid. They do this by quickly hiding the cash that you have paid them (sleight of hand) and claim to have received less.

Rule of thumb:

Whenever you expect change back, keep a mental note and not get distracted.

When handing money over, count the notes out loud and slowly. Then make sure you look carefully at how the other party counts the notes.

 

7. A credit card machine that doesn’t work

And the next thing that happens, is that your credit card is charged twice.

Rule of thumb:

Try to use cash, rather than credit cards as much as possible. Always check your credit card bill as well whenever it’s available online to dispute any charges.

 

8. “Free” sunbeds

Not a scam technically, but if you were to take a free sunbed at resorts (especially those in Bodrum), be prepared to face a barrage of touts asking you to buy overpriced food, drinks and items.

Rule of thumb:

Be ready to fend the touts off.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Unscrupulous taxi drivers

Turkey taxi cab

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There are the common ones such as those who rig their meters, insist on not using their meters or insist that they have no change. Some may even swap your notes, e.g. you pass them a 50 Lira note, and it becomes a 5 Lira note suddenly (sleight of hand). The then driver shouts at you to pay more. In the past, some switch the meter to a night-time charge (2x more than) in the day, but this charge no longer exists!

The sly ones will meddle with the meters while you are not looking. Others may even grab your luggage, lock it in the boot, and drive you to a bar and get you into the whole bar scam.

Rule of thumb:

One tip is to avoid taking taxis at tourist spots, such as at the Sultanahmet area (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar).

Or simply use the metro system – it is convenient and good. If you really insist on taking a cab, pay using small, local currency and take a photo of the car number first.

Also, before paying, if it’s a big note, hold it and ask the driver what the value of the note is. This way, he is unlikely to be able to execute the sleight of hand swapping scam.

 

2. Your car/wheel is damaged

Happens on the road, where a driver will signal certain parts of your car (wheels are the easiest) that is damaged. This helpful driver will claim to be a mechanic, and help you replace the spare part by heading to a workshop nearby.

Apparently, there is nothing wrong with your car. What happens is that either the original part is taken away, repainted and returned. Or it will be swapped with a part that is of lousier quality. Further, the mechanic will demand a huge fee for his service.

Rule of thumb:

Examine whichever part it is yourself and firmly reject the offer.

 

3. New friends made on the train

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A scammer might come up to you, strike a conversation and be a companion on the trip since you both are conveniently on the same way.

Next, they might offer your food or drinks laced with a fast acting sedative (it is colorless, odourless, tasteless). When you pass out, you will be robbed.

Rule of thumb:

Never accept food or drinks from a stranger, unless it is something difficult to tamper with like a sealed bottle or can. Even then, it is better to be safe than sorry.

 

4. Ferry cruise touts

Turkey ferrySource credit

The boat trips the street touts sell are way overpriced.

Rule of thumb:

Buy from the official outlets or simply head to the Galata Bridge for a local ferry.

 

C. MISC

1. Getting robbed while drunk

Turkey beer Efes

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This is not exactly a scam technically. But because of the Turkish law where you cannot make a claim while drunk, you will become a prime target of robbers when you drink in public.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid drinking in public, if you do, do not drink too much and stay alert.

Keep your valuables locked up in your hotel’s safe. Bring around a photocopy of your passport/ID instead of the actual thing.

Also, consider using a spare wallet or money belt.

 

2. Pickpockets

This is practically present around the world. Be especially careful around crowded spots such as tourist spots – Sultanhamet Square, Taksim Square, Cumhurriyet Caddesi, Istiklal Caddesi, etc – or on crowded transportation.

Some of the methods which they use include slashing your bag, snatching your bag, distracting you and even by conning you (e.g. asking if you could show a dollar in your country’s currency so that he will know where you keep your money).

There are many other methods pickpockets use. Learn more about these techniques by checking out the articles on Netherlands or Spain, as these are where the real pros operate.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Istanbul Tourism Police Hotline

Istanbul tourism police car

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Contact: +90 212 527 45 03

Address: Emniyet Müdürlüğü Turizm Şube Müdürlüğü Yerebatan Cad. No: 6 Sultanahmet, Istanbul

 

2. Emergency numbers to call

  • Medical emergency/Ambulance: 112
  • Fire: 110
  • Police: 155

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6 Comments

  1. Also… this round of snacks/drinks is on the house.. but then afterwards they are on your bill. (istanbul tourist center)

    Putting a balloon in a kids hand and then asking money. (kusadasi)

    Reply
    • Thanks for pointing these out Koja!

      Reply
  2. These are great tips! As a local in Istanbul, I want to share another tip for travelers: Metered taxis are readily available 24 hours a day at all around the city. If you have internet connection on your laptop or mobile device, always use https://taksiyle.com/en/istanbul just before taking a taxi from airport, hotel or restaurant. It will help you to avoid potential taxi scams in Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya and other metropolitan areas in Turkey and give an outline about the routes between departure and destination.

    Reply
  3. Beware of Turkish nationals approaching you in hotels claiming to have lived in Italy or France or any of these countries and offering to help you find a good restaurant. You will be taken to shady joints where food would be delivered and asked to pay a hefty amount of money. These places are normally full of hooligans who are in on the scam. You will not be able to escape without paying at least a few hundred dollars for a dinner worth a few bucks.

    Reply
  4. If your staying ın the Mercure Hotel Topkapı Istanbul Be aware of a slım guy wıth gray haır casualy dressed callıng hımself Alexandro sayıng he,s an armenıan natıonal who ıs ın the constructıon busıness and works ın Iraq. Thıs guy wıll pretend to be your frıend and wıll offer to show you around town and drıve you to a small bar ın K.M Celebı Mah Buyukparmakkapı sok no 30A beyoglu owned by ABDULLAH NURCIN who ıs also a scammer. The bar wıll be full of russıan bouncers and have some woman and thıs guy Alexandro wıll ınvıte them to your table and offer them a frıendly drınk but you wıll be made to pay for the bıll and ıt wıll cost you thousands of dollars whıch you wıll be forced to pay or you wıll be assaulted and taken to a cashlıne and. made to wıthdraw money. Thıs Guy Alexandro ıs ınvolved and works for these people and wıll say he’s payıng but when the bıll comes he wıll say for you to pay half whıch ıs a large amount of money. Do not get ınvolved wıth thıs guy or these people as they are scammers.

    Reply
  5. Also, it seems there is some kind of communication between scammers, like twitter or similar. Once they mark you as wanting an item, a guy on every corner tries to offer you the same thing. Maybe they even take your picture. I found it way too probable that they knew what I was looking for before I even started looking. Made it impossible to haggle.

    Reply

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