Like every big city, Istanbul has its scammers – although they may be fewer than in some other parts of the world. And the Turks are generally an honest people so if a Turk realises you’re being scammed he’ll often try to warn you. Nonetheless, it’s sensible to be prepared and to take precautions. Here we’ll introduce you to some of the common scams and how to avoid them.
Where The Tourist Scam Mostly Takes Place?
As you’d expect the vast majority of tourist scams are in the crowded tourist centres of Istanbul such as Sultanahmet Square, Istiklal Street, Taksim Square and surrounding streets, Karaköy and surroundings, Grand Bazaar and Eminönü.
1. “I Know A Very Good Place!”
Tourists traveling alone are the most likely targets for this type of fraud. There may be people who try to befriend you in areas with lots of taverns or bars by saying, “Let’s have a drink”. Their purpose is to get you into one of the bars full of overpriced drinks and flashy women. The end of this adventure is usually the same; a huge bill. They target white single men, usually who are very well dressed, and they speak fluent English. If you smoke, they’ll ask for a light to start a conversation. They may start a conversation at the table next to you while you’re sitting on the terrace having a drink. Once the conversation starts, they say that their friend has a place with great drinks, and ask whether you want to join them there. To be protected from this type of scam, you must reject the polite invitation with an equally polite but firm ‘No’. Still, expect them to continue to try their luck by suggesting other places to go to. Be sure to investigate any suggestions before trying them.
2. Men of Carpet Sellers
This is something that can happen to anyone walking around Sultanahmet and the Grand Bazaar. A friendly, multi-lingual man approaches you and asks, “Are you lost? Then he asks, “Would you like to know where the sights or Grand Bazaar are?” He’ll offer to lead you there and you’ll be introduced to other members of the family as you continue your journey accompanied by his beautiful conversation. You may find yourself drinking tea at a carpet or leather shop while your raconteur continues his beautiful chat. When you get there, he’ll start convincing you to buy something. Remember, you don’t have to buy anything. If you go there and have tea with the family, you can take a photo and leave. Of course, the best thing to do when people approach you in a friendly way and want to guide you is to be wary of them. If you really feel lost, you can try using your phone to navigate or just ask someone.
3. Purse Snatchers
Sadly this happens in every country. The pickpockets’ purpose is to steal your wallet and other valuables. They target careless tourists and generally operate in crowded streets or on public transport. Particular attention should be paid on public transport. It’s even happened to the person who wrote this article! A man stood next to a couple hugging each other on the bus and began to look outside. He felt a movement in the bag on his back and when he took the bag from his back, he saw the zip had been opened. Luckily nothing was stolen but it just goes to show how anybody can be caught out. Avoiding this is very simple; do not leave your backpack on your back, especially in crowded places such as public transport. Keep your wallet in the front pocket of your trousers. Don’t keep all your cash in your wallet. And don’t keep any valuables in your back pockets. When shopping in places like the Grand Bazaar, use a credit card instead of cash, or if you prefer not to use a card make sure you don’t put all your cash in the same pocket. If you’re travelling with a bag, make sure all zips are fully closed. And if you’re in a bar or restaurant and have to leave your table for any reason, don’t leave your mobile phone, iPad, etc. on the table. If you are the only one and you are sitting in a crowded place, take your belongings with you as you get up from the table and tell the waiter that you’ll be back.
If you’re hungry and looking for a place to eat, you can be the target of unscrupulous restaurants. In touristy restaurants, usually after the menu arrives and you’ve ordered, some plates that you have not ordered come to the table. Maybe the waiters will ask if you want to have a beer. Your beer comes with salted peanuts. You drink beer with salted peanuts. Before your order arrives, the waiter comes and fills your peanut plate with peanuts again. After the order comes, they start to fill your glasses with water. In the end, you’ll be handed a bill filled with lots of drinks and food that you did not order. To avoid this situation, be sure of what you order and ask whether any extras are complementary or included as part of your order. When the bill arrives re-check what you have ordered. If you see something different from your order, object to it. Be wary of the question, “Would you like…?” which is often asked in a manner which suggests the food they’re going to serve will be free of charge but will be considered an extra food order by them. In some restaurants, if you order a single salad and four people eat, they may count that as salad for four people. Ask any questions you may have before entering the restaurant. You won’t experience this type of problem in luxury restaurants.
5. Taxi Drivers
The taxi driver saying “I know this route very well” may not always be well-intentioned. The roads he uses while trying to save you from heavy traffic might make the journey longer and end up costing you more money. This is a trick performed all over the world. As a tourist, if you don’t know the shortest route to your destination, the taxi driver may choose a longer route. If you’re willing to pay internet roaming charges, we advise you to open a navigation app and guide the taxi driver. There are various apps for reliable taxi journeys. Instead of taking a taxi from the road, you can find a taxi by downloading these applications to your smartphone: Bitaksi iTaksi and Uber.
6. “You Didn’t Give Me This Money!”
The banknotes in Turkey are as follows: 5TL, 10TL, 20TL, 50TL, 100TL, and 200TL. Pay attention to which banknote you give when shopping because some look very similar, especially 5TL and 50TL. This leads to the problem of banknote confusion, also faced by locals. If you pay in cash in bulk, you may give the wrong money due to banknote confusion or the shop owner may say that you gave the wrong money. To solve all the difficulties, give the banknotes one by one and recalculate after each banknote. Don’t worry, traders are used to it because it’s what Turks always do. This is not always a tourist scam and there could be a genuine error which is why it’s important to give banknotes one by one and to count your change the same way before leaving the shop.