On my first trip to Istanbul I fell victim  to a tourist scam that cost me a couple Euro and a bit of  pride. It’s unfortunate but tourist are usually walking targets and I tend to believe that black female solo travelers are even bigger marks. I was less anxious about this trip because I was accompanied by my not-so-little little brother. Although he is five years younger, he towers over me and most mere mortals. I figured I would be pretty safe  with him by my side. With all the excitement of planning his first trip to Europe I forgot many of my pre-travel rituals including googling “common tousit scams Istanbul” and I wasn’t prepared.

It was a long day, my brother and I walked for ages from the new to the old part of the city. It wasn’t an easy stroll, Istanbul has steep hills and many of the narrow cobblestone streets were treacherous due to active construction. We trekked under the hot sun making stops at the Spice Market, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, Sultanahment Square and the Blue Mosque. Aside from the pushy carpet salesmens, the Turkish people on a whole were friendly and receptive to us. We were quite the spectacle, people assumed my brother was a basketball player and I was a celebrity: Turkish children waved and stared, we were stopped multiple times by people asking for photos, and random folks shouted “greetings” at us. 
Where are you from? …We love America!!…. Barack and Michelle….. Jay-z and Beyonce
It had been a great day, just exhausting.

When we finally arrived at the labyrith like Grand Bazaar, we were overwhelmed and decided to skip it.  Heading back to our hotel near Taksim Square, I had no desire to figure out the public transportation system and walking was no longer an option. I saw a cab and we got in. My first mistake was not asking the driver how much it would cost to get us to our hotel. He had a meter and his identification was displayed and in my tired state this was enough for me. I became suspicious of the driver when he went the wrong way at a major intersection. I called him on it and he used the excuse that it was a bad time of day so he had to go another route. I was irritated after a few minutes of joy riding and demanded that he let us out. He protested and then started going the right direction.

Once at the hotel the meter read 32 TL. I knew he took the piss while driving so I only  paid him 35 TL, and then reached for the door. He told me that I owed him more and held up two bills, a ten and a five.  I looked in my wallet, confused, flustered and doubting myself. I didn’t say how much I handed him aloud, a habit I practice in any cab, in any city and my brother wasn’t paying attention. I had no recourse except to give the dodgy driver 20 Lira. I later realized that he must have hid the 20 Lira note. I handed him the money and when I turned my head to go for the door, he tucked it away. I was even more upset when I found out that the fair should have been closer to 15 Lira.

My brother escaped getting scammed later that evening while exploring the city on his own. A friendly local started a conversation with him while he was having a drink. The man offered to show him some great spots in Istanbul, starting with a place around the corner that his friend owned. He may have taken him up on the offer if he hadn’t received a head ups the night before from West Point students on Spring Break. They gave him the low-down on the scams that target male travelers. Being invited out by a seemingly nice guy who takes you somewhere to get charged 1,000 USD for two beers is one of the most notorious and dangerous scams in Istanbul. If you refuse to pay you get roughed up by “management”.

Tourist scams are by no means exclusive to Istanbul but they are a reality of international travel, especially in larger cities. Shady taxi cab drivers, crooked con men, nimble pick pockets; there are often opportunist looking to exploit the trusting nature of people. The most useful weapon against a scam artist is an educated tourist who has their guard up. Before going abroad, do your research on both the good and bad of your destination city. Safe Journey!
Have you ever been scammed on holiday?
Any tips and tricks to prevent tourist scams in specific countries?

Be sure to follow me on twitter @nicolenewblack
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13 Responses to Tourist Scams: A Reality of International Travel

  1. Great post! I was lucky when we first arrived in Istanbul, our hotel manager warned us about the taxi scam and told us how much a taxi ride should cost from certain parts of town to the hotel. One thing that I learned from Russia was to never get into a car without haggling for the price first. Other than feeling that I paid too much for some pomegranate juice I think I managed to escape scam free (I’m leaving my carpet buying experience out of this 😛 )

  2. @digitalcosmonaut i swear i usually do such things smarter but i was tired. tripping over sacred cats and stubbing your toe on concrete can make you lose your common sense LOL. glad you had a great time. we will have to talk about carpet buying over a beer or a burger :)

  3. Steve says:

    Excellent article! Having been scammed, it is the worst feeling to hand over cash to an individual when you really want to punch the SOB in the face.

    Earlier this year, an employee of a Latin American air carrier extorted cash out of me over what was allegedly "overweight luggage" – I was at a small airport, more accurately an airstrip.

    The employee behind the counter was the only agent of the air carrier. I knew I wasn't overweight and when he refused to take a credit card despite a functioning "credomatic" machine on the counter, I knew I was being taken. I protested – I even exchanged words in Espanol.

    A catch-22, do I pay the cash? Do I leave and find ground transport? In the end I forked over the cash – I was gringoed.

    Fortunately, I demanded a cash receipt, so "I could be re-reimbursed by my employer" — when the receipt lacked the air carrier name I demanded a receipt that did, "otherwise my employer would question reimbursement request." :-p I left with cash receipt in hand stamped with the airline name and employee ID.

    Upon arrival, I visit a regional sales office. The supervisor I spoke to, clearly embarrassed when I showed her the receipt & photos I took. She explains they have "strict policy" to not accept cash for this reason, but strangely the required signage was missing from the wall at my origin.

    I complained; loudly, yet politely. I had a couple of candid, honest conversations with locals about what happened. No one expected what would happen next.

    A cash refund, in USD, along with an apology, was couriered up from the air carrier's HQ the next morning.

    The employee who gringoed me, fired.

    While familiar with the local scams, a quick google would have given me the heads up on this one. Thankfully, this one ended well.

  4. @steve
    its amazing what google can do, if i just did it before i left as well, i would have save me some money and frustration. its such a hassle. at the end of the day i suppose that person needed it more than i did.

  5. I'm visiting Istanbul now (from USA), staying in Taksim Square! I love this town. I'm not really experiencing any of the "oooh Beyonce" stuff, but we did get scammed. I'm traveling with my Brazilian female friend and a tall white male friend, so maybe things are different for us. We haven't taken taxis at all. Our two scams were on dinner at the Grand Bazaar (we forgot to look at the prices on the menu and our total came out to 128 lira though we don't know how), and we went to a museum to see a live Whirling Dervishes show, to get charged 5 lira a piece to get in, although the museum was closed! Nobody told us it was closed.

    I think it's impossible to be able to look out for all of the scams, but it's good to think twice about it before traveling, for sure. Great blog!

  6. Great post! The same kind of taxi fare thing happened to me when I was a 20-year-old in Santiago, Chile. The guy actually had the nerve to try it on me 2 times! I fell for it the first time, but he couldn't trick me the 2nd time.

  7. Great post! I was recently scammed in Peru and it made me SO MAD. Basically we were taking a bus and it should have only cost 15 soles… But we were overcharged and made to pay 40 soles, more than double!!

  8. […] fish pedicure.  I had never had a fish pedicure but heard good things about them from friends who ventured to Turkey and other parts of Asia.  Basically, you put your feet into a fish tank and little carp like […]

  9. Dani says:

    Excellent article! I’m definitely making note to state the amount I’m giving out loud from now on. I never thought of that! Shoot, I’ll put that into practice while traveling stateside.

    My bf and I were somewhat scammed in Paris — we arrived at Gare du Nord at 1am (first mistake), hadn’t researched to get a range for how much cab fare from the station to our rental should have been (2nd mistake) and took his flat rate rather than telling him to run the meter (3rd mistake?) It was dark, late, rainy and the station is in a sketchy area, so we pretty much went into the situation knowing we were being overcharged and didn’t stress about it too much, but we didn’t realize how much more we’d paid (double!) until the ride back to the station a few days later.

    On the way back to the station we almost ran into another issue that we were able to wiggle out of… the front desk called a cab for us, loaded up our luggage, and we found that the meter already had 15 euros on it. After pulling off and realizing the driver wasn’t going to reset it, we told him to just let us out, and he took us back to our origin. We were told that that’s standard in Paris… taxis run fare from wherever they are when called to your building, then keep running while loading your luggage… I don’t quite believe that, but the next cab did run his meter while putting our luggage in as well. We just did it super quickly!

    I totally let myself get hustled out of 20 pounds playing 3-card-monty in London, but I knew what I was getting into. :) I paid for the entertainment!

  10. Odessa says:

    Ugh, I had the exact same thing happen to me in a taxi in Rome last week. That realization of being cheated is so awful. I had to learn to carefully unfold the bills so the denomination is clearly visible, as as you said, say how much you’re handing them.

  11. Recently I was in Turkey with my GF and we were ripped off close to $1000 by a dodgy shop owner, which was pretty uncool. After about 2 weeks however we did manage to get out money back which was fantastic. I write a travel blog also and did up 2 posts on the subject of scams in Turkey specifically and our story including how we got our money back in the end that hopefully someone else will find useful, here they are.
    Post 1: Scams in Turkey
    Post 2: Scams in Turkey – How we got our money back

  12. Though I never fell for the “Let’s have a Drink Scam”, it did affect me in that I became wary of friendly people during my travels ever since. I was lucky Turkey was at the end of my trip as all the best things happen when you trust in people. My trip would have been completely different had I been in a paranoid mindset.
    You need to come up with mindhacks when you’re being disrespected by scams and getting “gringoed”. The majority of the time the money lost is negligible, its the fact you’ve been taken advantage of that stings.
    In Turkey I turned the unwanted advances into my favor, I would use it to play Basketball with scammers as they would do anything to curry favour. It never fully worked but it at least got me back on the street instead of staying in scared to be in public.

  13. Abmt says:

    I appreciate the scam posts, but i got scammed in a different way. I was at this club that seemed alright And claimed to have a stripper show going on…being a regular strip club visitor and drinker i went there and i loved the pricing at first, till the guy gave me the cheque that was for 960 TL … For 5 drinks and no stripping … I was furious with the manager who claimed that it was my problem for not asking for the prices although i have calculated that my total would be 240 TL with their pricing…i had a huge argument and left without paying the rest and also threatened to call my embassy for this bullsh*# but ended up paying all the cash i have which was 400 TL . The lesson is, always ask for a clear pricing criteria and always make sure you dont get charged for extras that you havent been told about. This guy tried to charge me 200 liras for the table of which i havent been informed about…. I got scammed pretty bad. My advice is, never go to a club thats not classy and well-known and reviewed, or else youll end up fighting with the manager and his scary crew

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