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?
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