Istanbul Scams and Scams In Turkey - How To Spot - Nomadical Sabbatical (2022)

Istanbul is famous for many things, including its many diverse, creative and thoroughly ingenious scams. Istanbul scams take many forms but all involve parting you with your money. Ask anybody who’s been overseas to one of the scammer hotspots of the world, and they will tell you just how easy it is to get ripped off by a well-practiced con-artist. Yes, I’m looking at you Turkey, Nigeria and China. I’m going to talk specifically about Turkey since it’s where I just happen to be as I write this post.

There is nothing worse than checking your credit card statement upon your return home and being shocked to discover that you’ve actually hit your gold Amex’ $50,000 limit after just 2 days in Istanbul. ‘BY THE HAMMER OF THOR!!” you exclaim with great calamity. Did you enjoy a truly epic night of Sultan like luxury, sip fine Persian wine off the bellies of harlots in an ancient harem filled with peacock feather waving belly dancing virgins? Doubtful. You probably just got ripped off by some unscrupulous bastard of a shop owner, merchant, con-artist or fraudster in one of the many Istanbul scams.

Believe me, I know. I totally got ripped off in Turkey, you can read about all of that, plus how I got my money back in the next post but don’t skip ahead yet, read this one first!

Firstly, let’s get this straight, MOST Turks are honest, nice people who will play by the rules so I’m not picking on you Turkey it’s just that the 1% of fraudsters here do seem to ruin it for everybody else. I love Turkey, it’s a beautiful country filled with amazing things and places like Fethiye or the Turquoise Coast. Yet there’s always some muppet who will try and ruin your experience.

Ok so usually it’s not $50,000 bad (or I really hope not), yet the situation may very well arise as you travel the world that you do have the carpet (wool) pulled over your eyes by some smiling assassin who’s so apt at separating people from their money they make Wall-Street goons look like a bunch of Sunday financiers. These frauds can be achieved in a multitude of different ways, this post is about the most common Istanbul scams and frauds specifically, with the follow-up post being about what to do when you realise you’ve been done over.

Istanbul Scams – 7 Stages of Scam Reaction

1) Horror

2) Shock

3) Thunder bolts and lightning style anger

4) Biblical Fire & Brimstone style anger

5) The Wrath of Genghis Khan style anger

6) Dragon Ball Z: Goku style anger

7) Misery.

If you’re in town as part of a cruise or some other ‘temporary’ type holiday be very careful as you are an absolute prime target for the more popular of the Istanbul scams. You have cash and are only going to be in town for a day or so, which means that you’ve paid and are gone before you know anything about it and there’s no chance of going back somewhere and kicking someone’s arse.. yet even more likely, you won’t even notice till you’re safe and sound back at home and far, far away from old Istanbul.

Here are some popular Turkish and specifically Istanbul scams. They vary in severity with a couple of them very much able to leave tourists financially so far up shit creek that it’s turned into a gushing shit river of fury, full of angry rapids and 4-meter crocodiles. To make matters worse its banks are lined with hungry natives holding poison arrows who have just recently all decided to resort back to cannibalism.

Istanbul Scams 1 – The Bar Drinks Scam

In this classic Istanbul scam, you go to a bar. You soon meet a new friend who suggests you leave this bar and head to another better one he/she knows. You leave and it’s on. This new bar has nice drinks a similar crowd and 2 rather large men out the front. The drinks pile up and you’re pretty sure your tab’s about $30 now, no big deal. That is until you try and pay and your tab is actually more like $700. Clearly, the beers you were drinking were actually brewed with magical Turkish holy water more expensive than gold. You refuse to pay, the big guys outside kick your arse or threaten to kill you until you do. Worst case scenario (which happens btw), they ‘escort’ you to a nearby ATM where you withdraw all the cash in your account out for them and hand it over, damn.

Istanbul Scams 2 – The Currency Conversion Scam

You negotiate for an item in Turkish Lira, you get offered beer, wine, Turkish delight, lots of product guarantees, warranties, authenticity certificates and eventually you trust the shop person. MISTAKE! Unbeknownst to you when you enter your credit card details you’ve been charged in Euro’s not Lira and that’s a big difference. Suddenly 1,000 Euros for that jacket doesn’t really seem worth it.

Istanbul Scams 3 – The Shoe Shine Scam

You decide to get a shoe shine, the guy starts doing his thing and soon your shoes are about as shiny as the new car he’s going to buy once he charges you a 1000% markup on the local price. Always agree on the price before you receive a service.

Istanbul Scams 4 – The Taxi Driver Scam

As above, except replace the shoe shining kit with a taxi. Use the meter or always negotiate a price before getting into the car.

Istanbul Scams 5 – The Fake Goods Scam

Turkey has some great quality fake stuff. Like balls out really good quality clothes, watches, bags, shoes and leather products that look so real if I was Ralph Lauren or Rolex, I’d be more than a little miffed. However, a fake bag or Rolex is not what I’m talking about here. No, I’m talking about the stuff people go specifically to Turkey to buy. BIG ticket items like precious stones, jewellery and gold. This is a tricky one as the prices of genuine precious stones and gold in Turkey are so good it’s very tempting to purchase the rock she’s always wanted. Yet, there are so many horror stories of people spending tens of THOUSANDS of dollars on fake stones and jewellery which turn out (upon the victim returning home) to be worth less than the shirt on my back as I write this, and it’s not a nice shirt. The ‘authenticity’ certificates are, um, not authentic, OH THE IRONY!! And to make matters worse, the ‘contact’ details they gave you are also fake. Emails bounce and your calls don’t connect. Immediately go through the 7 stages of Istanbul scam reactions and get out the razor.

How To Avoid Istanbul Scams – Prevention Is The Best Cure

1) Vigilance! Check your credit card balances regularly, like every few days!

2) Keep receipts for everything and go through them for errors.

3) Check which currency you are being charged in BEFORE you put PIN details in, don’t just look at the amount, it’s so easy to catch this one before it happens.

4) Be cautious of anyone who seems overly nice. This is sad since there are many very nice people in Turkey who are quite genuine so it sucks that you have to be suspicious of everyone.

5) If 2 hot Turkish ladies pick you specifically out of a crowd and invite you to another bar, DON’T GO FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MAN!! Keep your ego in check and refuse.

6) Be aware that cruise ship tourists have a target on their backs that’s bigger than the ship they arrived on: a) Your ship leaves in a few hours so you won’t be back soon.b) It’s a luxury type holiday so you obviously have some money.

My top tip to avoid Istanbul scams? CONSTANT VIGILANCE. It’s your best bet to avoid these nasties on the road, my friends. Be careful and keep your wits about you. If a shopkeeper who you’re thinking about buying from offers you alcohol in his shop, feel free to accept just be careful, many famous Istanbul scams start this way.

My next post is about what to do if you actually are scammed in Turkey or specifically Istanbul. And yes, there are ways you can get your money back if you haven’t left the country, I’ve done it!

READ THE NEXT POST HERE: Scams in Turkey Part 2: What to do about it and how to get your money back.

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