Single male travelers are targets for several sorts of scamsthat end in robbery.
One of these is the “Let’s Have a Drink” Scam which results in your paying a drinks bill of hundreds or even thousands of dollars or euros.
Robbers love it because it’s easy, and their risk of identification, arrest, trial and punishment is almost non-existent. This is why it happens in many cities (even London), and certainly in Istanbul.
Here’s how it works and how to avoid it:
In Istanbul, Sultanahmet Square, and Beyoğlu‘s İstiklal Caddesi and Cumhuriyet Caddesi are common places for this to happen. After the terrorist incident on İstiklal Caddesi in March 2016, many of the con artists moved to Sultanahmetbecause far fewer people were walking on İstiklal.
Here’s an example of one variation (there are many): while you wander around on your own in the evening, you’re approached by a well-dressed man who addresses you in Turkish. You respond that you don’t speak Turkish, and he says “Oh! I thought you were a Turk.” Or perhaps he asks you to take his photo with his mobile phone, then offers to do the same for you.
This is an opener to establish his “innocence“—that he is not looking for a tourist to rob.
You discover that he speaks English well. He chats with you, then he suggests you have a drink together. He might lead you to a normal, innocent place first in order to gain your confidence, then afterwards go to the scam location. The innocent place may be a restaurant, where he may pay for your dinner, even if you don’t want him to—he wants to make you feel obligated to do what he wants.
He will probably want to go to the scam location by car. Don’t get in the car!
At the scam location, as soon as you sit down, women and perhaps other men also sit at your table and order drinks (usually, but not always, “champagne”). Sooner or later the bill will come, you will be expected to pay it, and it will equal or exceed the total amount of money you have with you; or your credit card will be forcibly taken and charged for a huge amount. Typical “bills” presented to victims are between TL1000 and TL10,000. In fact, they will usually take all the money you have or have access to.
If you protest the scam, you may be taken into a backroom “office” and beaten or even threatened with death until you agree to pay. You may also be forcibly taken to an ATM and ordered to take as much money as you can from it.
This is Robbery!
It’s robbery, plain and simple, and in recent years it has gotten a lot rougher and more dangerous. According to a report published in Hürriyet, Turkey’s largest-circulation newspaper, on June 26, 2008, Istanbul police staged coordinated raids on six nightclubs suspected of this activity and arrested over a hundred people including bar owners, employees and konsomatris (bar girls whose job it is to entertain customers with the aim of increasing their bills). The police seized weapons (including a Kalashnikov and pistols) and drugs as well.
According to the Hürriyet article, some police may have been part of the scam. If a victim reported the incident to police, the police might recover some of the money for the victim, perhaps half of it—which left the remaining half to pay the “well-dressed man” who speaks English, the club, and the police themselves. “Well-dressed men,” called “translators” in the Hürriyet article, could earn TL4000 to TL5000 per month at this scam.
If the victim didn’t go to the police, the gang kept all of the money.
Even in the best of circumstances, where the police are not in on the scam, the situation is against you: the nightclub owner may protest that you ran up a big bill, got drunk, caused a ruckus and didn’t want to pay. It’s his word against yours, and he speaks the local language and knows how to work the scam. He knows that few foreign travelers will go to the police, and that he may never be tried and convicted.
(If at some point the club owner offers to give some or all of your money back to you in exchange for avoiding the police, don’t believe him! He’s a crook! You will get no money back, whatever he says. Avoid any further dealings with him!)
A Variation of the Scam
A variation: you’re sitting alone in a bar, café, taverna (meyhane) or restaurant area (perhaps Beyoğlu‘s Çiçek Pasajı). Two or three men sit down near you or next to you and strike up a conversation. You chat amiably. After awhile they suggest you all go to another place, perhaps because it’s got “a good view,” or “music,” or “great food.” In the car or taxi on the way there, they relieve you of your wallet, dump you in the street and speed off to parts unknown.
How to Identify the Scam
Here are the giveaways that you’re being scammed:
1. The con man often begins his chat with “I just got off from work in [nearby hotel].” This is to convince you that he knows and is friendly with foreign visitors.
In 2015 and 2016, this angle is joined by “I’m a Turk working in Dubai/Oman.”
2. He will suggest that you go for a drink not to just any bar but “to a place I know.” At first he may take you to one or two normal places, perhaps for tea or coffee, but eventually he will insist on going by taxi to a particular bar/nightclub that’s in on the scam.
3. Your conversation will not seem normal. You may ask a question about Turkey, and he will say something on another topic entirely. In fact, he’s following a script to lead you to the point of agreeing to go have a drink (and be robbed).
How to Avoid Being Scammed
A. Mention that you’re with two or three other male friends who have gotten ahead of you. “Let’s go find them and all go,” you can say. A Turk who’s just interested in having a friendly drink and chat would probably welcome the suggestion. A scammer will pressure you to come alone.
B. You suggest another place for a drink, a very public one, such as a hotel lobby bar or sidewalk café. A polite Turk will agree—the point is to sit and chat, and it doesn’t matter where. A scammer will insist on going only “to this place I know.”
C. Say that you’re meeting others in a few minutes (give no details, even if he asks), and offer to meet him for a drink some other time (say tomorrow) “with my other friends.” The scammer will not want that.
If you think you’re being scammed, excuse yourself and get away. “Sorry, I can’t right now. Bye!” “I gotta go!” “Some other time.” Most of the time this will work. The scammer usually chats you up on a public street, and won’t want to be seen as part of a ruckus or scuffle.
Another scam is “New Traveling Companions.”
Obtain a Police Report!
If you have the misfortune to be robbed by such a scam, try to obtain a police report on the incident. This may help with insurance and credit card claims, and may enable you to take the loss as a tax deduction.
For further action, contact your country’s consulate, which may be able to help with the names of recommended attorneys.
Don’t let these scams scare you. In general, Turkey is a safe and welcoming place. Read some of these Scam Stories so you understand how the robbers operate, and you can avoid falling a victim of this crime.
—by Tom Brosnahan
|Scam Story No. 1
Scam Story No. 10 (2014)
|Scam Story No. 11 (2014)
Scam Story No. 12 (2014)
Scam Story No. 13 (2015)
Scam Story No. 14 (2016)
Scam Story No. 15 (2016)
Scam Story No. 16 (April 2016)
Scam Story No. 17 (April 2016)
Scam Story No. 18 (April 2016)
Scam Story No. 19 (April 2016)