Here’s another first-person account of a male traveler who suffered from the “Let’s Have a Drink…” scam inIstanbul in June 2008.
“I’m on vacation in Istanbul alone and on my first night I encountered the “let’s have a drink” scam. Fortunately, I recognized it from reading your pages, but perhaps acted too late; luckily, I escaped unscathed. Here’s an account of what happened; perhaps your readers might be find it to be helpful.
“A man followed me in Taksim Square as I was leaving it; he volunteered that he just got off work at the Divan Hotel, had come from a hotel in Kappadokya, and had only been here 2 days. Repeatedly he said we were brothers, insisting ‘I am a gentleman and you are a gentleman’, and suggested we go for beer. His English wasn’t that good, or he was feigning ignorance, because he couldn’t answer why he had moved here. I told him that I don’t drink and he suggested tea or coffee instead. He led me to one place but then after a word or two took me out, to the next-door place. I surmise that the first place had legitimate customers. The music was way too loud and the place was empty, which made me very nervous, but another tourist came in the door later, which helped; I ordered tea since I knew what it should taste like. I carefully watched to see if this was the spiked-drink-and-steal-everything scam, but it seemed okay. (Perhaps I should have left right then, but I didn’t want to act paranoid; maybe I should have.) I sipped my tea. Nothing happened. This, I gather, was a setup to get me to put more trust in him.
“After this, he suggested trying a Turkish kola at another place. His phone rang while we were walking, and he said it was his mama; probably it was really the place we were about to visit. We took a few turns off Istiklal and went in as I failed to question the choice of venue. The dance music was loud and there was a dance floor; there were enough people that I wasn’t worried about a spiked drink. He had us sit next to the wall and ordered kola and peanuts for us. It tasted just like Coca-Cola. Then two girls from the dance floor sat next to us, and I recognized something was amiss. The one next to me said she was Ukrainian and couldn’t answer why she had sat next to me. The scammers tried to get me to add colas for the girls to our bill, but I refused, saying it didn’t feel right; the waiter must have asked 3 times. Now the girls had got up and the scammer seemed disappointed in my gentlemanhood. (This is the latest point at which I should have made a lame excuse and bolted.) He probably noticed I had caught on, and he asked for the bill, saying, since I paid the last one, why don’t you pay this one?
“The waiter was hasty to announce it was 50 TL, 40 for the two cokes and 10 for peanuts. (It came in a menu indicating 40YTL beer prices. I can’t imagine what the costs would have been if further alcohol were involved.) I stood up angrily, pointing at the scammer who brought me in and saying I’d been tricked. I denounced the ridiculous prices and threatened to call the police. The waiter and a burlier guy who suddenly appeared blocked my way out of the wall seat, repeatedly demanding 50 liras, and I repeatedly replying, “I only have 3 liras!” [N.B. In cash, I actually only had 2 at the time.] I emptied my wallet to show them.
“They tried to intimidate me, telling me I’d drunk their cola and eaten their peanuts (I replied that the cola wasn’t good). I offered to go to the ATM, but of course they wouldn’t allow it. They tried to change their demands, asking for 40 USD, to which I said I had 10, but they kept asking for 40. The waiter offered a compromise at 20TL, to which I said, I had only 3. Finally they noticed my credit card, and asked sarcastically if it wasn’t money. I said it wouldn’t work. They asked me if I was crazy. I affirmed. I’m not sure how — maybe my insistence on being crazy, or their small potential take of 50TL not being worth it — but they let me go. I told the burlier guy on the way out that I would never be coming back. I escaped having lost just the 2TL I had on me (they weren’t interested in it though); luckily I wasn’t carrying more.
“At some point I noticed the table next to ours was setup the same way: 2 girls next to 2 guys against the wall. The original well-dressed scammer didn’t do anything during the confrontation, pretending to be oblivious to the scam, I guess.
“The owner of the hostel I’m staying at, when told this story, sadly advised me, ‘You can’t trust anyone.’ He told me about the recent arrest of 100+ people, including 10 police officers, he said, which corroborates with the arrests you mentioned on your pages. Perhaps it’s good that I got this over with already and I’m going to be extra careful from now on, but I still feel lucky to be alive.”
The traveler who sent me the story above also wrote: “I had much friendlier experiences my second day in Istanbul, by the way.”
It’s important to remember that scams are common in most popular tourist destinations throughout the world, but that most visitors to Turkey do not encounter them.