New Traveling Companions Scam

Single male travelers are targets for two particularly nasty scams. Few travelers actually suffer from these scams, but of course if it happens to you, your chance of suffering is 100%.

One of these scams is New Traveling Companions.” It works like this: you’re a young male traveling alone. At a bus or train terminal, cafe, restaurant, hotel or other place where travelers gather, you’re approached by two or three young men, perhaps between 18 to 28 years old, perhaps of Middle Eastern or North African descent.

They strike up a conversation with you and ask where you’re going. “Just by coincidence,” they’re going the same way. They decide to travel with you. They may even travel all the way across the country with you, and may suggest sharing a bus or a train sleeping caralong the way, or a hotel room at your destination.

At some point they’ll offer you some food, a drink, or even a stick of chewing gum laced with a quick-acting barbiturate, probably pentobarbitol (Nembutol), a powerful fast-acting sedative (“downer”) that is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Within seconds you’re knocked out. Hours later you awake with a fierce headache to find your passport, wallet, camera and “new friends” long gone. They’ll probably even take all your luggage from the bus, train or hotel. Or, they may even hustle you around town to ATMs and force you (in your drugged state) to withdraw money up to your daily limit. Bystanders may think you’ve just fallen asleep, or are ill.

Sometimes they’ll even join you in eating or drinking, but for some reason the drugged food, drink or gum doesn’t affect them.

Turks are quite hospitable, and offering food, drink, gum, sweets, etc. is an important part of Turkish hospitality. The scammers, who most often are not Turks, take advantage of this. Remember that hospitality is well satisfied if a friend merely pays for a drink or a meal.There is no need for the friend to serve you the food or drink personally. So if someone you meet orders teas all around, the waiter brings them, and the friend pays, you’re probably alright. But if the friend insists on bringing your tea to the table, you should be suspicious. In short, it’s good to think three times about accepting anything, from the hand of a stranger, that you may put in your mouth.

This scam needn’t involve long-distance travel. They may meet you at your hotel. They walk around and see the sights with you, and at some point suggest getting away to a quiet place, away from the crowds. While you’re sitting quietly they offer you a sip from a soda, or a cookie, etc. and it knocks you out. The food, drink, gum etc. they offer you may even be in a sealed package, but the drug can be injected through the seal with a syringe.

How to avoid this scam? Be cautious with any new “friends,” particularly (but not exclusively) those of Middle Eastern or North African descent or nationality. Try to take a photograph of your new “friends.” If they discourage you, they probably have something to hide and want no photographic evidence. If they offer you anything to put in your mouth, don’t take it.(One sip or nibble can cost you everything but the clothes you’re wearing.) Say you’re on a diet, or you’re allergic to certain foods and must be very careful what you eat and drink; leave it untouched and watch their reaction; or “accidently” drop it or otherwise spoil it. If it’s gum, put it in your pocket “for later.”

Eat and drink only from your own supplies,or those you purchase personally from the hand of a shopkeeper or cafe/restaurant waiter.

If they act insulted, get away from them as fast as possible. Look for a refuge likely to have police or security: a ticket office, bank, big hotel, transport terminal, etc. Even standing in front of a security camera may do the trick.

If they say they want to stay in a hotel with you, say that you’re staying with friends. Get out of it somehow, even by going to the police or your consulate if necessary.

The other major single-male scam is “Let’s Have a Drink.”

Don’t let these scams scare you. In general, Turkey is a safe destination filled with wonderful people, most of whom appreciate your visit and want to help you get the most from it. Don’t let a few crooks—who may not even be Turkish—spoil your opinion of it.

Now that you’re aware of these scams, you won’t let them happen to you.


“Let’s Have a Drink” Scam

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