Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Common Scams To Be Carefull About When In Turkey

One of the hottest destinations in the world, Turkey is where the world meets. Since the ancient times, we have the Trojans, the Mongols, Romans, Greeks, Ottomans and many others who have traversed these plains. Today, it sits right at the cross section between Asia and Europe and the resulting cultural experience is fascinatingly unique.

However, despite being known as a friendly bunch, there is still a very intense bunch of crooks out to fleece you of your money. Getting recourse is difficult as well, as the police does not have a good command of English and from most anecdotes, are not readily willing to help. So what better way to protect yourself than to learn the most common scams in Turkey?

Be wary of hearing such a phrase. Though commonly used, you never know if it’s a friend or foe. The scam is wickedly simple. A stranger (could be a well dress man fluent in English, or a pair of random dudes, etc) comes up to you (usually against single travellers) and ask if you would have a lighter/know the way/help take a photo or what have you to establish innocence and to build rapport. Eventually, he will ask if you would like to grab a drink with him.

Should you take up the stranger’s offer, you will be brought to a highly recommended restaurant or bar. You will girls joining you, and you will be coerced into buying drinks. These few drinks will easily rack up a thousand dollar bill. If you have not passed out, be prepared to be escorted to the nearby ATM machine by a group of hooligans to make payment.

Another possibility is a spiked drink, this could happen anywhere, such as when a stranger such as a cab driver offers you a drink.

But I can hear ya, what if I really want to make friends with the locals? Well there are a few steps you can take:

- Does the restaurant/bar seem legit? i.e. are there customers?
- Is the stranger reading from a script? Evasive about things?
- Is he/she only bringing you to a particular restaurant or bar?
- Pretend that you have company by suggesting to go another place where you have a few friends at
- Only drink what your waiter or you have poured
- Take a photograph together
- Still, beware, this is such a common scam that in 2008, when police raided 6 nightclubs, they arrested over 100 people accused of this scam. These scammers include bar owners, bar girls, employees and sometimes even the police! Weapons and drugs were seized as well.

Be especially wary of “helpful” souls wandering around in Sultanahment and the Grand Bazaar who offer to guide you around the shops.

To protect yourself, learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff, or only visit licensed, experienced dealers with a good reputation. There are many “quality” fake goods out there, so if you don’t how to differentiate them, play it safe and not buy. Carpets especially are a hot seller, so please learn how to differentiate rugs of real quality versus Chinese fakes made of synthetic materials.

Another common fake would be coins and artefacts claimed to be from the Byzantine or Roman eras sold at historical sites such as in the town of Selcuk.

Some shady shops found online: Benny’s Shop/Benny’s Leather in the Kusadasi Bazaar,

Some stall owners/service providers are highly opportunistic. Should you not enquire about the price first before purchasing (it can be anything, such as a souvenir, a taxi ride or even a shoe shine service), be prepared to be hit with an astronomical bill after.

Even worse, there are restaurants who might charge you for items that you did not order. Always check your receipt before you leave.

Also, always negotiate the price before and check your bill after. Besides that, always negotiate in Lira, the local currency (and keep local petty cash with you) as a foreign currency will often be charged a higher price.

Just like the over-priced scam, always make sure of the currency that you are quoted! There’s a huge difference between Euro and Lira, so besides checking verbally with the stall owner, check your credit card bill as well should you use it.

One common trick these scammers use is to drop their shoe shine equipment beside you. Should you help, they will offer to provide shoe shine services to you for free.

Should you accept, two things will happen. First, the scammer will strike up a conversation during the service, and casually mention add on services he is providing you. Alternatively, he may began telling you about his sad life story, making you feel bad for him.

At the end of it all, you will be charged with a hefty bill. Argue, and you will suddenly find many shoe shiners surround you.

As the name suggests, some stall owners/service providers/taxi drivers will suddenly “forget” to pass you your change. This is done by distracting you and engaging you in a conversation.

A reverse of this situation is for the stall owners/service providers/taxi drivers to pretend to have received less than what you have paid. They do this by quickly hiding the cash that you have paid them and claim to have received less.

And the next thing that happens, is that your credit card is charged twice.

Not a scam technically, but if you were to take a free sunbed at resorts (especially those in Bodrum), be prepared to face a barrage of touts asking you to buy overpriced food, drinks and items.

There are the common ones such as those who rig their meters, insist on not using their meters or insist that they have no change. Some may even swap your notes, e.g. you pass them a 50 Lira note, and it becomes a 5 Lira note suddenly (sleight of hand) and the driver shouts at you to pay more. In the past, some switched the meter to a nighttime charge (2x more) in the day, but this charge no longer exists! So do not be scammed if the driver tells you of this charge when you take a cab at night!

The sly ones will meddle with the meters while you are not looking. Others may even grab your luggage, lock it in the boot, and drive you to a bar and get you into the whole bar scam.

One tip is to avoid taking taxis at tourist spots, such as at the Sultanahmet area (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar). Or simply use the metro system – it is convenient and good. If you really insist on taking a cab, pay using small, local currency and take a photo of the car number first. Also, before paying, hold a note and ask the driver what the value of the note is so that you can both agree on it and prevent the swapping trick.

Happens on the road, where a driver will signal certain parts of your car (wheels are the easiest) that is damaged. This helpful driver will claim to be mechanic, and help you replace the spare part by heading to a workshop nearby.

Apparently, there is nothing wrong with your car. What happens is that either the original part is taken away, repainted and returned, or it will be swopped with a part that is of lousier quality. Further, the mechanic will demand a huge fee for his service.

Surprise surprise, some scammers might come up to you, strike a conversation and be a companion on the trip since you both are conveniently on the same way. Next, they might offer your food or drinks laced with a fast acting sedative (it is colorless, odourless, tasteless) and rob you of your belongings once you pass out.

The boat trips they sell are way overpriced. Look instead, for reputable ones online or simply head to the Galata Bridge for a local ferry.

Not exactly a scam technically, but because of the Turkish law where you cannot make a claim while drunk, you will become a prime target of robbers when you drink in public.

This is practically present around the world, be especially careful around crowded spots such as tourist spots – Sultanhamet Square, Taksim Square, Cumhurriyet Caddesi, Istiklal Caddesi, etc – or on crowded transportation.

Some of the methods which they use include slashing your bag, snatching your bag, distracting you and even by conning you (e.g. asking if you could show a dollar in your country’s currency so that he will know where you keep your money).

There are many other methods pickpockets can use – learn more on these techniques by checking out the list of scams in Spain, home to the pickpocketing capital of world (Barcelona).

Istanbul Tourism Police Hotline

Contact: +90 212 527 45 03

Address: Emniyet Müdürlüğü Turizm Şube Müdürlüğü Yerebatan Cad. No: 6 Sultanahmet, Istanbul

Department of Customer Rights Office

Address: 133 Istiklal Ave
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