8 Scams to Avoid in Istanbul

So you’re planning a trip to Istanbul.  Awesome!  Istanbul is a fascinating city and a very popular tourist destination.  Unfortunately, in most popular tourist destinations there are always going to be people that try to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists and attempt to scam you out of your money.  It’s always a good idea to research the different types of scams that occur in any city you visit before making the journey.  In this article you’ll read about the common scams in Istanbul.  We recently got back from an incredible 6 weeks in Turkey, and during our time in Istanbul we came across quite a few of the scams mentioned in this article. 

1. The Taxi Scam

The first scam to avoid in Istanbul is the taxi scams.  The first thing you must always do before you get in a taxi is to ask for the meter to be turned on.  But don’t stop there.  Check the meter is actually running once you’re in the taxi.  We encountered a driver that agreed to turn on the meter to get us into the car.  We asked him to turn on the meter when we got in the car.  “Yes, no problem.”  He replied and started driving.  However, he didn’t turn on the meter and drove for about 200 meters.  We asked him to turn on the meter again and he then said it would be 400 Turkish Lira.  Our journey was fairly short and we knew this was a huge rip off and just told him to let us out.  Very frustrating!

Another common scam from some taxi drivers is that they’ll switch bills in an attempt to short change you, or charge you even more for your ride.  If you do end up using a taxi in Istanbul, make sure you’re very aware of the money you’re using to pay for your ride. 

Our advice is to avoid using taxis all together and use Uber.  By using Uber you’ll know exactly how much you’re paying before being the ride.  You can even use Uber from the airport. On our second trip to Istanbul we booked a hotel fairly close to the SAW airport.  Just a 10 minute drive away.  At the airport drivers were quoting us 500 Turkish lira.  Through Uber the ride cost us just 55 Turkish lira.  The Uber driver picked us up in the car park just behind where the buses depart from with no problems.  

2. The Shoe Shine Scam

We knew about the shoe shine scam before our visit to Istanbul and were curious to see if anyone would try it on us.  It didn’t take long.  On our first day in Istanbul we encountered one of the men that are part of this scam, but it didn’t go down as we expected.  

The very well known shoe shine scam is when the scammer drops a brush with the hope that you’ll pick it up to give back to them.  They would then offer a free shoe shine as a thank you for returning their brush to them.  During the shoe shine they’ll likely share with you how difficult their life is and some kind of hardship they are going through.  At the end of the shoe shine they will then ask for crazy amounts of money.  However, this is not what happened to us.

For us, the scammer saw us walk by with our kids and commented on how cute our daughter was to start a conversation with us.  He then quickly offered me a free show shine.  I was kind of surprised because I’m not sure how shinny he thought he could make my Adidas trainers?  This is when I knew exactly what this guy was about.  After I politely turned down his free shoe shine a couple of times he quickly started asking me for money.  “Please, please, just give me 20 lira,” he said.  While I did feel bad for the man because I could see that to do this someone must certainly be desperate for money.  But there is no way we can support someone who clearly tries to scam people day in day out.  We just ended up having to ignore him and walked away.  

It is worth mentioning that there are legitimate shoe shiners in Istanbul.  You’ll notice these people already set up in the street with a stool and old Ottoman style boxes.  

3. The Nightclub Scam

This is definitely one to look out for you’re a solo traveller.  What will happen is someone will try to be friendly with you and invite you to go with them to a bar.  You’ll start a bar tab together and have a few drinks.  Then some more people will join your group and without you knowing their drinks will be added to your tab.  When it comes time for you to leave you’ll be the one stuck with the bill.  Your new friends will have vanished and you’ll find yourself in a very uncomfortable, and possibly dangerous situation unless you pay.  The price of the drinks will also be inflated and you’ll be paying a ridiculous amount of money.  To dodge this scam simply avoid people in the street trying to start up conversations with you and definitely don’t go to a bar with a random stranger.

4. The Fake Policeman Scam

You could find yourself in a situation where a “policeman” is asking you for your passport and your wallet.  Never ever give them your wallet!  Think about it.  When would a policeman ask you to hand over your wallet?  If they do it’s surely a scammer and they will likely slip money from your wallet or possibly run off with it.  Our advice is to carry a copy of your passport to show police if needed and never hand someone your wallet.  

5. The Restaurant Scam

Often at a restaurant the waiter will bring you out some appetisers before your main meal.  You may be thinking this is a nice gesture from the restaurant and is complimentary.  This may be the case, but not always.  Make sure to ask if the appetisers are included, or if they are an extra charge before accepting them.  If you don’t check you could find an extra charge on your bill.  It’s also important that before you order anything from a restaurant to check the menu and make the prices are listed.  Some restaurants in the touristic areas may not show the prices on their menu and then when it comes time to pay the bill you’ll be overcharged.

6. The Scammy Sellers Scam

It is unavoidable to come across people selling things in the tourist areas of Istanbul.  This scam relates to random sellers in the street with out a proper stall or shop and are likely to be selling perfumes and roses.  Something you should never do is take something from these sellers.   Once you handle the goods they will not take them back and become very pushy in making you pay for the goods.  Our advice as always is to just avoid talking to these sellers and keep walking.

7. The Falling Simit Man Scam

Simit is a popular bread found in Turkey so you’ll see many people selling them on the streets of Istanbul.  The scam to be aware of is when a man carrying a large plate of simits falls over. He then lays on the ground as if he is injured.  This is all an act.  He is hoping for you, the unsuspecting tourist, to offer him help and then he’ll ask for money.  If you come across this, just ignore them.

8. The Ticket Seller Scam

Do not buy tickets for tours, museums or for transport from people in the street.  While they may be offering you a legitimate ticket, it will no doubt be overpriced.  Stick to official ticketing offices and stands when purchasing tickets.  This will ensure you don’t get overcharged or end up with a worthless ticket.  If you’re using the public transport only use the yellow ticket machines. 

And that’s it.  You’ve been warned!  While we did come across a few of these scams during our recent trip to Istanbul, we did not fall prey to any of them.  Because we were well aware of the possible scams in Istanbul before our trip, it helped us to avoid them.  We’ve created this playlist on YouTube with videos showing other people’s experiences with some of these scams in Istanbul.  Definitely worth watching before your trip to Istanbul.

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