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Common scams in Turkey - & how to avoid them
"Hello my friend…"
It's a phrase you will hear many times as a single male in Turkey. If you are starved for friends in your home country you will be spoiled for choice as soon as you leave the airport.
But like any way of life, there are the good and the bad.
Turkish people, by their very nature, are hospitable, good humoured and generous. They will go out of their way to make new friends and help you discover what is great about their country. The genuinely nice ones, anyway.
The bad ones? Well, that's a different story. They take the generous spirit of Turkish people and turn it into something they can exploit for their own selfish gain.
Armed with a few key things to look out for, you can quickly separate the wheat from the chaff.
Would you like a drink my friend?
For most guys, the offer of a drink from a perfect stranger is about as foreign as the cold glove of a TSA officer in a moment of "suspicion".
But it‘s a common phrase you will hear in Turkey, especially in Istanbul. Some of the offers are genuine, some of them are geared for only one thing - to make an even better friend with your wallet.
One of the most prevalent scams is the simple offering of a drink. The interaction will be simple - a man will approach you, say hello and engage in conversation about your life and travels. He will most likely reveal little about himself when asked, and will deviate little into spontaneous conversation.
He will also have a moustache so creepy it makes children cry
The next thing he will probably offer to take you to a bar or restaurant where he knows the best wine, or the best kebob, or the best Turkish ladies - he insists that you accompany him.
When you are inside the "secret place", it‘s likely you will be approached by a set of attractive women who will try to coerce you into buying a few drinks - the situation will have an air of seduction, but don't be fooled, it's all leading up to something big and nasty.
After a couple of drinks – you might start to get the heebie-jeebies and want to get the bill. When the bill comes, you‘ll probably go into cardiac arrest, given that it comes to around $1000-$1500 for a few beverages.
If these guys have to calculate your cheque, you‘re in trouble
Once the bill is delivered, that‘s when things get ugly. Your "friend" will probably take the side of the proprietors, who by now will be flanked by several large assistants. Then, you find yourself at an ATM extracting cash after a threat of violence for non-payment.
Another possibility is having a sedative dunked into your drink. After that happens, anything is possible.
Your new "friend" could take you all over town, forcing you to remove your money from ATM‘s, rack up thousands of dollars in debt on your credit card – or even pass it on to another one of his buddies. He might even be shady enough to wake up with you the next day to tell you what a great time you had – how you were crazy on the spend, how he had never seen anything like it.
However, there are a few tricks you can use to make sure you don‘t wind up in this situation – which many travellers have experienced.
- If your new "friend" doesn‘t feel right, sounds like he is reacting from a prepared script, or is evasive when asked questions about his personal life – then you probably have a shark on your hands.
- If your new "friend" insists that you only go to this particular bar that he knows, and wont compromise on an alternative, then he is probably shifty.
- If you are with a group of friends, and he is trying to get you to come on your own – something is not right.
- If the bar you go to has very little in terms of atmosphere and patronage – it‘s probably a front for dodgy business like this. Best idea is simply to say you just remembered you have to be somewhere, and politely decline.
- Accept only drinks that you or a waiter have poured. Be cautious about what goes into your mouth. Drinks, sweets, gum – these are all offered freely. The simple rule is "think three times" about what you put in your mouth in a foreign country.
If you keep cautious, and meet a friendly Turk and none of these alarm bells go off, then chances are you have simply met a fun loving Turk. Enjoy the party!
"Hello my friend….would you like to buy carpet?"
We will get one thing straight right here. If you go to Turkey, someone will try to sell you a carpet. It‘s a travel maxim with concrete truth on par with the laws of physics.
Vendors can be very pushy, and very persuasive. They will go to no end to get a sale – it wouldn‘t surprise us in the slightest us if you woke up one morning to find a vendor snuck into your bed, softly whispering into your ear about the superior quality of his carpets while he spoons you. (Ok, that one‘s a joke)
They must be doing something right though. Each year thousands of bewildered travellers return home from Turkey with tonnes of carpets.
Average amount of carpets brought home by visitors to Turkey: 58
But, while the fun and games of a persistent salesman is all part of the Turkish experience, there are a few scams to watch out for.
Most vendors sell good quality material, but there is the off chance that you‘ll get rugs imported from China using synthetic materials. We can‘t give you a full breakdown of who is authentic and who is genuine – you need to do your own research, but make sure you put a little bit of time in if you want to purchase.
And always do your own shipping. Scores of people have mentioned their rugs never arrived from vendors who promised to have the items shipped.
In other words, don‘t have the rug pulled out from under you.
Am I covered?
If you find yourself under the seduction of a shady "friend" and wind up with stolen money or personal possessions – the only way you can make a claim is if you are not drunk. Considering the circumstances we are discussing normally involve alcohol, you need to keep in mind that if you fall under the spell of a rotten Turk and are affected by alcohol, then chances are you wont have a claim paid.
If you are unwillingly drugged and can establish with the police that this is true, you are able to make a claim for any injuries you sustain, or for any items in your possession that were stolen. (Cover for lost cash is rare)
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