Turkey Part 2: The Night I Got Robbed in Istanbul

IMG_4277 Okay, that’s a strong way to start off a blog post.  For the record, I wasn’t mugged, held up at gunpoint, or bashed over the head, but I was certainly tricked and forced into a situation that cost me a lot of money.  It certainly felt like a robbery as it was all going down.  Here’s what happened.

I had been in Istanbul for four days, and mostly confined to walking around the Sultanahmet area which is where my hostel was located.  This part of Istanbul has all of the top spots people come to see, such as all the stuff in my previous post.  However, this area is also filled with touts and scam artists.  A tout is someone who aggressively solicits people in an annoying manner to either buy a product, visit a restaurant, or hire them for some service such as a taxi or guide.  Often in the case of taxis and guides, the tout will also include a stop to a shop where you’ll get the high pressure sales treatment to buy overpriced junk.  In the worst cases, an airport taxi tout will not take you to your hotel, but instead to a different hotel where he gets a commission for bringing you there.  The Sultanahmet neighborhood is also filled with overpriced restaurants that have terrible food and drinks.  After my first three days in this area, I was fed up with it.  I actually hated being in Istanbul, and wanted out.  I knew there was more to Istanbul, though, and had to get out of where I was staying.

I decided to go for a walk one night, and went across the bridge to the other European side of Istanbul.  I was feeling really good that night for some reason.  This area I was in didn’t have any touts, but was still well populated, and filled with shops and cafes.  The area has a famous spot called Taksim square, and it really felt like it could be in any major city in Europe.  I took the photos you see above and below, and was enjoying the cool evening air.  I felt like I had turned a corner on my trip to Istanbul, and things would be better from that point on.  Then a got a reality check.

IMG_4281 IMG_4286

As I was walking along minding my own business, someone walking in the same direction as me pointed ahead and asked a question in Turkish.  I just looked at him blankly kind of shaking my head, and he realized I wasn’t Turkish.  He apologized, and then started to walk on, but paused and looked back and asked where I was from.  I told him the US, and the state of Ohio.  He said his english teacher was from Ohio.  We began walking together and talking about Istanbul and why we were each there.  His English was pretty good, and he said he was from the capital, Ankara.  He was here with his sister visiting friends for a few days, and knew the city quite well.  I told him about my trip, and how I had been in Turkey for a few days already.  This carried on for about ten minutes as we walked down one of the main streets in the area.  He indicated he was meeting some friends, and asked if I wanted to join them.  I was finally experiencing some of the famous Turkish hospitality I had heard about.  I hadn’t met any Turks outside of the hostel workers, so it was kind of cool to meet someone so randomly.

I agreed to join my new friend, and we end up in this nightclub playing really loud music.  I hate these places, but figured I’d meet some interesting people and learn more about Turkey.  We ordered a couple beers and just sat back and relaxed.  After about five minutes, two very attractive girls sat down next to us and started talking and wondering where we were from.  My red flag went off, because I remember hearing about a scam that starts off this way.  We bought the girls drinks, and that’s when I realized what was possibly happening.  There’s a scam I read about when I was in the Czech Republic where a pretty girl sits down next to a single guy in a bar, and asks him to buy her a drink.  The guy says yes, and four or five drinks later, the waiter brings the bill over.  The poor guy soon realizes that he’s in the whole for hundreds of dollars because each drink is ridiculously overpriced.  The next thing I noticed, my Turkish friend ordered a plate of snacks.  I got his attention then and told him what I thought might be going on.  He told me not to worry and that’s not what was happening.  The girls wanted to dance and so we did that, and they ordered more drinks.  I leaned into my friend again to say we really should see what the cost of these drinks are.  He conceded, and asked for the bill.  It was over 1,200 turkish lira which is like $700.  I was so pissed-off at myself for falling for such a scam.  My Turkish friend was pissed as well, and we talked it over and agreed to split the bill.  The waiter wouldn’t take our cards, probably out of fear we’d refuse the charges later.  I wasn’t carrying that much cash, and neither was my friend.  He said he would go to an ATM while I waited, and then I could go to the ATM when he got back.  That’s when it hit me… he was in on the scam as well.  If I let him go first, he would never come back, and I’d be stuck with the whole bill.  I said I would go first instead in order to avoid him just running away and me being stuck for the whole bill.  I then argued with the waiter/bouncer guy about the obvious scam this was.  He seemed offended, but “offered” to knock of a couple hundred dollars and give me a free beer.  I just wanted the hell out of there at that point, and turned down the free drink.  I was then escorted to an ATM where I was forced to withdraw my share of the tab.. around $250-$300 USD.  I felt like running away, but I was in their country and didn’t speak Turkish.  They could yell out to the cops or other passers by that I was trying to skip out on the bill.  I was pretty scared to be honest, so I got the money out from the ATM, handed over, and just took off.  I didn’t run, just walked fast.  I was feeling a lot of emotion… anger, stupidity, embarrassment.  It’s hard for me to even write about it, because I should be smarter than that after months of endless travel.  How could I be so incredibly naive?  I went over the whole experience in my head on the 40 minute walk back to the hostel.  I became convinced that the guy was in on the whole scam.  He and the girls, as well as the bar made a nice little profit off me for about 45 minutes of work.  Once I got back to the hostel, I researched Istanbul scams and found a scenario describing exactly what had happened to me.  The site I found even said it usually happens near Taksim square which is exactly where I was.  It’s called the “Girl Drink Scam”, and usually starts with a Turk asking you for directions in Turkish, and then apologizing when he realizes you’re a foreigner.  You end up talking because you’re a solo traveler looking to meet people.  The scam artists prey on this.  It totally came in under my radar since it started with meeting someone randomly on the street, and I had total freewill to enter that club with him.  The scam also relies on your sense of not wanting to be a dork and ask the cost of a drink in front of the pretty girl sitting next to you.  How much could it be anyway?  In Turkey, the girl drink is the kiss of death for your wallet.  I’m glad I handled it the way I did, though.  I’ve read some people refuse to pay and are taken into a back room and roughed up.  I argued just enough to get the bill dropped, but not so much that I got hurt.

So that’s my story.  On the bright side, I wasn’t injured.  I didn’t have to report stolen credit cards to my bank.  I didn’t have to go to the American embassy and report a stolen passport.  I didn’t have to call my cellphone provider and report a stolen phone.  The damage was done, and I learned a valuable lesson.  In general, anyone approaching you unsolicited speaking English pretty well in a foreign country should not be trusted.  Since Istanbul, I’ve had similar situations arise, and I shut them down early on.

So you can see why I hated Istanbul and will likely never go back.  I know it’s not fair to judge an entire city for the actions of a few, but when I add up all my bad experiences, it’s how I ultimately feel.  There’s not much logic to it, just raw emotion.  Besides, I can easily think of a hundred other places I’d rather see or go back to than this place.

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28 thoughts on “Turkey Part 2: The Night I Got Robbed in Istanbul

  1. Hi Tom,

    Sorry to hear this happened to you. It sounds like you’ve been through some other lousy times besides the scam. I hope things are looking better on your end since this happened.

    Dan

    • Sorry for the late reply… yeah another scam in Istanbul is where they get you into a restaurant under the assumption the food is really cheap. There are no prices on the menu, and you assume it’s 10 lira just like the guy told you. Then the bill comes, and it’s more. Man, I hated that city.

  2. That’s awful, Tom! I’m glad that you were uninjured and the worst didn’t happen, but still! I hope the rest of your trip is much better.

    -Julie

  3. I’m in Istanbul right now and I’m hating it (hence the Google search that bought up your post). 4 days of my life I’ll never get back. Luckily I can leave tomorrow. I can’t wait to board that plane! I’m finding it to be a hectic, passive aggressive city, with few smiles and even less friendlyness. They drive like maniacs threatening to run over pedestrians crossing the streets. And the food is crap. Been sold an empty bottle of perfume, and been quoted $120 for a taxi ride. Staff (men) in the hotel keep entering my room. And the pollution is killing me slowly one breath at a time. Horrid doesn’t even sum this place up! It totally sucks!

    • That’s too bad. One of the main reasons for my post was to help others not fall prey to the same scam. If I can help even one person avoid it, it was worth it to write about.

  4. I had the same situation they told me we go for a drink there is some woman from Russia and Turkey you can meet them and have a chat if you like it you can I rent a room for $10 for our and pay those girl $20 I didn’t wanna have that I only go to look and see how are they and he told me if I want it okay if you know you can go and I told himif if I like it I will come back tomorrow as soon as we arrived we went down the basement which was a bar and two girls start chatting with me and they bring for glass of drink I didn’t drink nothing I had a feeling they want to do something to me I refuse to drink I had a couple of nuts and then they bring me the bill it was around 3500 Turkish lira I refuse to pay they asked me to come to the corner I reckon there is no camera there they grab my through and they slap me on my face then I gave them all a hat they search on my back they were looking for money and the phone luckily they didn’t find my iPhone 6 Plus but they find my money so they Took £50 and 350 Turkish lire and they kick me I went out and took all my money out to see how much they Took I seen the guy cam out is well he was on the phone and he is back faces to me I grab his phone and run to the busy street in taksim square The guy shouted to catch me as I rather then when I been called I hardly through his phone and smashed on the floor and he frightened me is going to call the police I called him call the police but he didn’t suddenly he disappear but one guy came across and asked me what ever been taken off you he’s going to bring me back and he basically did I had my £50 back 250 Turkish leader back and I wasn’t sure it was 350 Turkish lire or 250 Turkish lire and I was shouted at him he is a rather he took all my money there was about 50 people surround me around this area and ask me what’s happening and they advise me to don’t go to any narrow road and don’t follow anyone this is my story I hope no one have this story again

  5. Sadly I have read you post too late. I am in Istanbul and I have just been robbed this way. I don’t feel safe here anymore. I don’t want yo meet those guys and i’m afraid they know where i’m staying. I got part of the money back. The worst part is the embarrasement i feel now forma having been so stupid. I am travelling alone and i am ashamed of telling this to anyone, especially my family who will be ver y worried knowing i will be here for more days. I don’t want to lose muy hope con istanbul. I came with great expect

    • Sorry for the bad writing. Besides, I am writing annonimously since i’ll be around, and the police looked at my documents. In case any of them is involved i dont want to have trouble. Since it happened just a few hours ago, i feel i only want yo stay at the hotel. Maybe istanbul was a mistake

    • I’m really sorry to hear that. But remember, this was not your fault. They prey on solo travelers. You’re in their country and don’t know how the place works, and they took advantage of it. I’m really sorry that happened, it sucks, I know. Maybe wait till you’re out of the country or back home before telling family. I had some stuff worse than this happen to me on my trip, and I waited till I was home before I told family. Most importantly, learn from the experience, but don’t let it affect you mentally. When you solo travel, stuff like this happens, and is just part of the experience.

      • Thanks for your reply. I will tell more details about my story after I get out of turkey. It’s sad to be in a city with beautiful and interesting places walking with fear and trusting no one.

  6. Hello,

    This literally just happened to me a few hours ago.
    I am very traumatised and i didnt know what to do since i am a student traveling with my parents and had not much money with me.

    I am back at the hotel now.

    Safe and sound. for now.

    I lost 1200 Lira in total ( 300Pounds/USD467). I am so anrgy at myself for falling for the scam. Everything you wrote was exactly what happened to me.
    I was walking alone, a guy in asked me in turkish, he had good english. The girls and the payment.

    I told my parents as soon as i got back to the hotel at 1am.. after going through all the trouble.

    This problem has to be warned for future travellers. Truly.

    -Hazim

  7. Hazim, I’m really sorry to hear that. Thanks for sharing your story. My hope is that more people see this blog post when researching Istanbul, and become aware of this terrible scam.

  8. You are so lucky , thanks god for not killing you because even the police work for them. I have had simillar experince to yours but In a very intense way ( i lost four thousand dollar )

    • I’m really sorry this happened to you, it’s so awful. Be thankful to be alive I guess, it’s a scary situation to be in. I removed your other comment due to some nasty language towards all Turks. The people who robbed us are criminals, and not reflective of all Turkish people. I have had Turkish friends who are very warm and hospitable. In fact, a few days after I was robbed, I had a wonderful couchsurfing host who is Turkish. Be angry at the criminals, not the nationality.

      • The good people in Turks are very few. I have travelled to 20 countries and this is the worst. Believe me I am in a position in my country that deal with foreigners and thousands of Turks come to my country for work and this will honestly let me treat them in a different way not bad but strictly.

        Ok please if you found one good turkish just let me see him with microscope ! Even the kind guy who drop me to the airport said to me your metre included also 150 lyra because we had come cross the bridge so after lots of argument i paid to just fastly lets get out of the hell.

        In the airport whatever I go I get bad experience, i saw the boss perfume and i said to a turkish lady excuse me is this for man or woman ? She screamed at me are you blind you don’t go to school ? Imagine

        Ok i went to a resturant in the airport , a turkish man shout in a very aggressive way.

        I stayed 6 days honestly my experience was 100% awful. I am not diplomatic to say half and half but it could be there is some kind people I really really don’t see or met

    • You should contact the authorities or the embassy of your country if you’re in any danger or under a threat. If you were robbed, you could at least notify the police, but I’m not sure how helpful they are.

  9. Something similar happened to me. It happens very often in Istanbul, even to experienced travelers like myself who haved dodged many scams before in different countries, because the word scam is definitely a misnomer here: you’re simply being robbed since they threaten you with violence and outnumber you and the Taksim police are corrupt and useless. You’re not being scammed or duped: once you set foot in a place like that you’re not leaving without getting robbed, if you don’t drink anything they’ll make up a BS charge anyway (like if you polutely said hello back to one of their Ukranian hookers you have to pay for the 500 drinks she supposedly had that night, if you don’t say anything to anyone they’ll say it’s entry fee or whatever, etc…) and in a less corrupt country they wouldn’t get away with this. I’ve seen people, mostly Turks, say this stuff happens even in London or Amsterdam so supposedly there’s nothing wrong with Istanbul. That is absolute BS: in Amsterdam or London the police won’t tolerate this stuff,) and you can safely report it, and somehow most of the victims’ stories on the web are about Istanbul and a few other places in poor, corrupt countries (Thailand and Romania).

    With most scams in most countries you can limit the damage (pay them much less than they asked for), or just walk away, or threaten to report them to the police, but Istanbul is different and they will use violence. Half the city basically thrives on scams and crime in one form or another (and the other half: the students, artists and wealthy professionals, you’ll likely never meet during a short trip), all the way up to the fake religious relics in the Topkapi museum. If you’re going to Istanbul don’t trust anyone, don’t take taxis, don’t deal with cops unless you absolutely have to, don’t talk to anyone, even if they speak good English, don’t buy anything but food, don’t leave valuables in your hotel. It’s sad but necessary.

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