In general, it’s worth noting that Turkey is a safe country. There aren’t high levels of petty crime or aggressive attacks. In fact, most Turks are unbelievably honest and would go the extra mile to help you out rather than rip you off. However, in a city like Istanbul where over 12 million people live, there will always be a few with less-honourable intentions. More specifically, there are a few scams that are run in Turkey that can put unaware tourists at the mercy of these aggressors. Note that these scams usually happen in large cities like Istanbul and are more rare in small towns and villages. Read on for more information about the most common scams run in Turkey as well as suggestions on how to avoid them.

Let’s Get a Drink

Goal

People on the streets will try to get you into one of their bars with overpriced drinks and underdressed women. The result is always the same: you end up with a huge bill, often into hundreds of Euros, before you even know what’s happening.

Target

Single white men.

Set-up

A well-dressed man, fluent in English, approaches you and tries to start a conversation. If you’re a smoker he’ll ask you for a light. If you’re not, then he may just approach you. They are persistent, even if you’re sitting alone at a terrace table, he may sit down at the table next to you and start a conversation this way.

Regardless of his approach, the conversation will always lead in the same direction: whether you would like to join him for some after work drinks in a great place (of a friend of his) that he knows.

How to Avoid

Simply put: don’t follow locals anywhere. Just tell whoever strikes up a conversation that you’re waiting/meeting with two or three other friends and are not interested. Right from the start decline his invitation and move on. Don’t promise ‘tomorrow’, because he may keep on trying. A straight denial will get him out of your face the quickest.

Single Men Beware

Goal

Take an unsuspecting tourist for (literally) all he’s got, by any means necessary.

Target

Single men.

Set-up

Two or three “friends”, who claim to be from Egypt, Lebabon or Romania with an attractive woman in tow, will approach you. As you start to relax and trust them, they spike your drink with something. You’ll wake up in an unexpected spot with all your belongings (clothes and shoes included) gone.

These instances can turn deadly, quickly if something goes wrong. A Korean tourist was found dead a month after his disappearance and it is assumed as a result of one of these drugged robberies that went horribly wrong.

How to Avoid

Single men shouldn’t accept invitations from unknown people in large cities. Try inviting your new friends to a bar you picked; if they seem nervous or unsure, chances are they are shady characters and you should leave as soon as possible.

Leather Shop Bargain

Goal

Get you to buy goods in shops for a significant mark-up over local prices, while convincing you you’re getting the best possible bargain.

Target

Anybody wandering around in Sultanahmet and the Grand Bazaar.

Set-up

A very friendly guy will ask if you are lost. He will offer help locating some of the sightseeing spots and/or Grand Bazaar shops. Then as he shows you around, he’ll pass some of his shops and remember he had to drop something off. He will, of course, invite you in to meet his family member(s).

Before you know it, you’ll be drinking tea, listening to why you should buy something from them. If you manage to keep your wallets closed, your guide will promise to take you to the place you were actually looking for … and the whole process starts over again.

How to Avoid

When people offer to guide you around, be aware. If you really are lost, ask a police officer or someone of your choosing instead of waiting for someone to approach you and help.

The Shoe Shine

Goal

Talk you into getting a “free” shoeshine and then overcharge you afterwards.

Target

Singles, couples, small families or groups

Set-up

There are two main tricks they will use to get them to polish your shoes: first, they walk past you and drop their brush on one of your shoes, or second, they walk in front of you and drop their brush hoping you would pick it up.

The result for both cases is the same: to apologize or as a token of gratitude, they start shining your shoes. While you think it’s for free, he’ll demand you to pay much more than the price of a regular shoeshine once he’s already done. If you start arguing, more of his ‘colleagues’ will show up to back him up.

How to Avoid

Don’t pick up the brush and just keep on walking. In case the brush fell on your shoe, tell him that it’s ok and move on. Having said this, there are plenty of legitimate shoeshiners doing a great job. They normally don’t move around and ask between 5 and 10 TL per shine. Agree on the price beforehand and you’ll get a great shoeshine for a reasonable price.

General Pickpocketing

Goal

Steal your wallet or other valuables.

Target

Careless and inattentive tourists.

Set-up

None! Any crowded street or place where you are distracted will do.

How to Avoid

Just like any smart traveller, keep your wallet in the front pockets of your pants, wear your handbags with the openings close to your body and carry backpacks on the front of your body. Make sure all the zippers are properly closed. Also, never leave bags or other valuables such as mobile phones, iPods, etc. unattended as it makes it really easy for someone to swoop in and grab your goods.

Common sense is a must when travelling internationally. Unfortunately though, sometimes even if you do everything right, something can still go awry. Don’t feel stranded in a foreign country. Count on your travel insurance company to help you out of a jam. When you buy a policy from Cover-More, you will have access to 24/7 emergency assistance regardless of where you travel.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Shankar s.