Istanbul – Scam, Scam, Scammed

In the first 30 hours I’ve been in Istanbul I’ve been scammed 4 times Scam #1 the taxi

I was scammed when I first got to Rome. The first taxi I took was fake and charged me about $40 US for a $12 ride. I learned to always take the “official” taxis. So, here in Istanbul when I come out of the airport people keep approaching me and asking “taxi?” and I know not to trust them. I walk until I find the official taxi stop area where there is a guy directing people to “official” orange cabs (as opposed to random private cars). Sign says the price should be ~50 Turkish lira. I get in the cab. I have the address printed in like 48pt type on it’s own A4 paper and I also have a map. The cab driver doesn’t look at the map, only the address and then proceeds to drive like a crazy person for the next 30 minutes.

We finally get into the city. He pulls into some area with a bunch of hotels, points down a street where there is no car passage and says “Your hotel, just down there!” and then charges me 90 Turkish lira. Ok, whatever that’s only $30 which is less than I’d pay from SFO to SF. So I walk down the street and don’t see anything that looks like it might be my hotel. Some guy sees I’m lost, looks at the address and then tells me “Go down this street (pointing the opposite direction the cab driver said), turn right, then left, then walk about 1/2 a kilometer. Yea, the cab driver overcharged me ..AND.. dropped me off 1/2 a kilometer from my hotel.

Scam #2 the hotel

I picked the hotel on booking.com, a site that is getting increasingly scammy as well which maybe I can go into in another post. Anyway, this place has a reasonable price and is rated 9.2 out of 10. Except when I get there, while it is a nice looking place and the rooms are nice what they don’t tell you it’s directly above a club that plays bass pounding music until 4am. 9.2? Really? Hmmm

Scam #3 the shine

I’m walking up some steps from a road underpass and a guy is walking down. He drops a shoe brush. I kindly pick it up and offer it to him. He thanks me and then uses that as an excuse to start scrubbing my shoes. I’ve fallen for a similar but worse scam in SF actually. Anyway, I suppose if I was more aggressive I’d have walked away but I let him finish. He gives me a story about 3 kids blah blah blah and then charges me 90 lira ($30!!!)

Scam #4 the club

So, just like literally 5 minutes after #3 I’m walking down Istiklal Street, a famous shopping street in Istanbul. Some clean dressed guy asks for a light for his cigarette. I tell him I don’t have one, sorry. He slowly strikes up a conversation as we keep walking. He says he’s from Cyprus, the Turkish part, he’s a project manager for a oil company and he’s on holiday for 4 days in Turkey. Finally he asks if I want to grab dinner. I’m like “sure, yea, that sounds fun”. Okay so he leads me down the road off a side street to an area with lots of restaurants and we pick a spot. He asks if it’s okay for him to order. I’m like cool, I can eat anything. So he orders for us. He also finds someone smoking nearby and asks for light.

Anyway, we talk. He says he’s got a German girlfriend. She’s a dentist. They usually go on vacation together as much as possible but she couldn’t get away this time. He says he does project management for oil refinery construction. Has spent time in Dubai. He’s also spent time in Düsseldorf. Anyway, we talk for an hour, dinner, 2 beers and then he offers to pay. It’s not like it’s expensive. I didn’t look at the bill but I can’t believe it was more than 30-50 lira. He says let’s go to a club and I’m like sure. We stop by my hotel. He waits outside to smoke while I drop off my bag and I change into something a more club appropriate. And off we go.

He hails a cab and we go not more than 3 minutes. He leads me into some place he says he likes. We get in and there are about 15 girls sitting in the middle and booths around the sides. I’m like “dude! what are you getting me into”. He says “don’t worry it’s not a brothel”.

Let me say at this point I’m still not suspicious. While hostess clubs are not common in the USA they are common in Japan. I also know they are pretty expensive. I know at least one a friend worked at and her club charged $150 for 90 minutes which included drinks. It’s all fitting for me. Business guy, on vacation alone, hostess club. Seems natural to me. Not my thing but hey, once in life is fine.

We sit in a booth and a few minutes later some manager brings over 2 women. We start talking. The girl sitting with me is 22 and very beautiful. Claims she’s from the Ukraine and is a student studying chemical engineering. She asks about movies, says she liked LOTR. Claimed she’s into some anime called “Code Geass” and she’s done cosplay as C.C. from that show which she pulls up on her phone (the anime character, not her cosplay pic). She’s says just been here 2 weeks and will go back at the end of October, less than 4 weeks away. We order beers. They bring fake drinks for the girls. I taste the drink of the girl sitting with me and it’s just water as far as I can tell. Anyway that doesn’t bother me. I figure it’s a way of measuring how much to pay. We talk, dance, talk, dance, drink, snack.

After a couple of hours they want to settle the bill so far. It’s $1000 each!!! They try to use my credit cards but can’t (not chip and pin). Lucky I guess. They lead us both out to ATMs a few buildings down to get money. We both withdraw $1000 and give it to them (1). You’d think at this point I’d be outta there and I tell my new friend that I can’t get more money from the ATM. He says don’t worry, he’ll cover it and I can pay him back. Still not aware anything is wrong except that this is an expensive hostess club I go along with it thinking WTF, you only live once.

Back at the club it’s more of the same, talking, drinking, snacks, dancing, repeat. He says he wants a different girl at some point and so dismisses the girl he’s been talking to for the last few hours and another girl comes. More talking, drinking, snacks, dancing, repeat, until about 5am. At that point the bill is 10200 lira or about $3500. Yea, okay, way too expensive but I’m still not clued in. That is not a crazy price in Japan and I’ve been at this hostess club for possibly 7 hours. So, we go out, they want to see the ATM fail again. So we get in a cab, him, me, the manager. We drive back 2-3 mins, the cab pulls over, the manager gets out and lets me and the guy go. He’ll go with me to get my half of the money for him, $1750. It’s only at this point do I finally realize it’s a scam because why would the manager let him go without supervision if they haven’t been paid yet.

And that’s the kind of funny part. If I had seen the guy pay the manager or rather pretend to pay the manager, or, if the manager had come along and supervised getting the money I might have never known it was a scam. I might just have assumed I met a business guy, he wanted to blow money on a high priced hostess club. I went a long. I had a good time. It was ridiculously expensive but given I know there are more expensive places I just would have figured okay, life experience. In fact my only other hostess club experience was when I left Sony. My co-workers took me to a hostess club. 6 of us, 1 hour, $3000, they paid. But, at the end, once it was clear it was a scam and that he was a plant it was so upsetting. We hung out for like 9 hours. Had a seriously good time. He came across as a nice guy. He didn’t do anything to suggest otherwise.

Here’s the scam in action. No idea how long this clip will last on Youtube. If it’s gone google “scam city istanbul”.

A few differences between that scam and the one that took me in. The guy that asked me to grab dinner was much better dressed and much better manicured. He didn’t just buy me a drink he bought dinner and spent 2 hours chatting before we went to the club. And, he never left.

Other random thoughts: Were the girls in on it? I don’t think so. One of the girls added me on instagram (not “my” girl). Her instagram account links to a public profile on VK which is some Facebook clone.

After the first bill I asked my girl how much she got. She claimed she only got paid 50 lira. That’s $17. I told her how much they were charging us. At around $300 an hour she should be making a lot more. I told her she should go to Japan, make more money 😛 Was she telling the truth? At that point like I said I expected the price, given I know what a hostess club costs. My understanding is hostesses in Japan make quite a bit more.

I’m curious if the girls really were studying high tech engineering. The girl linked above claimed she was a physics major or something like that but looking down her instagram and VK it doesn’t appear to be true. Of course what would she post that would show that she was? Pics from school? All her pics look like she’s living a model/hostess life. She claimed she’d only been in Istanbul 2 weeks. That might be true but looking at her pics she’s clearly been here before. If it’s not true why the lie? What’s the point of claiming just 2 weeks? Maybe she’s illegal? What am I going to do report her? I’m pretty sure she can stay 3 months.

I’m also curious about how the girls were chosen for me. I had this same question at the one in Japan. In the Japan one they switched girls every 10 minutes. The goal in a Japanese hostess club is to get you to choose a girl and become a regular where you come specifically to visit and talk to her. Anyway, talking to all the girls one at a time was interesting but I wasn’t feeling any particular thing. But, the last girl the brought really pushed my buttons. I wouldn’t consider her my type but whatever, she knew how to get me to like her in some almost involuntary way. Well, the girl they choose for me at this club was not able to push my buttons but she did seem to be to be the most attractive girl at the club. I know that’s subjective. I’m sure other men would find different girls attractive. But, what I still want to know is was she considered the ringer so they brought her over? Did they size me up and think, she’s probably his type? Or was it luck? It wasn’t like I looked over the girls and picked one. So, like I said, just curious.

I’m also curious was everyone in the club being scammed or were some of them there 100% with no deception. If they did come on their own were they getting charged the same crazy prices or are the crazy prices only for people being deceived?

It pisses me off of course. Some people just take it as par for the course. They see me as naive. That’s true I suppose but who wants to live their life thinking anyone who talks to you is trying to scam you? That sucks, seriously. I’d like to believe this stuff doesn’t happen everywhere but apparently it does? I guess it depends on what you consider a scam. Is a scam just walking into an overpriced club? I think no. Anyplace you enter can charge you $$$$. You could go to some restaurant, they could put no prices on the menu and then charge you $$$$ for dinner. Heck, I thought it was a scam to pay $8 to enter Sant Pau in Barcelona. Some old hospital, because it felt like there was literally nothing to see. No exhibits. No history. Nothing. It had some pretty tiles but seriously it felt like I just paid $8 to see the inside of some public high school.

Is it more of a scam if you get invited into the club? In Japan certain clubs people are standing outside saying “check out my club”. AFAIK though few of those clubs are crazy expensive. In my case some guy spent at least 2 hours socializing before the real scam started and then another 6 or so hanging out. That’s a pretty big effort right there. And, maybe the odds are high of success but I could have easily told him I was busy after dinner and had to get up early for something the next morning. I suppose he would have put on the hard sell “just one drink!” at that point.

Oh well, I’m wishing there was an incentive to clean this up. There used to be rumor if you did something like this in Vegas and got caught you’d get your legs broken or the crap beat out of you by the mob because people getting scammed is bad for business. Whether that was ever true I have no idea but there’s a Scam City episode about Vegas. Sigh…

  • Ricardo

    While reading I was thinking… “Well, at least you got a story to tell”, and “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, but then I got to the part about $3500 and yeah… that’s fucked up.

    Be careful!

  • Ricardo

    Thanks for the Scam City series tip!

  • Jasonf39

    Thanks for posting this. I will never go. I also avoid Roppongi.

  • Martijn Sinninghe Damste

    A few comments:
    Scam 1: Agree on a price in advance. And if the cab is ‘official’ you could issue a complaint.
    Scam 2: Check what other guests say on booking.com. The comments often say more than the grade.
    Scam 3: This happens often. Tell them you did not ask for this and walk away.
    Scam 4: Remember what your Mom taught you: ‘Never talk to strangers, don’t go with strangers.’ And why did you get back into the club when they already charge 1000 bucks? It is outrageous and even if this would be normal for a hostess bar in Japan, most people simply can not afford such amounts. If I would meet a tourist in my hometown, taking them to a bar that charges such amounts, even if no scam, would be the last I would do!

    So the moral of the story is: careful with taxis and do not talk to strangers!

  • Except … the whole point of traveling along is to talk to strangers. See pretty much any article on traveling alone.

  • Martijn Sinninghe Damste

    Agreed. But it is better to do that either with fellow travelers and hotel guests or in smaller towns and villages, not in big cities like Istanbul, Paris, Budapest, Shanghai. I have been scammed once and ‘survived’ countless attempts. Tourists are easy prey, lone travelers the more. Money is not the only concern. They can spike your drink to drug you, they can rob you, mug you, or beat you up if you are unable to pay the outrageous bill. Hostage taking and murder is far-fetched but also not unthinkable in some places. All money issues aside there is also safety. So talking to strangers, sure, but not in tourist areas unless to other tourists.