11-12-2023 - Tips & Guides Updated At: 12-12-2023

Scams to Avoid in Istanbul: 6 Common Schemes Targeting Tourists

Istanbul, a city steeped in history and vibrant culture, unfortunately, attracts its fair share of scammers who prey on unsuspecting tourists. While most locals are welcoming and honest, it's always wise to be cautious and aware of common schemes to avoid spoiling your trip. For this article, we have prepared a list for you of six common scams to watch out for in Istanbul. But before we dig into that, let’s have a look at the best and safest way to discover this crazy city: Istanbul Tourist Pass®.

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Infamous Istanbul Taxi Scams

If you are planning to visit Istanbul, you might have read or heard about the infamous taxis of Istanbul. The first thing to say is that taxis are scarce in Istanbul. Especially in rush hours, it can be impossible to find taxis in certain areas. But in this section, we wanted to warn you about the possible scams you may experience if you are ‘lucky’ enough to find a taxi. Here they are:

Fixed price: Drivers may offer you a fixed price for your journey instead of turning the taximeter. Don’t accept it and control it if it works.

Tampered meters: Ensure the meter is running and displays the correct fare. If it's tampered with, politely decline and hail another taxi.

Scenic routes: Steer clear of unsolicited "scenic" detours that significantly inflate the fare. Stick to main roads and use navigation apps to confirm your route.

Unlicensed taxis: Only use official yellow taxis with meters and license plates. Avoid unmarked cabs or those approaching you aggressively.

Don’t look so ‘tourist’: It is common for many touristy cities, drivers always seek tourists instead of locals so they can go from a longer route. Use a navigation app, Google Maps and Yandex Maps are both working very well in Istanbul.

Avoid taxis if you can: Istanbul has a great public transportation system and there is a special unlimited public transportation card specifically designed for tourists. Check here for more details and order yours before you come. Your Istanbul City Card will be delivered to your hotel upon your arrival.

Overpriced Goods and Services

Turkey, because of the recent economic crisis, is really affordable for many tourists in the world. So you may tend to be less careful about the overpriced things. But especially in touristy areas, always be careful about your spending so you won’t feel unhappy at the end.

Restaurants: Check prices and menus displayed outside before entering. Be wary of overly friendly touts recommending specific restaurants. Some restaurants do not have prices on the menus, be sure about the prices always.

Souvenirs and trinkets: Haggling is expected at bazaars and markets. Pay reasonable prices, and research fair market value beforehand. Consider joining one of our Grand Bazaar Guided Tours so you may have a sense of the bazaars before you shop.

Services: Always agree on a price upfront for any services like massages, haircuts, or transportation. Especially in hamams, there can be extra charges for small utensils. For a relaxed and discounted Turkish bath experience, we recommend you to use your Pass on Cemberlitas Hamam, so you can be all clean and relaxed.

Hidden fees: Check restaurant bills for extra charges like service fees. Ask about prices before ordering anything. Don’t assume the appetizers and water on the table are complimentary

Fake souvenirs: Beware of low-quality souvenirs with inflated prices. Stick to reputable shops or verified vendors.

The Great Shoe Cleaning Debacle

Before writing this article, I was not aware of that scam, and it is fair to say that I am surprised. Here are two common shoe-cleaning scams you may face, here they are. But there are many shoe cleaners in the streets and they are not all scammers. So if you want to have an old-fashioned way of shoe cleaning, ask the price before, and then you may give a tip if you are happy with the result.

Accidental brush drop: Scammers might intentionally drop their shoe brush near you, hoping you'll take that brush and give it to them. Then they offer you a “free shoe cleaning” but they expect you to feel obligated to pay for cleaning. So at the end, they want to charge you a lot. The best wat is to ignore them and walk away.

Accidental brushing: Avoid sidewalk "brushers" who deliberately touch your shoes with their dirty brushes, and then offer to clean them for an inflated price. Ignore them, don't get agitated, and keep walking.

The Falling Simit Man Scam

Turkey is famous for its cuisine and street food is an important part of it. Simit, a Turkish baked delicacy, is also very famous and often being sold on the streets of Istanbul. But some scammers use this delicacy to manipulate people. Here is how:

Staged accident: A seemingly injured or man (or sometimes a child) carrying simit (bagels) might fall near you, hoping you'll pay for his "lost" simit. Don't fall for it, as it's often staged. They might guilt you into paying, claiming they can't afford the simit. Trust your instincts and avoid interacting.

Fake injuries: Beware of staged falls by "simiteers" in front of your car, scooter, or bike. They might pretend to fall and injure themselves, pressuring you to pay for their medical expenses and fallen simits. Don’t ever fall for it.

Fake Tourist Guides

Now this is very personal for us because as a professional tourism agency, we have been trying to build trust and to serve the best for over 30 years. Hearing visitors coming to our country experience these scams is very heartbreaking. Here are scams you need to be careful about.

Unsolicited approaches: Scammers might approach you as "official guides," offering tours at inflated prices. Only use licensed guides with proper identification.

False promises: They might promise exclusive access to attractions or hidden gems, but these are usually scams. Stick to reputable tour companies or do your own research.

Unofficial tours: Avoid unlicensed guides who approach you on the street. Always book tours through reputable companies or official tourism offices.

Hidden fees: Be wary of tours with hidden fees for additional activities or "donations."

Ticket Seller Scam

There are many events happening in Istanbul. So you may be confused about getting the tickets for the event you want to attend whether it is a concert or a show. Some people may approach you in touristy areas to sell you tickets that look nearly the same as the originals. But here are the cases for you to be very careful.

Fake tickets: Scammers might offer cheap tickets to attractions, but they might be fake or invalid. Don't buy tickets from street vendors or unauthorized sellers. Stick to official ticket offices or online booking platforms. Especially go for online platforms but be careful about the URL you enter, you might find yourself on a fake website.

Overcrowded events: Scammers might offer overpriced tickets to sold-out events, leaving you disappointed and out of pocket. Stick to reliable sources and double-check event details before purchasing.

Remember, trust your instincts. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Walk away from any situation that feels uncomfortable or pressuring. By being informed and vigilant, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable trip to the magnificent city of Istanbul.

Bonus Scam: The "Let's Have a Drink" Trap

This infamous scam targets solo travelers or small tourist groups, luring them into bars with promises of friendly company and drinks, then springing a hefty bill at the end. Here's how it works: