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Just Fell Victim to a Scam in Istanbul -- God Do I feel Like an Idiot!

Just Fell Victim to a Scam in Istanbul -- God Do I feel Like an Idiot!

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Old Oct 8, 06, 3:54 pm
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Angry Just Fell Victim to a Scam in Istanbul -- God Do I feel Like an Idiot!

Well, after forty countries and many, many combined months of travel, my number finally came up. I suppose if this is the worst thing that ever happens to me when I travel, I should count myself lucky. Nonetheless, I am feeling pretty bad right now and am trying hard not to let this ruin my entire vacation.

Here's what happened.

I arrived in Istanbul earlier today and am staying at the Hyatt. About 8:00 I decided to go for dinner and the hotel reccomended a restuarant for me. I was walking there when this well dressed young guy asked me for the time. He then beganm talkign to me in pretty-much perfect English, explaining that he ran a carpet store in the Hyatt and was on his way to reservation, which was not until 9:30.

Anyway, he says he is from Iran and -- and I know this sounds really dumb -- I decided to continue to talk with him as we were on an open street and I feel strongly that it is important to engage people from his part of the world when the opportunity arises. He ends-up showing me around some other restaurants that he likes in the area and then accompanies me to dinner. He doesn't eat anything more than a sweet (he just ate at the hotel), but pays fro my dinner despite my protestations. He then invites me to a sweet shop where he buys me a pastry.

As I write this I realize how dumb I must be looking, but I really was trying to give the guy the benefit of the doubt because he claimed to be Iranian.

Anyway, after the dessert, I try to beg off, but he insists that I come with him to the club at which he had a reservation. I, of course, stupidly felt obligated, so I went.

At this point I should mention that I abhor clubs and find them way, way beyond my comfort level. I just think they are places where bad things can and do happen and I give them wide berth. I also rarely stay out late when I am traveling by myself as I get somewhat nervous in the night (I know, I'm a wuss).

Anyway, we go to the club and it is full of all these Ukranian and Russian women dancing on a dicso floor, like they are putting on a show. I had a real bad feeling at this point, but, stupidly, felt obligated. So we order some beers, which I nurse, not sure if anything was put into it (I was totally getting a bad vibe). Soon enough, two of the women come over and sit down and, before I know it, my "friend" has ordered a bottle of champagne. At this point I knew I was in deep water, but felt trapped (because I probably was).

We were only there for less than an hour, when I finally said I am leaving. The bill comes and it is 2800 Turkish Lira, or slightly over $2000. Of course, this time my "friend" suggests we split it, but I protest that I don't have that kind of money on me (which I don't). The manager comes out and escorts us into a back office. At this point, my heart is pounding. I have heard of set-ups like this and I was really, really nervous. The manager starts demanding cash and that I go to an ATM to withdraw the 1400 Lira. I don't have that much money in my account, but he says he cannot use a credit card, because it is Sunday. I know that this is total nonsense, but I was tucked away in some back room and there were suddenly people everywhere. I was never physically threatened, but I sure felt itinimdated, which, of course, was the point. I offered every thing in my wallet (about $75), but the manager said "I don't want your s*** money." Now I was really starting to get scared. Finally, he agrees to charge me $900 on my credit card, but wants a photocopy of my drivers license. Since the address on my license is not my current address, I comply (thank God for being too lazy to go to the DMV to get it updated). He swipes the card, I sign, and I get the heck out of there. My knees are literally weak.

I make it back to the hotel (a short walk never seemed longer -- suddenly every traffic light was an eternity and evetrybody looked suspicious). I tell my story to the hotel manager and he knew exactly what had happened before I was even done with the story. It clearly happens somewhat often.

The manager tells me to go to the police and calls them on my behalf and sends me over there. He tells me that I need to tell the police that I was threatened with a knife and to offer to tip them, but there was no way I was going to knowingly give false information to a police officer.

Well the police officer walks me over to another bar and, soon enough, the manager of the original bar soon shows-up. I didn't even know the name of the place, but somehow he knew which one it was. The manager is giving me some line about settling the matter fairly and asks me what I want to pay. I tell him $50, which is way generous for a beer, but he refuses, telling me that we can just go to court in the morning and implying, in fromt of the police officer, that he very well connected in the town. I was starting to feel uneasy all over again. Finally, we agree on 450 Lira (about $300), but he insists on me going back to the club so he can cancel the previous charge. No way was I stepping foot in that place again, so I insisted on waiting outside with the police officer present. We go back to the club, he cancels the charge and returns both my original receipt and the void slip, but now he insists I pay him in cash. I said no, but he insisted and I just wanted out of there, so I tried to get a cash advance on my credit card (thinking I would just dispute the charge when I go home on the ground of coercion), but, of course, I don't have a PIN, so I have to take the cash out of my credit card.

Finally we were done and I practically ran back to the hotel. I just wanted to be off the street and behind a locked door.

The polcie officer, of course, seemed more on his side than mine, but that really did not surprise me.

At the end of the day, I am out $300 and I am probably going to cancel my credit card as I don't trust them at all. At the moment, I am seriously considering just coming home, as I feel I cannot trust anyone in this country right now, which is a shame since the Turks have, overall, a great reputation.

While I was a colassal idiot for getting myself into this position in the first place, I am at least proud of how I handled it when I was confronted with the bill. I kept myself together and just did what I needed to do to get out of there with a mind toward resolving it later. I am not sure that I should have gone to the police though. I think I should just have disputed the original charge on the grounds of coercion and intimidation. I think I would have prevailed with the credit card company.

So, that's my story. I've learned my lesson. Trust no one when you are traveling, especially in this part of the world.

Assuming you were dumb enough to get yourself into my mess, what would you have done?

Thanks!
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Old Oct 8, 06, 3:59 pm
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This scam and other versions of it are aimed at solo male travellers in IST and elsewhere. It's a very expensive scam in IST. Name dropping with the police in advance of the return visit with the police to challenge the set-up has yielded positive results before.

Generally, don't let a stranger (i.e., "newfound acquaintance") have their first, second or third choice of time and place; make your own suggestion and don't be led.

Someone should also notify the immigration authorities.

Last edited by GUWonder; Oct 8, 06 at 4:12 pm
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Old Oct 8, 06, 4:13 pm
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It's not just Istanbul - the same thing happened to a good friend of mine in Paris.

Just be wary of champagne or any drinks for the "ladies" in such places. They will always be pricey, and you will always have little recourse. Refuse drinks for them, and don't drink much (if anything at all) yourself. And always ask for a drinks menu first, and read the fine print. It may look tacky or cheap, but it can save you a lot of cash and a lot of hassle.
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Old Oct 8, 06, 4:20 pm
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Originally Posted by PresRDC
I decided to continue to talk with him as we were on an open street and I feel strongly that it is important to engage people from his part of the world when the opportunity arises.
I could have written this, too. I feel much better now as I got 3 beers for me, 3 beers for my new Kurdish friend, a few bottles of champagne for the ladies, and hors d'oeuvres for $3k USD. I split $100 USD later a little wiser and more jaded.
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Old Oct 8, 06, 4:23 pm
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So do you guys think I should cancel my credit card?

These guys are obviously scumbags and cannot be trusted, but it is such a hassle if it is for no reason.
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Old Oct 8, 06, 4:27 pm
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I'm female so I can't picture myself getting into the exact same situation- but I wanted to thank you for telling the story and reminding all of us to be vigilant. Don't beat yourself over the head for doing what you had to do to get out of there in one place. And at least the police helped you get a lot of your money back.

Is there any way you can protest part of the rest of the amount with your credit card company?
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Old Oct 8, 06, 4:28 pm
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since all the initial charges were on your cc, couldn't you have contested the charges and not have gone back at all?
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Old Oct 8, 06, 4:39 pm
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Originally Posted by PresRDC
So do you guys think I should cancel my credit card?

These guys are obviously scumbags and cannot be trusted, but it is such a hassle if it is for no reason.
I would inform the credit card company and get a new card/card number.

Was the guy who baited you really Iranian? It wouldn't surprise me, but I'm just curious what level of validation there was that he was Iranian. (Iranians can be of various ethnicities, like Kurdish, Azeris, Armenians, etc.)
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Old Oct 8, 06, 4:42 pm
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I've travelled to quite a few countries, and am always quite suspicious of anyone who is too friendly. I'm sure I've missed out on meeting some interesting people, but hardly ever take a credit card out unless I'm getting cash out of the ATM. I also would *never* have someone pay for a meal that I don't know. TANSTAAFL.

It sounds like you came out of it relatively unscathed. Just write it off to a cheap lesson, and don't let it ruin your trip.
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Old Oct 8, 06, 4:46 pm
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Originally Posted by GUWonder
I would inform the credit card company and get a new card/card number.

Was the guy who baited you really Iranian? It wouldn't surprise me, but I'm just curious what level of validation there was that he was Iranian. (Iranians can be of various ethnicities, like Kurdish, Azeris, Armenians, etc.)
I really don't know.
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Old Oct 8, 06, 4:48 pm
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I am sorry to hear about your experience. You ought to be commended for sharing the story with the rest of us.
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Old Oct 8, 06, 4:57 pm
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Originally Posted by PresRDC
I really don't know.
I bring it up because I'm familiar with a guy who said he was Moroccan but when talked to in French or asked about Morrocan politics and Western Sahara, Ceuta and Melilla, he knew diddly. His attempt at speaking Arabic was also a dead giveaway (i.e., rudimentary knowledge and certainly not of the Moroccan variety).

Knowing you've been scammed feels awful. I'm glad you shared the story.

Can you please share the name and/or address of the place?
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Old Oct 8, 06, 4:59 pm
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This is precisely the same thing that happened to my friend in IST, right down to "settling" the matter the the aid of the police (who got a nice tip in my friend's case).
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Old Oct 8, 06, 5:01 pm
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I don't want to sound really stupid (though I probably am ) but I don't understand exactly what the scam was. What was the role of the friendly Iranian person?
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Old Oct 8, 06, 5:02 pm
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Thank you for sharing your story. I'm glad you are okay...that's the MOST important thing!
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