Mar 6, 2012

Scams in Istanbul: Why people trust others (2 of 3)

<< crossposted on 'The 30 Home Games' blog

VIDEO: Aladdin - Do You Trust Me?

During my weakest point in Istanbul, I would think of this famous Disney clip and amuse myself by humming 'A Whole New World'. My intent shifted from sarcasm to optimism.


This is a cautionary tale. I myself have never been scammed in the following way. My brother was scammed in similar fashion in China (Tea ceremony scam) and my good German friend experienced another variation in Malaysia (blackjack scam). My American running mate in Istanbul ran through the complete course taking 5hrs total. Fortunately he escaped unscathed, no standover men forcing him to the ATM. I joke that his scammer was in a 'Jules Winnfield-like 'transitional period' and just let him go. The "clip-joint" scam is explained below
The Single Male Scam
One of these is the "Let's Have a Drink" scam which results in your paying a drinks bill of hundreds or even thousands of dollars or euros... While you wander around on your own in the evening, you're approached by a well-dressed man who speaks good English. He chats with you, then he suggests you have a drink together, and leads you to a bar or nightclub that's in on the scam.
VIDEO: Scam City Istanbul (National Geographic)

Below are a sample of the dozen interactions I experienced, these examples on their own shouldn't raise any red flags but do illustrate the variety of scripts. Most of these stories happen from 4pm onwards, as it approaches dark. I am dressed casually (hoodie, trackpants, no bags/camera) and all my interactions began with approaches in English, inexplicably they would say "Sorry, I thought you were Turkish".

Just like making a sale or attracting a partner - the routine is about triggering certain human behaviours
Appearance: Young, mobile phone in ear
Location: Sultanahmet Square, walking alongside
Story: Kurdish man on holidays from Antalya
Approach: (Phone in ear) "Excuse me which one is Haghia Sophia and which one is the Blue Mosque?"

Appearance: Older, very well dressed
Location: Galata köprüsü (main walkbridge with Fishermen), In my path then stops suddenly to enjoy the view with me
Approach: "How far down do you think it is?"

Appearance: Young, dressed for going out
Location: Taksim Beyoğlu
Story: Visiting Istanbul from Izmir, staying at a hostel
Approach: "We are staying at Hostel x... they suggested this bar worth checking out"
Scams are a subversion of the ordinary interactions we have in daily life. Preying on our better nature, they are most effective when they address a want or a need. Scammers see these as 'vulnerabilities'. When our house is on fire, its reasonable to trust the first person we see with a uniform and hose.

When the want or a need is a "free lunch" or something sexual, it's understandable why others would be unsympathetic but more often than not the wants are innocent. In the case of the Istanbul clip-joint scams, it could be a yearning for good company, seeking a local connection or just an interesting night out. A scammer is a 'man with a plan', they target wayward travelers offering direction and directions.

I like to travel with an open mind and have found that all my best experiences in life involve me trusting in others. Most new relationships and experiences are founded on this principle, we use our value systems to balance risk versus reward then we make instinctual decisions. On-the-street interactions is how I arrived at many of my best experiences traveling. I didn't want to lose this aspect of my journey. This episode certainly made me more mindful and more grateful of the good fortune I'd had up to this point.

Everyday people are being scammed. Tourists are soft targets because they often stick out and are often more trusting. Looking through forums discussing travel scams I've found people tend to break down into these types:
1) Victims - ranging from philosophical to vengeful
2) Cautious know-it-alls
3) Defensive locals

Instead of depriving myself of a great Turkish experience (which I did find) because I was afraid of unwanted attention, I instead calibrated my state of mind. The more I reflect on this time, the more I realise how human the experience was. As an adventurous person by nature, I would have been perfect fodder for this scam thankfully things transpired differently. I found myself fascinated and obsessed with this stomach-turning game, it was when I read this that everything changed:
CAREFUL: SCAM in Istanbul...
... My guy was very well dressed and well spoken, when I told him I was just going to check my email and then return to my hotel because I was tired, he said he also needed to find a net-cafe and Skype his family (he told me he was a business man from out of town !) and he even paid for my net use. I even got to say hello to his wife and child, so how could I suspect a lovely family guy ? Anyway, much the same as everyone else...
- BP007
Enter Basketball...
- Scams in Istanbul: Why I trust people (1 of 3)
- Scams in Istanbul: Why people trust others (2 of 3)
- Scams in Istanbul: The reality of trusting (3 of 3)

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