I’m going to tell you as briefly as possible about a scam that was attempted on my friend Carl and I in Istanbul, Turkey:
Carl and I were walking around Taksim Square one night when two guys asked us for a light. We lit their cigarette and got to talking, and they invited us to a bar nearby for beers. They seemed cool. Just a couple of Turkish guys visiting Istanbul from out of town wanting to get to know a few Americans.
At the bar nearby, they paid for our beers. They said they were civil engineers working in Dubai. They looked like well-dressed frat boys in their late 20’s.
So after we’ve had a beer, the guys say, hey why don’t you come to this “club” we know. Carl and I figure these guys are cool, so we hop in a taxi with them. The guys insist on paying for the tab as well.
So far, so good. Then we enter this garden level club. And… it looks to be a strip club. But remember, we are still in predominately Muslim Turkey. Istanbul is more Westernized and European than most of Turkey, but it’s still Turkey. So this “strip club” we find ourselves in is one room with a platform in the middle featuring a few stripper poles and a half dozen dancers. The dancers look SO OUT OF PLACE. Almost like you took a traditional Muslim woman, changed her into tight jeans and a nice sweater, and then asked her to dance on stage for a room full of men.
To be clear, the dancers were not stripping, not utilizing the pole, and simply not doing typical stripper stuff, i.e. sliding their hands down their hips seductively. They looked slightly scared and slightly bored, almost like cows herded together awaiting their slaughter but already having to wait many, many hours and dance the whole time.
Anyway, I knew there were no fully legal strip clubs in Istanbul – only sketchy ones run by the mafia. I knew this because I had Googled “strip clubs Istanbul” just that morning, and all the top results were entries in travel forums in which a disgruntled tourist described being scammed. The scam went like this: The tourists were brought to a club and treated to the whole nine yards: cheese plates, fruit platters, champagne on ice — you name it. Then, when the tourists go to leave, they are hit with a bill for anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. I mean, technically, they ate the food, they drank the drinks, so they owe the bill. And when the tourist says they don’t have the money, there are some Turkish mafia bouncers with plenty of time to escort said tourist to the closest ATM. These tourists ended up losing anywhere from $400 to $800 each, but not less.
Well, Carl and I sat down with our two Turkish/Dubai engineer friends at a corner booth. The Engineers intentionally sat between us in the booth, so Carl and I couldn’t talk confidentially. The moment we sat down, a waiter began just making laps to our table with cheese platters, fresh fruit, and of course asking us what we wanted to drink. I still wasn’t sure I was in the scam yet. It just seemed too unfathomable that these nice guys we had spent that last 2 hours having beers with were actually complete scam artists with fake backstories who had targeted us from the moment they saw us in Taksim Square. When the waiter asked us for our drink orders, I stood up and made him promise to show me a menu, to show me the prices, and to not bring us a bottle of anything.
So I went to the bathroom and again Googled “strip clubs Istanbul” again, just to confirm that I was indeed, living the scam. And, yeah, it was going down according to script.
When I got back to the booth, the table was full of food. But Carl and I had not eaten anything, and we hadn’t ordered drinks yet. It was time to go. I looked at Carl, did a weird thing with my eyes, and said: “Hey Carl, I don’t feel good. I’m think I’m going to throw up. We should go.” Carl gave me a really weird look, but I insisted, and soon we got up to go.
Instantly the waiter rushed over and protested. “Where are you going? You haven’t paid your bill!”
At that moment, I thought the best move was to try to leave as quickly as possible without even getting our wallets out. “No,” I said. “We didn’t order this food. We didn’t eat any of it. And you told me you would not charge us until we ordered. We’re leaving. Carl, let’s go.”
Carl got up. We walked out. One of the Engineers said calmly from his seat: “Give me 100 Lira.” Around $30USD. I said no. I felt confident. I was not drunk, and I knew my rights, or, I know generally what rights people have in this part of the world, so I’m walking out of here, and Carl is too.
We tried to walk slowly out of the restaurant, and maybe we did play it cool, but once we got to the sidewalk we speed fast af out of there and giggled like children at the magnificence of our escape.