Istanbul Shoe Shine Scam

I really liked Istanbul and would like to return, but I’ll write more about that for my trip report when I get back home next week. I did quickly want to post about the shoe shine scam in Istanbul which seems to be common. I almost fell for it. Check out this YouTube video which highlights it pretty well:

This YouTube user does a good job of explaining it as well:

The shoe-shine boys in Istanbul have a habit of dropping their brushes right in front of unsuspecting tourists. When the kind tourist picks up the brush and calls them back, they act all grateful and offer a free shoe-shine as thanks. During the course of the shoe-shine they lay it on thick, usually about how they have a sick child in hospital hundreds of mıles away, then strongly suggest that the tourist might like to make a donation. The suggested amount: roughly 10 times the going rate for a shoe shine.
Here it is in action: the brush is perched vulnerably on a little hook on the back of his shoe-shine box. He looks over his shoulder three times to make sure his mark (i.e. me) is in place, then skilfully knocks the box against his right leg. The brush falls off right in front of me.
Unfortunately for this guy, while he thought he was hunting tourists, he was actually the hunted. In this area of Istanbul, if you stand on a corner for 30 seconds during a reasonably quiet time of day, looking like a dumb tourist, one of these guys will find you. They are literally everywhere.

I fell for it the first day, where I just told the guy he dropped his brush. He shook my hand and wanted to give me a shoe shine, but I didn’t accept and then realized it was a scam. Of course they tried this trick on me several more times, but it never worked. I was tempted to just pick up the brush and run with it.

Filed Under: Travel
  1. They got me with it. Ultimately I only paid the guy a couple YTLs, many, many, many fewer than he asked for. And he did give my shoes a decent scrubbing. It wasn’t all bad, but it was rather embarrassing once I realized what happened.

    I figure I got off cheap for less than $10. Live and learn.

  2. This practice is lame. I guess you have to wear trainers when going to Turkey, or tell these con artists to piss off.

  3. Luckily I didn’t meet any of the shoe-shine boys in IST, however, one guy tried to scam us as we were walking towards the museum entrance. He approaches and said the museum was closed and he wanted to take us leather shopping (similar the jewelry shopping scam in BKK). I politely declined and continued to the gate, of course the museum was not closed.

  4. When I was in CAI a couple weeks ago, a guy came up to my brother and I and claimed to be a professor of art (he showed us some sort of ID that said professor in English and Arabic) and the curator of an art museum. He talked about his travels to Los Angeles and Berlin (two of my favorite cities) and invited my brother and me to his museum to take a look at the artwork. Turns out, the “museum” was his little shop in which he was selling artwork. After showing us his artwork and then asking us which works we liked best, he barked something at his son and his son grabbed the two parchments, pulled out some paint, and wrote our names on the artwork. ARRGH.

    I told the guy I was not interested in his artwork and he got angry and said, “I don’t want your f*cking money”! No problem, then, right? Not exactly. He quickly calmed down and said the artwork would be a gift, but asked us to cover his material expenses for the artwork (because we all know how expensive papyrus is!!! LOL). I asked him how much he wanted and first he said $150. I laughed and told him to keep his artwork and my brother and I got up to leave. He started bartering with us and we eventually settled at $10 after he threw in a third “painting”. The same crap was being sold outside the Egyptian Museum for $1 each, but my brother and I actually liked the paintings we selected.

    Live and learn. Just remember in Cairo that if you run across some guy who claims to be the curator of an art museum, he just wants your money! šŸ˜€

  5. @MatthewLAX – LOL, in BKK we met another “professor”, he dressed like one too, with a brief case and all. He told us that the Royal Palace was closed for prayer and wanted to give us a tour of BKK and take us jewelry shopping because he can save us lots of money. I guess cons are universal, no matter where you go.

  6. i regurlarly goto Bebek or Ortakoy in Istanbul and have my shoes shined for 4ytl i dont mind paying 4ytl which in my money is Ā£1.50ish . if you dont want your shoes shined politely say YOK SAL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. When I was in India, everyone wanted to carry my suitcase (for a fee, of course). I finally bought a back pak and gave my suitcase away. it worked. No more hassle.

  8. There’s high unemployment in Turkey, officially 15% or unofficially 25%. It’s hard to make a living for the vast majority in Istanbul. You’re bound to get people who are desperate to get money where they can, be it legitimately, unscrupulously or more malicious means. Just keep your wits about you and don’t let it irritate you too much.

  9. I so want to just take the shoe brush and start walking away, and when the guy comes running to claim it, just say that I found it, and that it is my brush now. Sorry dude, finders keepers. šŸ™

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