Turkish shoe-shine scam

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It's one area of travel that you read far too little about, but that can really negatively impact the best-planned trip.

It's not a sophisticated scam, but on a recent visit to Istanbul I encountered a ubiquitous scam among fake shoe-shine boys -- one I had not encountered on a previous and more lengthy visit to Turkey some eight years ago.

For one thing, on my last visit to Turkey there were hardly any "fake" shoe shine boys.

The new scam works like this: You are walking down the street, and a fake shoe-shine boy spots you. He begins walking ahead of you. Then he drops his brush. You pick it up and run after him. After you have handed it back to him, the shoe shine boy asks you if you would like to have your shoes shined. Half out of breath, you say "why not." There's no mention of the price. You assume he won't cheat you because, after all, you have just done him a favor.

The shoe-shine you get takes not two minutes and frankly, he does a pathetic job. Half-assuming he was just returning the favor anyway, you hand the boy a euro. Needless to say the guy demands more. At this point, some people probably give him more -- not wanting to appear stingy.

Or maybe it occurs to you that the whole thing was a scam.

In my own case, I knew that the euro I had handed the fake shoe-shine boy was a fair price for such a lousy shoe shine.

I took my euro back and told him that if he didn't want my euro, he would not get my euro.

"I want it. Give me the euro!"

I gave it back to him and walked off, happy for having spotted the scam, and having settled matters more or less on my own terms.

But I was sad for how these scam artists were destroying the reputation of Istanbul's many honest shoe-shine boys. On previous visits to Turkey I had never had an unpleasant experience getting a shoe-shine, and taken advantage of their good service on numerous occasions.

During my recent three-day visit in Istanbul no fewer than four (fake) shoe-shine boys dropped their brushes in front of me. Needless to say, by the end of my stay I was tempted to kick the next brush that landed near my feet halfway across the Bosporus.

Encountering a lot of scams on your travels is a sign that it's probably time to hit the hinterlands; to head off to where most of the people invariably turn out to be honest and exceedingly kind.

Photos by Jotman.


  1. I was sitting on a bench on the Asian side when two boys wanted to clean my shoes. I insisted that I do not need. One wanted to beg for moey but eventually just asked for my water. if you want anything always ask how much or kach lira in Turkish.

  2. I just had this happen to me outside the Grand Bazaar on my trip last week and fortunately I was weirded out enough to decline. I'm glad to see my instincts were right when I noticed the guy stood up and started walking just in time to drop the brush in front of us.

  3. I read this because I just became a victim this morning - exactly as what's described here - and I knew it's a popular scam when a second shoe shiner dropped a brush in front of me in 10 minutes, and sadly I googled online and found it is not only me. I was basically robbed of 50 lira and left with some small changes from the shoe shiner. I feel very bad just by thinking that this has been existing for years and how easily they make so much money by taking advantage of others' kindness - it is so unfair to other down-to-the-earth, hard-working Turkish people! I wish some Turkish authority will look into this - these shoe shine gangs must have made a huge amount of money.