The Shoe Shine Scam of Istanbul

Note  – The  shoe shiners featured in the photographs of this article did not scam me and never used any of the techniques that are listed below. They were friendly shoe shiners who agreed for their photograph to be taken and used. This article is not implying they are part of this scam.

One Turkish tradition I have always admired is the shoe shiner. Sitting on busy streets with their small stools and Ottoman style boxes, they ply their trade to everyone that passes.

I believe my fascination with them is because this tradition has disappeared from the western world but is still very much alive in Turkey.

shoe shiner istanbul

A friendly shoe shiner in Istanbul

Some people may consider this age-old trade to be a boring job, but for the dedicated shoe shiner, it is an art and a skill. The customers  walk away with shoes looking as new as the day they were purchased.

The shoe shiner will polish and buff with ease that only comes from years of experience.

The price is just a few Turkish lira so he needs a steady flow of customers to earn a good wage by nightfall.

The last time I went to a shoe shiner was in the Aegean resort of Altinkum. He was a small boy aged approximately nine. I wore a pair of long, leather boots because it was the middle of winter. The boy was not experienced but did his best and I tipped him for his determined effort.

The price I paid was five Turkish lira. (Roughly 2Uk pounds or 3USD)

Shoe shiner fethiye

A Shoe shiner in Fethiye

On past visits to Istanbul, I never used shoe shiners because most of the time, I wore sports shoes to walk around the tourist sites.

Maybe that is why the shoeshine scam of Istanbul has passed me by.

I only discovered it now because I was researching the tradition for an article.

The Istanbul Shoe Shine Scam

The scam is not elaborate nor complicated. It is simple and like many scams, it preys on the goodwill of people.

  1.  The shoe shiner walks past tourists and drops one of his brushes
  2. A tourist picks it up and runs after the shoe shiner
  3.  The shoe shiner is very grateful and offers to shine the shoes to show his appreciation
  4. While he works, he tells about his poor family, sick wife and many poverty problems
  5. End of the process and the price requested is a hefty amount. It is often ten times more than he  would charge a Turk. One couple was charged 25 Turkish lira.
  6. Tourist pays up because of guilt for the poor man who struggles to feed his family

Most of the shoe shiners I have met were friendly and certainly not out to scam me, so I am not going to criticize this ancient trade. However, I warn readers. If you are in Istanbul and a shoe shiner drops his brush while walking past you, ignore him.

Readers Question: Have you heard about or been a victim of this scam before?

Further Reading

I was a victim of the Scam

Spotting the scammer in Istanbul

The best shoe shiner in Istanbul (Youtube video)

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Hi. My name is Natalie Sayin and I am the author of The Turkish Travel Blog. I am an Internet addict with a passion for history. Read my story here or leave a comment below to join the discussions.
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  1. says

    But…when you put their photos under such title you protrait them as part of this scam, I wish they never let their photos taken.
    nihal wrote about..Change of Plans

    • says

      That is why I added the note to say they were not part of the scam Nihal. I wanted to use actual pictures of shoe shiners to portray the ancient trade as it is today. I have moved the note to the top of the article so that readers know this straight away. Do you think that is better?
      Natalie wrote about..Photo Of The Ataturk Pavilion in Trabzon

  2. says

    YES I’ve seen it, but managed to get away. I was walking over a bridge in Istanbul when a shoe shiner dropped his brush. I picked it up, went to give it back to him, and then he swiftly took the brush out of my hand, clamped his arm around my wrist and started trying to drag me away to get my shoes shined.

    I don’t know exactly what he wanted to shine as I was wearing Adidas trainers, but he was very aggressive. I freed my arm and just continued walking where I had been as he started hurling abuse after me.

    Thanks for sharing this, Natalie – I didn’t realise it was a full-on scam, and glad I didn’t lose any money out of it.
    Tom @ Waegook Tom wrote about..Dulce de Leche-rous

    • says

      I had never heard of the scam Tom until I started researching it for an article. Kind of damages the reputation a bit but i will still continue my fascination with them.
      Natalie wrote about..The Grand Hagia Sophia of Trabzon

  3. says

    I just told my husband about your article and he said it is a very old scam, when he was in university in Eskisheir they would ask the students to use there lighter.

    They would then say thank I will shine your shoes and after say well can you give something towards soup and if you refused would get up set and give you hassle. My husband managed to escape without paying but his friend got caught he thought a couple of lira would be enough and the man said it was not enough in the end he pay 10 lira for a free shoe shine!
    Kerry Arslan wrote about..Is Turkey a Safe Place to Travel and Live?

    • says

      So targeting Turks as well, not just foreigners!!

      I was really surprised because in 11 years of being in this country, I had never heard of it before.

      I do wonder how they make money because the true price is not a lot of money but it seems that some have found other ways to cut down their work load!
      Natalie wrote about..The Colourful Wooden Mosque of Maral

  4. Jennifer Roche says

    `It makes me angry to hear of any scam that affects the good work of the majority who are honest and hardworking. I had my hiking boots cleaned in Urgup Otogar Cappodica. I had just returned from Mount Nemrut . I was embarrased at the small amount I was charged as he made my very dirty and worn boots look like new. I gave him a good tip. He was happy and I was happy. These men work so hard for so little. Its a pity a very small minority would give the profession a bad name.

  5. says

    . . the majority of the world’s population struggle to exist whilst being bombarded with advertising and media to have the newest/latest/snazzyist/etc. It is small wonder that a small minority sink to the same thieving, twisted ways as the politicos/bankers/corporatist elite.
    As we learn all the time on our travels, most people are decent.

  6. says

    We experienced this in Istanbul when we were visiting Turkey probably 6 years ago before we moved here. Like Tom we refused and laughed as we were wearing Nike tennis shoes that could not be shined. The shoe shiner was persistent but not angry or abusive. My friend saw the guy surreptitiously knock his brush off so he knew what was going on.

    • says

      I can deal with persistent but not angry or abusive Duke. That is when I start to get angry back. Most of the time though, the shoe shiners just end up posing for a photgraph
      Natalie wrote about..The Shoe Shine Scam of Istanbul

  7. says

    Never understand why people just don’t ask how much something costs before they agree to it. “How much is the shoeshine?” “5 lira (or whatever).” Then you can bitch and moan all you like about your family or cancer or whatever and… I’m giving you 5 lira.
    Michael Hodson wrote about..Costa Brava in Photos via Instagram

    • says

      The way that I read it, they are led to believe that the shoe shin is free. A thank you for returning the brush. That is what one of the blokes who was scammed thought
      Natalie wrote about..14 Famous Landmarks of Istanbul

  8. says

    Oh, that’s sad to hear.. The shoe shine experience is a hugely popular thing for my husband, my dad and many friends. We never had the scam, that I am grateful. Unfortunately, it looks inevitable at some touristy spots, but happy to report, never had any. My husband so looks forward to traveling to Turkey, have his haircut, his shoe shined, and I truly hope these traditions and experiences stay alive!

  9. phil + Di marina gateway says

    there is an old guy with the roughest grugest voice ive ever heard he comes to the Didim winehouse on a saturday afternoon in the winter and shines everyones shoes for 2ty i hope he comes back this winter he’s a nice guy its a nice stop off on the way back from the market

  10. john says

    Interesting article. When I lived in Elazig and Erzerum as a Peace Corps volunteer shoe shiner were very prevalent, courteous and good. Cost was from 50 kurush to 1 lira. Tip was usually 50 kurush. All total about 20 cents. Many time students would give teachers for free. Typical generous Turks.

    • says

      Most of the shoe shiners I have met are courteous and friendly John. It is just a shame that a few in Istanbul want to ruin the good name of the trade through their scams. I bet your time as a peace corp volunteer was good. Heard of quite a few people that did that.

  11. says

    The more scams we are educated about, the less easily we fall to any of any kind, anywhere, so thank you! That said, if I fall to a scam over $10, I get upset and don’t fall for it again. But I don’t let it ruin anything. I was traveling with someone recently who was determined to let it ruin her whole trip!
    Abby wrote about..The most delicious champagne and sashimi tasting at Bar Masa

    • says

      I certainly would not let it ruin my trip Abby. I hope you managed to lose her somewhere!

  12. says

    All kinds of scams in the world. I don’t even own shoes that COULD be shined, so I hope i would be more immune to such a thing. But as you say even hearing about such scams make the little paranoia wheels turn when I travel. A little is probably ok, but the vast bulk of people ARE nice.
    Andrew wrote about..Not So Into Museums

    • says

      Very true and I think we should focus on the nice people

  13. says

    It’s so sad to hear of this kind of thing. Because getting a shoeshine can be such a cultural experience for visitors to Turkey. But you’ll find that many will be scared to do it because stories like this will make them worried they’ll be ripped off!
    Turtle wrote about..Is orangutan tourism ethical?

  14. says

    Just shows, we are all suckers for a sob story, and tourists are too easily scammed. A very informative post Natalie, I really believe scams should be highlighted as much as possible. The trouble is the authorities know these scams are going on but they are reluctant to take action.

  15. says

    It’s so sad when you don’t know whether or not to be nice to people when you travel, or even in general. The other day a woman dropped her wallet and I had read about some thieves who ‘innocently’ drop their wallet and then when you run after them they basically rob you and take theirs. I ended up running after her anyway, and she was genuinely pleased, but the thought went through my mind just to ignore it, for that very reason….
    Jessica wrote about..Three of Brighton’s Best Bars Right Now

    • says

      Isn’t it? If they only realised that its taints the destination as well

    • Nat says

      Helps when we have the locals to show us around Jessica. The scam never happened to me either but would be mad if it did

    • says

      Very true Lori – get them all over the world. If people know about them, hopefully they can avoid them

  16. Istabul traveler says

    Just happened to me on side street coming from Galan tower. Being a Texan we are very friendly. Too friendly. Knew it as scam the minute we started to get poor me story. Lesson learned. He has to answer to a higher authority some day for taking advantage of my kindess.

  17. says

    I read this blog last night in the hotel in Istanbul. This morning while killing time waiting for a friend, we were wondering around Taksim Square and I watched a man with a plain wooden shoe shine box ( not the cool looking ones) race to get in front of us. I watched the mechanism that dropped the brush, it was a string attached to a pin that caused the brush to fall from the box. I had not had a chance to talk to my wife about the scam and she grabbed the brush and returned it to him. He was instantly setting up to shine her hiking boots out of “gratitude”. She was a little taken aback when I started firmly saying no and was pulling her away. I was stoked to see the whole process and was thankful for your blog about the scam as I am sure we would have given him a fair amount of money.
    Love your blog it has been helpful in many ways.
    Safe travels,
    Greg wrote about..Surviving Singapore part four How to speak Singaporean, Lah

    • Nat says

      Glad to have saved you some money Greg!

  18. Emre says

    They scammed me so well I ended up paying 20 liars for a paint job in my blacks vans sneakers.

    I felt bad that he needed rent.

    Now I feel bad I was scammed. Make errors and learn from life I guess!

    • Nat says

      Sorry to hear that Emre – like you say, we can just live and learn though

  19. TJ says

    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.

    • says

      I am sorry to hear that TJ – I think the problem the Turkish authorities have is prioving it. Don’t let it spoil the rest of your holiday though

  20. says

    Because I was wearing sandals all of time, I never needed a shoe shiner.

    • says

      Surprised they did not want to polish your toe nails! 😉

  21. Lee Tyler says

    I just returned from a week-long business trip to Istanbul on 4/25. I had little time to explore the city, just one day in fact. While I had a great time I regret that I had not discovered your blog prior to my visit there.
    I hope to return within the year and will be much better prepared to enjoy all that Istanbul has to offer because of your excellent information and insights.

    • says

      Well, I am glad you enjoyed your first time there Lee and happy to read that you want to return. Just let me know if you have any questions.

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