Drugging People and Then Robbing Them

This is a pretty scary criminal tactic from Turkey. Burglars dress up as doctors, and ring doorbells handing out pills under some pretense or another. They’re actually powerful sedatives, and when people take them they pass out, and the burglars can ransack the house.

According to the article, when the police tried the same trick with placebos, they got an 86% compliance rate.

Kind of like a real-world version of those fake anti-virus programs that actually contain malware.

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 7:11 AM56 Comments


kingsnake May 13, 2011 7:15 AM

Seems to me it would be much easier to simply put a gun in someone’s face …

GreenSquirrel May 13, 2011 7:31 AM

I like the placebo effect rate….

What the criminals should really consider doing is going round and selling the people sugar pills pretending they are homeopathic remedies. They’ll be able to rob a fortune that way.

If they really must rob valuables, the article also implies a lot of people answered to the door to someone saying “I am robber.” Just goes to show we trust anyone in a white coat and open the door to strangers…

Chris May 13, 2011 7:37 AM



Christ, I knew the average person was pretty stupid, but this is just mind-numbing. People panic about “Terr’ists” but are willing to pop a pill handed to them in a doorway?

It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if Darwin’s been asleep at the switch for too long.

Chris May 13, 2011 7:44 AM

I can’t wait for this to be cited in a talking point as one of the dangers of “socialized medicine.” @GreenSquirrel: the supplement industry already does stuff like that in plain sight.

On a serious note, I wonder how much social engineering is involved here? There are probably a lot of people who would do pretty much anything someone at their door asked them if it meant that the visitor would go away.

Rick May 13, 2011 7:46 AM

@GreenSquirrel When it says “with placebos, they got an 86% compliance rate” I think it just means that took the pills, not that they passed out as well.

Brandioch Conner May 13, 2011 7:50 AM

Is this a cultural thing? Do doctors frequently roam the streets of Istanbul handing out medicines to people at home?

Their victims are lucky that all that is happening is that they’re robbed.

anon May 13, 2011 7:56 AM

Welcome to 1970’s “don’t take candies from strangers”.
Calling this stuff a “scary criminal tactic” is quite an overstatement.

anonymous May 13, 2011 7:57 AM

until the one time the guy is allergic to whatever they put in the pills or already takes other drugs that have devastating side effects when combined, and it ends up in a tragedy …

BF Skinner May 13, 2011 8:11 AM

Turkish/EU doctors make housecalls?

Mindblowing. I would predict the same approach would not work in the US.

First because Dr’s making housecalls (un-announced) is so unaccountably bizzare and second the stranger danger meme we’ve been taught since childhood. Don’t take candy from strangers.

Would be an interesting experiment though.

BF SKinner May 13, 2011 8:14 AM

@Rick “, not that they passed out as well.”

I believe Greensquirrl meant that the villians could get as much money selling bogus nostrums as real to these people as robbing their house and @Chris is right enough any mall in the US has at least one GNC for ‘supplements’.

Shawnmeister May 13, 2011 8:17 AM

…and yet, so many folks are highly suspicious of legitimate vaccines.

Brian May 13, 2011 8:24 AM

For those that say it couldn’t happen in the US, perhaps a little different scenario might change your mind. We’ve already heard reports of people dressing up as utilities inspectors to get inside people’s homes. What if someone dressed up as an official from the water department, came to the door and said, “We’ve found there’s a problem with your water, we’ll need you to take this medication here to counteract the effects while we get the problem fixed.”

It wouldn’t work every time, But I bet they could get close to an 86% compliance rate. The average American is a sucker for people claiming to be authorities on official business.

Bedroom May 13, 2011 8:27 AM

@GreenSquirrel : er, how can you “sell sugar pills pretending they are homeopathic remedies” ? Homeopathic “remedies” are already just sugar pills pretending to be real medecine. Oh right, with some magic water that has “memory” sprinkled on it. You can already make a killing selling “real” homeopathy aka plain water and sugar, no need to make it shady and no need to go door to door.

ewan May 13, 2011 8:35 AM

@Brian or similar with a nuclear power station, chemical plant, or the like. Whatever’s available locally and already scares people a bit. If a con plays into something someone already fears they seem to be a lot more likely to go for it.

vwm May 13, 2011 9:06 AM

My first idea was “who’d be that naive”, but given a clever context…

I figure “we are from the local health authority bringing the iodine prophylaxis against the radioactivity from Japan” might work surprisingly well.

David Thornley May 13, 2011 9:06 AM

@Bedroom: Yup. Pure sugar and water, guaranteed chemically identical to the homeopathic equivalent. Remember that you can save money buying generic drugs when available!

@Brian: Interesting question, but the sheer unexpectedness might lead to hesitancy. It also makes no sense, if the intended victim thinks about it for a moment: such things would be urgent news on every communication channel. “Why didn’t they say anything about it on the TV?” will be a question anywhere. (Fortunately, US citizens tend to watch TV rather than, say, exercise where they might miss something going on.)

No One May 13, 2011 9:15 AM

Am I the only one who’s disappointed I didn’t think of this already?

@Kingsnake: I think this is more effective than using a gun for a few reasons:

  1. If the person who answers the door is not alone you have more people to round up and intimidate with a gun. The doctor bit will get them all to listen and you can make an informed decision as to whether the victims will resist.
  2. If you plan your outfit correctly, especially with the use of glasses and other face-obscuring items, along with the sedative, there’s almost zero chance the victim could recall your face.
    2a. They won’t even have a reason to try to memorize your face or identifying marks during the incident, unlike during a stickup.
  3. No screaming to alert the neighbors.
  4. While the sedative are starting to take effect you can interrogate the victims as to whether they expect anyone to come home soon and are likely to get accurate answers.
  5. Easier to commit /associated/ crimes of a deviant nature to a sedated individual.

lazlo May 13, 2011 9:17 AM

I’d like to know what percentage of those that received the placebo perceived a beneficial effect from them, and what percentage passed out and had all their stuff taken.

In the US, it might well work to show up with a gieger counter and some “iodine tablets”. Another one that might have some success is selling girl-scout cookies “Here, have a free sample”. The problem with all of these is that I suspect there would be a lot of media attention after the first successful attack. Of course, one problem is that the article says what the police did, and says a local gang had used the same technique, but doesn’t say how many successes the gang had. I can’t imagine they’ll have a whole lot more.

GreenSquirrel May 13, 2011 9:33 AM

I feel the need to clarify some points (*):

First off, I am fully aware that homeopathic remedies are nothing more than sugar pills. That is the point I was making – we have people earning fortune pretending to be medical professionals and getting the naive and gullible to buy their products. I didnt say anything about “making it shady” – the current situation is already shady enough.

I didnt think that the people taking the placebo’s passed out – I am simply amazed that 86% of people took anything.

However, before all non-Turkish people get a feeling of superior smugness here, I actually think this thing would easily work in the UK / USA albeit with a minor modification or two.

Have a marked van saying something like “community health screening service,” put the white coat on and get the clipboard. Knock on doors, check blood pressures, issue prescriptions and a “free” cholesterol / BP tablet. I bet there would be a 100% compliance rate until word spread. Likewise do it as a “market research” into a new type of chocolate or sandwich or whatever. Again, if the clipboard is there I bet its close to 100% compliance.

There are numerous situations which would be enough to disarm more than 99% of people.

  • yes, sadly this spoils the joke. Sorry.

Rod May 13, 2011 9:42 AM

In the US you just need to dress like MIB and say “We suspect you are an anti-american comunist terrorist if you do not take this pill.”

Dr Doctor May 13, 2011 10:10 AM

((Just have to tune the message to the target audience….))

“Hello, I am from your state Public Health Unit, and we have been informed that a small level of trans-Pacific airborne radiation has been detected in this area within the last 24 hours. We are going door-to-door to provide iodine tablets to any person who wants them. We need you only to sign this release, and we can provide one tablet – all that is needed – per person in the house.

“Because these tablets are specially manufactured, they have a short life-time, and will only be effective if taken within the next 12 hours. Other iodine tablets are not like this, but these are a significantly lower cost to your state government.”

“Do you wish to take part in this protective program?”

jggimi May 13, 2011 10:44 AM

Reading this blog post, all I could think of was the famous von Schiller quote:

“Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”

ChristianO May 13, 2011 10:48 AM

86 out of 100 households stands probably for they tried seven houses and one didn’t take it?

I just doubt they tried a hundred households.

Petréa Mitchell May 13, 2011 11:01 AM

If just trusting a random person who claims to be an authority when they come to your door sounds ridiculous, consider the documented cases here in the US where a prankster is able to convince someone over the phone to trash their hotel room, or humiliate one of their co-workers with a strip search. (I think Bruce has covered this before, but my search-fu is failing me when I try to find the blog post.)

Jack Stiekema May 13, 2011 11:39 AM

In my town’s hospital, doctors have white coats.
Also cleaning staff has white coats.

Standard question to the guy with a broom is always “Doctor, can you help me”.
I assume they could say yes 🙂

Nick P May 13, 2011 12:33 PM

I have my doubts that this will be as effective in America as it was in Turkey. For one, most Americans are raised being told of the dangers of taking pills, candy, etc. from people we don’t know. The second point is that culture over there is different and I don’t think we can take a statistic in their culture and just apply it to ours.

Third, lay people go along with stuff online that they are unlikely to fall for in person because their natural instincts and experience are better at catching BS in person. Finally, stuff like this usually ends up on the news in one of the “warnings” or “on your side” investigation tidbits. Many consumers would be on top of this pretty quick, possibly leading to the arrest of those trying it.

All that said, I’m sure plenty of people over hear would go along with it. I just think that the success rate would be lower. Truthfully, they would have just gotten robbed in some neighborhoods I’ve lived in. 🙂 The risk would also be higher due to better information sharing and awareness over here.

John Hardin May 13, 2011 12:50 PM

@Nick P: ROFL. The prospective burglar offers the pill and the prospective victim pulls out a pistol and says “G’me your entire stash, man! Now!”

Mike May 13, 2011 1:13 PM

Once it hits the news, I would think it would much less effective. I would guess it isn’t a very effective technique in Turkey any more.

As far as any other nationalities being less prone to this, there might be some small difference. But I suspect that it is just the human condition. I remember a Chicago (I think) study that was trying to prove that USians would less likely to hurt people than say Germans in World War II. What they found was that given an authority figure that kept pushing them, most Americans would keep shocking someone in another room beyond the point they stopped making any noise (it was audible only so that they could repeat identical sounds to the testees). I would be wary of any national pride from any nationality on this topic.

HJohn May 13, 2011 1:38 PM

Reminds me of a man (I believe it was Florida, but i’m not sure) going door to door posing as a doctor offering to give women a free examination for a very female form of cancer (won’t say what, you can guess, don’t want the filter booting me). Takes a really gullible person to take drugs or reveal certain private characteristics to a stranger who knocks on their door.

ballsack t baghard May 13, 2011 1:39 PM

Yet more, if it was ever needed, evidence that Bin Laden is alive!

jacob1898 May 13, 2011 3:03 PM

I would make the analogy of the guy selling a mortgage you can’t afford. Yep,
you believed him, and signed on the dotted line. You deserve that house, it makes you feel better. Then reality slaps you, hard.

Always took caution to something advertised as “free” or going against the basic advice of elders (house payment never more than weeks’ salary, 20% down.

Bruce no big deal…;) I am used to slightly grumpy old men. Makes me listen more carefully. In fact I R 1 2 damn youngsters and their lingo…

Seth May 13, 2011 3:08 PM

Be careful with that fake homeopathy. If the pill is pure sugar, a homeopath might die of an overdose.

Dirk Praet May 13, 2011 3:47 PM

A word of caution for those planning on giving our neighbourhood a visit:

1) Unless your gang consists of scantilly clad, goodlooking girls posing as a marketing campaign stunt for Jack Daniel’s, you will get the door slammed right in your face.

2) If for some strange reason people would let you in with a really big grin on their face, chances are that you will be force-fed your own stash and find yourself waking up to a very unpleasant scene from Pulp Fiction. Make sure to avoid at all cost a local shop called “Toys for Boys”.

jacob May 13, 2011 3:56 PM

@dirk “toys for boys”
That could be a computer/electronics store for me. ‘oh, look it’s shiny”.
Or for other guys it’s the bass pro shop.
Just saying…What were you thinking?

No One May 13, 2011 4:34 PM

@Dirk: From your description, why would I rob your neighborhood? I think I’ll stick to more upscale places to rob.

Richard Steven Hack May 13, 2011 6:11 PM

Uhm, just how fast do these alleged sedatives work anyway?

The real story is how many people opened the door when the person announced he was a burglar.

Now THAT is seriously stupid. I suspect however that it played on the notion that no one would do that and therefore it was some kind of joke from an acquaintance even if they didn’t recognize the voice. You could probably get the same effect by just mumbling gibberish, so people would open the door to hear what you were saying.

BF Skinner May 13, 2011 6:30 PM

y’all makes some good points about the US.

It’s not quite the same vector but I was thinking about the recent panic on the West coast. Yutz’s in the US bought out iodine after fukushima daiichi diaster.

If someone went around, IN a white coat, WITH a clipboard and a bottle of pills marked “anti radiation innoculation”

I think they would have some sucess.

We’ve seen the bottom feeders come out after every disaster so they are primed and ready to take advantage of an oppourtunity but this is the US and it’s more direct to heave a brick through a window or stick a gun in a homeowners face when they open the door.

I would still like to see a replication of the experiment here.

Russell Coker May 14, 2011 1:43 AM


The above URL has a clip of Derren Brown demonstrating the “ask someone politely for their wallet while distracting them” scam. Apparently Derren doesn’t get anywhere near a 100% success rate with this, but it is effective enough that real criminals have used the same scam – even though they probably have less skill than Derren.

By default don’t trust strangers. When distracted or in other ways less capable of assessing risk you should trust strangers even less.

Ben Clifford May 14, 2011 5:10 AM

@Dirk: >Unless your gang consists of scantilly clad, goodlooking girls posing as a marketing campaign stunt for Jack Daniel’s, you will get the door slammed right in your face.

So you’ve just adapted the technique for the american market! Try this shot of “Jack Daniels”…

I know I regularly consume drinks and food from pretty marketing girls in all sorts of places without a second thought.

Russell Coker May 14, 2011 7:33 AM

Ben: A free shot of whisky at a bar where it’s worth $5+ is more likely to be accepted than the same at home where based on liquor-store prices it’s worth maybe $1.

Also all the news about Rohypnol might make people a little more cautious about accepting free drinks – of course alcohol on it’s own makes people vulnerable to crime.

The Wikipedia page about Rohypnol indicates that it has been administered to people before robbing them. It’s also been used by criminals to control their own anxiety and so that their memory will be less clear if interviewed by the police.

Been To Turkey May 14, 2011 8:50 AM

Findings of this study may not be generalizable to other cultures. Turkish society is very paternalistic. Turkish doctors frequently make medical decisions with little explanation of their rationale to the patient. And few would dare to say “no” to a Turkish cop.

Gweihir May 14, 2011 3:26 PM

Very nice story! Had me laughing really hard.

Seriously, how stupid can you get? If we are at 86% success rate for this, it might be time to repeat this with delayed-action cyanide capsules, so that we can re-start evolution, because with stupidity like that, the human race does not really stand much of a chance in the future.

asd May 14, 2011 9:55 PM

@Gweihir, “Very nice story! Had me laughing really hard.

Seriously, how stupid can you get? If we are at 86% success rate for this, it might be time to repeat this with delayed-action cyanide capsules, so that we can re-start evolution, because with stupidity like that, the human race does not really stand much of a chance in the future.”

don’t forget to add Hydroxylamine to make it stronger :CYA:

Thai-Spy May 14, 2011 11:27 PM

Can’t help but think of the ladyboy drugged nipples method of larceny that waxes and wanes here in Thailand. I guess the message is essentially the same: don’t put it in your mouth if you’re not sure it’s genuine.

Paul May 15, 2011 2:59 AM

I can very much see a westernized version working.

Try these two soda drinks and tell us which tastes better.

Thank you, come again.

jacob May 16, 2011 7:52 AM

@dirk, I didn’t click through that.
too cautious.
@thai. the flip side I’ve always said is don’t put something somewhere unless you are absolutely sure you are going to get it back. That applies to security, thailand, and jacuzzis. Pretty much everything. or cloud computing for that matter. As an aside PSN is back up. I give it a week.

Clive Robinson May 16, 2011 8:32 AM

@ Jacob,

“As an aside PSN is back up. I give it a week”

That much?

Oh and from what was said in the UK this AM on the radio “only a small part of” PSN is back, apparently it’s so you can spend money again 😉

fast flux May 17, 2011 4:12 AM

But who is dressed up as a security doctor while free distribution of a/v
with bugs..how to create trusted awareness in the majority.

Jonadab May 17, 2011 8:25 PM

Yeah, I don’t think I personally know anyone who would fall for this one. There must be some kind of cultural difference between the US and Turkey that allows this to work there.

Maybe doctors there still make “house calls”, a practice doctors used to have in the US and Europe many decades ago. You had to ask them to come, but they would actually come to your house and see you there. I know that sounds like Twilight Zone stuff to a modern American, but in some times and places it was fairly common — maybe Turkey still has doctors that do that.

For that matter, maybe in general it’s more common for people (other than JWs and odd-jobbers) to come to your door there.

Davi Ottenheimer May 17, 2011 9:24 PM

The article says “I am a burglar, please open the door” works too.

This study begs the question of what doesn’t work.

Maybe intercom systems are so bad, or residents so lazy, that they never actually hear or check the signal.

You could say anything and they’d push the button to let someone in.

jacob May 21, 2011 11:28 AM

@clive. Yep, you were right. I am ever the optimist. Sony has a great big bullseye on their back. I almost feel sorry for them. It’s rather unsporting to kick someone after they are down. But, then again, it’s sony..I’m a little conflicted. 😉

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