Most global destinations have mechanisms in place to part a tourist from their money, but besides the pickpockets, touts, beggars and overpriced handloom shops, there are a few scams in India that really are quite unique. If you're a seasoned traveller, or if you remain alert, you will most likely avoid these mishaps. But we're hoping, after reading this article, that you will be able to spot these tricks a mile away, and you will just need to hide your smile when someone tries one out on you. But if you do happen to come across one, remember it is all just part of the adventure; some may even say that its actually half the fun of travelling in India! 

On Arrival 

When you first arrive at a new destination, whether it be the airport, train station or bus stop, it is not uncommon for your taxi or rickshaw driver to take you to a hotel that has a very similar name to the one you have requested, but it is actually different. It is most probably a hotel that they have a commission deal with, so if it sounds like you are at the wrong hotel, chances are you probably are.

A similar scam is when your taxi driver tells you that your hotel has burnt or closed down, and they can show you a much better place owned by their brother. Their “brother” will pay them a handsome commission for taking you to their second rate hotel.

One way to avoid this happening is to print out and carry a map with your hotel's location marked on it. Alternatively most hotels will arrange pick up from the airport or railway station, which will ensure you won't have any such problems. 

Doctored taxi/rickshaw meters

 Rickshaws in India By Lou Wilson
In Mumbai, the meter readings on taxis and rickshaws finally reflect the exact charges, but in most other cities, the meters aren’t accurate yet, based on the latest rates. Instead, drivers carry rate cards that translate the figure on the meter into the current and latest rates. But be careful, some IM-ers have been fleeced by as much as 500 Rupees at times because the drivers produce official looking conversion charts that are actually doctored. There are stories in this forum about taxi scams. The best fix is to download a conversion chart from the Apple or Google app store on to your smart phone or computer and print a copy for your wallet; enough people have suffered, the accurate charts are online, you will just need to Google to find them.

Another taxi/rickshaw scam is where the meters read correctly (so no charts are required) but they have been “fixed” so they rack up a larger fare.  Keep an eye on the meter to see if it is ticking over at a steady pace or racing ahead at the speed of light. This one is much more difficult to spot. So, if you have just arrived in India, take a pre-paid taxi from the airport to your destination. It will also save you from the crowds at the entrance to the arrivals doors. Keep a look out for independent taxi drivers who might try to convince you that the prepaid booths are closed and there is no service available. You could end up paying a whole chunk of your spending budget on one car ride to your hotel. Don’t be fooled, it is a scam and a well-known one at that. 

Just to be prepared, read how to get reasonable fares for taxis and rickshaws on the site. A little preparation will take you a long way.You can also check out this Mumbai auto tariff card or see the official auto and taxi rates for Delhi.

Sweet-talking Train Passengers

The East Central Railways (ECR) has recently advised of a new railway scam in India, this one aimed specifically at men. Well-dressed (possibly in western clothes) and English speaking women and children try to befriend the train traveler before drugging them and stealing their valuables. This is done by offering food (usually biscuits) to the traveler that has been laced with drugs. 

Another variation to the scam is people pretending to perform religious rituals, where they light incense sticks that induce sleep. The ECR warns that these scams have been recently performed on long-distance trains coming from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Mumbai and Gujarat, so be particularly careful on these routes. 

Woman with baby or medical prescription scam

Beware the woman with a baby in the crook of her arm who needs money for milk/medicine/food/bail for her husband or treatment for HIV/hepatitis/obscure disease. One IM-er ended up paying about 1,000 Rupees to buy a woman two cans of milk powder. This scam is particularly popular in major tourist areas in India and the variations can replace milk with oil/flour/lentils. Once you’re out of sight, they sell the product back to the shop and pocket the cash.

The women are ruthless enough to even invent death. At the traffic signal at Linking Road in Bandra, Mumbai, devout looking women come round the cars asking for money to help bury a neighbor who has suddenly died. Even the taxi drivers openly scoff at such bunk, so look for their reaction as it may give you a good indication of whether the people begging are for real.

Lost savings/merchandise/job scam

A common scam on local trains looks like this. A man is selling handkerchiefs and then suddenly falls to the floor, scrambling around. It turns out there is a huge hole in the bottom of his merchandise bag, which he holds up. He’s just lost his whole day’s earnings of 800 Rupees. He bemoans his fate and cries. Touched passengers give him 100, and even 500 Rupees, except for the regulars who see him enact this drama every single day. Don’t be taken in. This is what they do every day to earn money.

Currency note swap scam

This happens in other countries, too, of course, but for people who are not used to the same-size larger currency, nimble fingered cashiers and drivers can substitute a smaller value note for a larger value note and then politely insist you haven’t paid them enough and need to cover up the balance. IM-ers who have fallen for this suggest you don’t pay with 500 Rupee notes but carry 100s and other smaller change. Or, as PeakXV suggests, announce each denomination as you hand it out, one by one. 

Driver takes you to see guru/shop/astrologer scam

Wherever they are taking you, even if it’s “just look, don’t buy, madam” – there is a sale involved as well as a commission. The guru will tell you you’re in deathly danger unless you buy certain mantras/herbs or the gem shop will be the most unique in town. Just don’t go along with it. If they insist, threaten police action. Or if you do choose to go along with it, do so knowing what to expect, as IMer DaisyL did when she knew she was being taken for a ride

Gem Shop Scam

Similar to the scam above is the gem shop scam, but this one gets a special mention because it is that common. You will be taken to see very special gemstones, which may or may not be real, and your driver will get a commission for the deal.

An add-on to the gem shop scam is additional tax scam.  So you go to the gem shop and decide to buy a lovely piece of jewelry, but you are then informed of a customs tax which needs to be paid, the seller can arrange this for you, for a fee of course. They will convince you to leave the goods with them, arrange all the documentation and then send your new jewels to your home for you via a partner in your home country. All you need to do is give them your credit card details so they can arrange the payment. Never hand over your credit card details in this manner to anyone who is selling gems. You might find your credit-card limit has been maxed out and you will never see that gorgeous pair of earrings or gems either!

Another variation is where you are asked to carry some gemstones back home for them, so that they can avoid tax (or so they say). They will offer you a proportion of the profits, which they can credit to your card. They may even show you proof of all the other tourists who have done this for them before, but these documents are either fake or are people who have lost a small fortune to the scam. Once they have your credit card details, it's off to the races for the "jewel thiefs". Also remember, it is really never a great idea anyway to carry something overseas for someone you don't really know. 

The old poop on the shoe scam

This is a simple scam but it does really happen and as much as it causes mirth, it could cost you dearly. Someone will surreptitiously place some form of substance on your shoe which resembles poop and politely tap you on the shoulder to inform you of your sullied shoes. You will be then offered a shoe-clean for a small sum of money whilst their friends will be watching where you pull your money from. And a slight variation to this scam - a few steps later in your shiny shoes, the friends will ‘accidentally’ bump into you and help themselves to your hard-earned cash. 

Fake train station booking agents and offices

Another very popular scam that is especially prevalent at the New Delhi railway station is the fake train agent or agents (yes, they work in teams) scam. The scam goes like this: One or more fellows will approach you with official looking attire and an official looking ID, and ask you if you have tickets for your train. Whether you have them or not, the goal ultimately is to get you to a fake train booking office, away from the main station, where you will be sold fake train tickets for your journey.

There are many variations and levels to this fake train station scam, some of them quite elaborate, and are run by professionals who've been doing this for a while. The best advice from India Mikers is to pay no attention to these "agents", and go straight into the train station.

Also be aware of the scam when taking an auto rickshaw or a cab to the train station.They may ask if you have a booking and suggest to take you to a "booking office", which is actually a fake booking office setup for the purpose of the scam. Say that you already have a booking, and decline these auto-rickshaw drivers.

In Conclusion

It’s hard to find yourself second-guessing whether someone really needs help or means well in India, especially when there are so many people out there who really do need genuine help. Just remember that Indians are very community oriented, so if someone was in genuine trouble, they’d probably get help from their extended community, even if they had no family. If your conscience refuses to be assuaged, give them a few rupees but understand that you may be thronged with other takers.  And as a last resort, if they’re asking for money or something else, take them to one of the numerous “vegetarian hotels” and buy them a meal while you wait. At least you know exactly where that’s going.  Another alterative if you really want to make a donation is to check for local charities which are validated by the government and leave some of your philanthropic funds with them to give to the needy.