Fraudulent and dangerous 'Travel agents'

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#1 Sep 20th, 2016, 17:09
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  • FrancescaOB is offline
#1
Recently on a trip to India I had a harrowing and ‘near miss’ experience. This is due to a fraudulent and dangerous ‘travel agents’.

My story- Friday 5th August 2016. I was transferring from one hotel to another and found myself surrounded by locals grabbing me and wanting me to get in their transport. A young well-spoken Indian man came to me and said he would help me find my hotel, instead of helping me find my hotel he took me to what I believed was an information centre who would help me find the way to the hotel I had booked.

It turns out this was not an information centre but a 'travel agents' . He introduced me to another well-spoken Indian man who went by the name of ‘ALI’. He persisted to manipulate my feelings of distress and I felt increasingly pressured into paying for a trip I had no interest in undertaking. When I became progressively unsettled at the fact I was alone in the room with him and 3 other men he became very irritable and I felt the pressure to pay for this trip mounting. Eventually I did but I felt extremely uneasy- he had removed my passport from my plastic wallet I carry it in for safe keeping and stated that he had booked flights before I had even agreed. The man who brought me here had disappeared way before this point making me feel suspicious. Ali decided I would pay 800 which I knew for a trip in India was extortionate, he was effectively holding my passport to ransom. I have never felt more threatened or worried for my safety, so I parted with what I believed was 800.

A group of the men from the 'travel agents' ‘escorted’ me to a hotel that the company had a relationship with in south Delhi. On arriving there I phoned my bank to tell them of the situation and they informed me that the ‘travel agents’ had attempted to take 1140. Nearly 350 over the price Ali had secured for my safety and passport return. My bank put a note that this pending transaction was fraudulent and blocked my account, my card was cancelled and I was left alone in Delhi with 1400 rupees and no card. I became increasingly concerned that I needed to leave the hotel before the men returned. I found transportation and then when I told the hotel I needed to leave they became very aggressive in tone and shouted at me to wait until their manager who had dealt with the ‘travel agents’ came. I felt extremely panicked and ran from the hotel to my transportation in order to go to the hotel I had originally been on my way to.

I received text messages from the man (ALI) who 'booked' the 'trip' claiming I could have all my money back if I came to the office the following day (Saturday 6th of August 2016) to collect it. There was no way I was returning to his office as I felt that was a death sentence.

I have emailed the backpackers almost every day for a month, they agreed to give funds back as I stated this was all a criminal offence. Unfortunately as to date this money has still not been returned to my account.

I cut my trip in India short, booking new flights out of Delhi. I reported all of the above to the British embassy who with consent published my ordeal in two Indian Papers. I am still in touch with the commissioner of police regarding bringing these criminals to justice.

I want to make others aware of my experience and I hope in sharing this that it won't happen to another vulnerable backpacker.

Below I have attached the links to the newspaper articles whom reported my story.


http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/A...01092016005035

http://www.asianage.com/delhi/foreig...vel-agents-798

Moderator team note: in accordance with IM policies, we removed the identity of the travel agent in question.
Last edited by Rasika; Sep 20th, 2016 at 21:25..
#2 Sep 20th, 2016, 21:54
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  • ananda2193 is offline
#2
Sounds like you had a very traumatizing experience. I'm sure it turned you off from ever going back to India and rightfully so. Too bad because India is a wonderful place most times and most visitors don't experience that kind of stuff.
"Travel is fatal to prejudice,bigotry and narrow-mindedness" Mark Twain
#3 Sep 21st, 2016, 00:20
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#3
Sadly this is a well known, tried and tested, age old scam that has been going on in Delhi for years.

Unfortunately, they're experts at spotting those in distress and these people seem to be their sole mark.

Such a shame, as you rightfully say, India is a fascinating place.

NB
"See the World, then see India - because the World is an anti-climax"
#4 Sep 21st, 2016, 03:04
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  • Sama is offline
#4
what a horrible experience! I echo the comments of ananda and NomadicBoo.

people like that always know who to prey on. scammers all over the world can absolutely zero in.

what's worse is the ineptitude of the police in general:

"A tourist police unit was launched in 2005 in Delhi after two cabbies raped and murdered an Australian woman. Tourist police patrols were supposed to be deployed at 10 places, but the unit never got the manpower it needed."
My India Photos, 2005-2015
"...by any means necessary." Malcolm X
#5 Sep 21st, 2016, 03:46
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  • Rasika is offline
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I am very sorry you have gone through this harrowing experience, Francesca. I've been surrounded by a mob at airports etc, so I know how difficult it can be to have one's wits arround us. I hope the police are able to get some justice and it is good that the British officials have taken it further.

It might be worth seeing how we can help other travelers be warned and avoid this kind of situation in the future. Some of my thoughts:

- The times when we are most vulnerable to scammers is when we have luggage with us and we are moving to/from hotels and to/from airports and train stations. And when we may be tired.

- For those times of moving with luggage, it seems really worth having transport pre-arranged, even if it costs more. If the hotel provides airport transfers, best to make use of them. And pre-paid taxis. And pack light, if possible, so you can control all your things.

- Having the next hotel phone number in your mobile's address book or on the home screen, and have a working phone for emergencies.

- Keeping the passport well hidden, and a photocopy in hand if needed. I know many people don't like money belts, but I feel much happier to know that my passport and a spare credit card are in a more secure place.

- If I am getting harassed by a mob and can't quite think straight, I just stand still or lean against a wall, and shake my head saying no to all questions and wait until the mob of scammers move to another potential target. This has helped me on several occasions.

Any other suggestions and hints?
#6 Sep 21st, 2016, 04:05
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#6
I'm sure Sama can tell you gals how to deal with a situation like that!
#7 Sep 21st, 2016, 04:27
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  • Nick-H is online now
#7
What is it about Delhi!

Whilst I'd like to say that I would never get into that situation, I have experienced this, in the same area: a reasonable, intelligent, polite, chatty guy. Well, I happened to be with someone who actually knows the travel trade there and the people in it: she moved me on smartish. I found it hard to believe that it was a tout even, but she knew otherwise. But hey, no, had the situation gone further, I would not have popped into someone's shop, on any pretext, not even for a cup of tea.

Quote:
Any other suggestions and hints?
Stranger in a strange land... so this is not going to be foolproof. But... know where you are going. Know how you are going to get there. Don't be distracted by someone who says they will find out where your hotel is: use google maps: know where your hotel is.

In the years of Indiamike, not only technology, but its acceptance, has changed utterly. One, this stuff is available in our pockets. Two, it is not just for geeks; everyone can use it, and many, many people who do not consider themselves in the least bit techie do. We live in the age of grannies with ipads. And all that stuff is on our side.
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#8 Sep 21st, 2016, 04:33
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#8
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rasika View Post ...

Any other suggestions and hints?
Join IndiaMike before you travel and read the "Scams and Annoyances in India Forum".
#9 Sep 21st, 2016, 04:50
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  • Sama is offline
#9
Quote:
Originally Posted by ananda2193 View Post I'm sure Sama can tell you gals how to deal with a situation like that!
I'll give lessons. Includes self-defense lessons.

Actually, I was asked to write about travel tips for solo women in India for a travel blog. But sorry, can't remember the title right now!

How one deals with stuff like that is so individual. Maybe it's age or street smarts, who knows?

On my second trip to India I was surrounded in Madurai -- albeit by lots of rickshaw drivers at the train station but they can be tough and intimidating if it's only your second trip -- and it came down to who could yell the loudest. I won.

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Originally Posted by Nick-H View Post use google maps: know where your hotel is
Despite carrying two phones with me in India, an Indian one and mine from home, I absolutely do not rely on Google maps. How is a signal guaranteed in India?

I always have internet connection problems with both phones in Chennai for whatever reason. When you're lost or in trouble the last thing you want to see on your phone is "can't connect" or whatever! I sure as hell wouldn't stand around in the street playing with my phone!

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Originally Posted by Rasika View Post or lean against a wall,
Sorry, Rasika, if I was being "harassed by a mob" the absolute last thing in the world I would do is to stop and lean against a wall hoping another target is found! That's a good way for a nefarious bunch to trap someone so they can't move.
#10 Sep 21st, 2016, 05:00
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#10
You can download offline maps for most major cities and areas from Triposo and many other free apps.. You can also download offline maps from Google Maps and save them on your smart phone. All of these allow you to navigate using GPS without needing any phone/internet connectivity.
#11 Sep 21st, 2016, 05:15
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#11
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sama View Post Sorry, Rasika, if I was being "harassed by a mob" the absolute last thing in the world I would do is to stop and lean against a wall hoping another target is found! That's a good way for a nefarious bunch to trap someone so they can't move.
That's a good point. I've only done this around airports and train stations, where the personal danger is limited, but were scammers and taxi drivers try to confuse you.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ViShVa View Post You can download offline maps for most major cities and areas from Triposo and many other free apps..
Yeah, I've been very happy with Here (previously Nokia) maps, where one can download entire countries (or individual Indian states) easily.
#12 Sep 21st, 2016, 05:23
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  • RPG is offline
#12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sama View Post Despite carrying two phones with me in India, an Indian one and mine from home, I absolutely do not rely on Google maps. How is a signal guaranteed in India?

I always have internet connection problems with both phones in Chennai for whatever reason. When you're lost or in trouble the last thing you want to see on your phone is "can't connect" or whatever! I sure as hell wouldn't stand around in the street playing with my phone!
For some years now, GMaps has had an option to download maps to the phone, when on wifi, so that they can be used later without a signal (or without paying for data).

There are some restrictions: you cannot download large countries, only particular regions up to a file size limit; and the download is usable for only a month. But with some minor advance planning, it is perfectly useful.
#13 Sep 21st, 2016, 05:49
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#13
good to know. guess I'd better clear out my 1000+ photos to free up space.

although it's interesting that I plugged in the address of the flat where I am staying in chennai and it changed to a different street name.
#14 Sep 21st, 2016, 10:04
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Sadly, this is an example of the need to do one's homework before travel. If one goes to Paris without knowing of the gypsy tricks even an experienced traveller can be had. Painful but a relatively inexpensive lesson. More expensive is when a loan broker makes a loan for a rate and then makes it for a higher rate for a share of the take detailing the scam with an email saying that you have nothing in writing. Needless to say his education in real estate law was a little out of date. Both of us got a good education. I was happy at the restitution..
#15 Sep 21st, 2016, 10:15
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#15
Most of the advice above is good and valid, but is difficult to remember when you're in a strange country, it's noisy, loads of people are bothering you, and you're just trying to hold on to your luggage, it's sometimes easier to have a general strategy to get you through such situations, here's a few things I've learnt over the years, sadly I've learnt them by getting every one of them wrong first.

1, it's not personal, it can very much feel personal to you, but they're looking for any victim, they don't care if you're a big muscular marine, a vulnerable young lady, or even a small group of people, they get paid to deliver you to an office, it's important to remember it's not personal, it can help you get through the crowd knowing if they have no joy with you, they'll quickly move on to a different target.

2, don't talk to them, it doesn't matter what you say, they have replies ready for everything, they do this 10 times a day, hundreds of days a year, and they've heard it all and practiced their responses, just walk through the crowd saying "no thank you", without making eye contact or speaking to anyone directly.

3, get past the crowd and find somewhere to gather your thoughts, far enough away from the real pro's, I'm a smoker, so I look for somewhere to have a cigarette, the 5 minutes needed for a ciggies is long enough to calm myself down and think about what I'll do next, it also gives time to look for the 'pre-pay taxi' kiosk, you'll still get the odd taxi driver asking if you want a taxi, but these guys are easier to deal with, a simple "no thank you" is usually enough.
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