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!
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 metersforum 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.
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.
Latest comments for Staying street smart while traveling in India
- Join Date:
- Apr 2014
- Columbia, Missouri
More info on New Delhi Railway Scam
We were in New Delhi for a little over a week, and were approached by, (no kidding,) no less than 15 people trying to convince us to come to their "official government tourist booking office," near Connaught Place.
This was what I wanted to warn people of, specifically though: Our first time trying to find it at the railway station, a man dressed as if he worked at the railway station and appearing to "direct" people onto their trains, saw us, said he was an employee, and assured us with confidence that it was a Muslim holiday and that the booking office was closed, but that there was another "official" booking office that was open. Because we thought he worked there, we almost believed him. Another man nearby even stepped in to confirm it!
Just to be sure, we ran up to the office, and sure enough, it said on the door, "open 7 days, including holidays." So- if this happens, DO NOT FALL FOR IT.
There are also two different "parts" to the New Delhi railway station, so make sure to check both sides (it's up the stairs.)
Hope this saves some people some frustration!
- Join Date:
- Nov 2009
- Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia
Now I just laugh about my silliness...but India can be confusing. People everywhere, noise everywhere, hot and dusty...it's like a scammer's delight
- Join Date:
- Oct 2004
- you essay
I could almost seeing him rubbing his hands in glee in his own mind thinking he'd found a likely sucker.
Of course, the look on his face when I answered him in pure madras bashai (local dialect of tamil) was priceless.
- Join Date:
- Oct 2004
- you essay
Warning: New Scam
My husband booked a room at Om Ganesh in Goa for a few days. The internet reviews for Om Ganesh were pretty good and the price - for what we were getting (this is important) - was acceptable in my experience. He booked a 1) large 2) AC 3) room overlooking the beach through expedia.in. According to our reservation there is absolutely no ambiguity in what we had booked.
We approached the beach and our very nice taxi driver leaned out the window to confirm we were heading in the direction of Om Ganesh. “Which one?” The guy on the street asked, and my heart sank because I knew what that meant. We pulled up our reservation and said “the one on the beach.” The guy nodded and directed us to the Om Ganesh on the beach where we had booked a big room with AC.
Upon arriving, the caretaker looked at the pictures in our reservation and confirmed these were pictures of this Om Ganesh. But, lo and behold, he had no rooms with AC. We looked up and pointed to the sign that said “AC Rooms” and he explained to us, as if we were stupid, that that was the OTHER Om Ganesh in the market. This Om Ganesh doesn’t have AC. We opened our reservation again and showed him where it said “AC room.” He explained to us, again as if we were stupid, that our room must be in the other Om Ganesh that has AC rooms.
As we investigated, we found that all three of the Om Ganesh’s are owned by the same family. Their online listing combines the best features of all three buildings into one reservation and charges a price as if such a room exists. It does not. I have to guess that, in the past, taxis and autos were paid to take people to whichever Om Ganesh best suited the family at that time. Since travelers are now aware of this scam, it has moved to the internet.
What shocked me is that expedia.in refused to believe us. They insisted we had “gone to the wrong hotel” and, after multiple emails (including photographic evidence) declined a refund. They also refused to edit Om Ganesh’s listing so that it is not fraudulent. It’s as if expedia.in acted as the taxi driver in the “taking tourists to the wrong hotel” scam. I highly, highly, recommend travelers stay alert to this new trick. Thanks!
All the web/online portals, be it makemytrip, expedia, UBER - you name it - act like aggregators. They do not take any responsibility what so ever - that's the way it is, forget about the refunds! I have been at the receiving end on several occasions - one with UBER only last week as well as makemytrip (international flight booking) some months ago.
I am not sure how stringent the local laws are say in USA/Europe/Australia - but in India such big companies too do nothing to resolve fraudulent issues unless you take them to court (which they very well know is beyond a common man's scope especially in India) or if there is enough noise on social media.
(Annapurna Base Camp, Chandrashila/Deoriatal, Chadar Trek, Goecha La, Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Roopkund, Sandakphu-Phalut, Spiti-Lahaul, Naneghat, Harishchandragad, Rajmachi, Chanderi, Tornagad, Rajgad, Tung, Tikona, Kalsubai, Sagargad, Dhak Bahiri, Peth)