Friendly old guy invites me to visit school where he works... Scam or genuine?

#1 Oct 26th, 2013, 00:07
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  • lambshandy is offline
#1
I'm in Delhi at the moment, my first trip here, and I'm finding it thoroughly fascinating and challenging, just as expected. I'm also figuring out how best to ward off scammers, touts and beggars without coming across as massively rude and uptight, but it does mean that every potentially innocent conversation is quite stilted and awkward at first as I'm usually pretty guarded with my responses.

Anyway, I had an encounter tonight which I really cannot quite figure out, especially as I'm in paranoid mode at the moment. Does this seem like a scam to you? -

Travelling home to the relatively posh neighbourhood I'm staying in, I'm stood next to a well-dressed elderly gentleman on the metro who politely asks me how I'm finding Delhi, where I'm from etc. We chat for a few moments and then he grabs a seat and the conversation stops. 20 mins later he asks where I'm getting off - I tell him, and shortly afterwards he says that's his neighbourhood too. We chat some more on the way out and he tells me he works in social servives, helping disadvantaged kids at a school a few km out of the city. Some of that information is from my questioning, not something he immediately tells me. After we shake hands and part at the exit he comes back and says "Listen, if you'd like to see the work I do, come to the school and meet some of the kids, here are my details" [Writes down name, address, phone number, nearest bus stop etc]. "You can just bring some chocolate for the children, try some home cooking with my family, it would be good". I express an interest, thank him and we say goodnight.

Now I'm thinking either a) this is a genuinely touching offer that I would learn from and enjoy, b) I'll have quick tour of a school somewhere and then he'll ask for a huge donation, or c) the food will be drugged and he'll rob me blind

How paranoid do I need to be? I mean, it really seemed like he coincidentally lived in the same neighbourhood, and he left it a long time before asking where I was getting off or talking about the school stuff. But I'm wary about making myself vulnerable if I'm being scammed by someone who knows I'll be looking for an "authentic" kind of experience, and perhaps just pretended to be local? Getting off and going through the exit barriers seems like quite a significant pretense, if so.

Thoughts?
#2 Oct 26th, 2013, 00:57
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  • hfot2 is offline
#2
Quote:
Originally Posted by lambshandy View Post ...Now I'm thinking either a) this is a genuinely touching offer that I would learn from and enjoy, b) I'll have quick tour of a school somewhere and then he'll ask for a huge donation, or c) the food will be drugged and he'll rob me blind...
Welcome to IndiaMike.

And welcome to India. You're beginning to get the idea.

Your thinking is good. Believe the correct answer is YES. That is, any of the three might be correct: most Indians are phenomenally gracious and welcoming, with a genuine interest in acquainting you with their world; some are out for a buck; some are really mean bastards out for a buck.

How to proceed? Well, two of the options will cost you dearly, but you might have a genuinely wonderful experience if (a) is correct. Gotta go with your gut, samelike at home.

We, as it happens, generally end up turning down such offers for fear of getting scammed or worse. The likelihood of physical or financial harm is low, but it weighs heavily against the far greater likelihood of being bored witless or the very slight chance of having a transcendent experience. But there are other IM'ers who can find a transcendent experience in a crumpled candy wrapper. Back to gotta-go-with-your-gut.

sperehealfe
Walt Whitman - Song of Myself

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Last edited by hfot2; Oct 26th, 2013 at 19:24..
#3 Oct 26th, 2013, 00:58
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#3
There is always a bit of risk in a new adventiure just as coming to India is for you but from your description the gentleman inviting you to his school to meet kids and to have a home cooked meal seems to be a fine decent person and I think you should take up his offer and even take some chocolate with you for the children.

Quote:
c) the food will be drugged and he'll rob me blind
You don't have to be first one eating the food and if your host and kids have started to eat then you can be pretty sure that the food is safe to eat and this is not some scheme to drug you and rob you.

Regarding donations to the school, well you are under no obligations to support his school and he cannot force you make a donation if you don't want to.

I don't see anything shady here and I think it will be good to visit a small school outside of the big city.
#4 Oct 26th, 2013, 02:13
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  • JuliaF is offline
#4
Quote:
Originally Posted by lambshandy View Post
Travelling home to the relatively posh neighbourhood I'm staying in, I'm stood next to a well-dressed elderly gentleman on the metro who politely asks me how I'm finding Delhi, where I'm from etc. We chat for a few moments and then he grabs a seat and the conversation stops. 20 mins later he asks where I'm getting off - I tell him, and shortly afterwards he says that's his neighbourhood too. We chat some more on the way out and he tells me he works in social servives, helping disadvantaged kids at a school a few km out of the city. Some of that information is from my questioning, not something he immediately tells me. After we shake hands and part at the exit he comes back and says "Listen, if you'd like to see the work I do, come to the school and meet some of the kids, here are my details" [Writes down name, address, phone number, nearest bus stop etc]. "You can just bring some chocolate for the children, try some home cooking with my family, it would be good". I express an interest, thank him and we say goodnight.

Now I'm thinking either a) this is a genuinely touching offer that I would learn from and enjoy, b) I'll have quick tour of a school somewhere and then he'll ask for a huge donation, or c) the food will be drugged and he'll rob me blind
To me, the parts which I have made bold make it seem genuine. If he had accosted you and just poured out the story of the disadvantaged kids I would have been suspicious.

Also he came back after you had said goodbye rather than not letting you go until he had got you to agree to his plan.

And presumably after giving you his contact details he has left it up to you whether you phone him to make an arrangement or not. To me that doesn't sound as if he's too pushy. If anything he might have invited you out of an ingrained sense of obligation to offer hospitality - it might actually be a bit of a hassle for him to take you there and to arrange for his wife/family to prepare a meal for you.

If you do go, please come back and tell us the story
#5 Oct 26th, 2013, 02:52
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#5
My suggestions:

When/If you go let someone else know the Name/address/phone of where you are headed. When you are there call someone letting them know, you have reached there in front of your host.
#6 Oct 26th, 2013, 09:42
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#6
Sounds real to me too. Suppose you go, and you hit it off with him, his family, his charity, etc. What's the next step? How far are you willing to go in this relationship? Would it affect him and other parties concerned if you never show up again after the first time? Give that some thought too, before you accept his invitation.
#7 Oct 26th, 2013, 10:18
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#7
The person seems to be working in/for a home/school which supports disadvantaged kids. This type of organizations always looks forward to get some donation to support the venture. You may come across with a new type of experience if you feel like going.

Please do share your experience if you go there. Wish you all the best!
#8 Oct 26th, 2013, 10:21
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#8
With due respect to other posters who are in favor of follow up visit, I cannot recommend this. In the final analysis, this is really your sole decision.
#9 Oct 26th, 2013, 10:25
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#9
I would decide on what would cause me to exit this situation, prepare for a proper exit (determine my out routes etc), and then go and see what the experience brings.

I will sprinkle my conversation with the decided exit points, say i did this before, and here is why i had a bad experience, in a way, indirectly saying, i am going to go if you do this. since this person seems to be able to understand subtle clues, i think it will be okay for this situation. there have been times when i have had to explain clearly why i was doing what i was doing, sometimes it ended with a laugh, sometimes, the other party realized i was a waste of their time.

I will be open to changing my opinion based on the happenings, but only for this situation. Meaning this person, this time. The walls go up again automatically, for the next time or the next person, rinse and repeat.

i know this is a very difficult way of doing things, but the other two ways i know ( jumping in with an open mind into every situation, or shutting myself off completely) have their own problems.

Not checking your profile, i would be a bit more careful if i was a woman.
#10 Oct 26th, 2013, 11:36
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  • steven_ber is offline
#10
You're right to be nervous, all the approaches by touts get you like this, and you do start to question everything, but almost everything you say about meeting this man seems normal to me.

From a security point of view, it's actually a real pain to get a sim card in India, for security reasons a person needs full proof of identity and address, so having this man's telephone number means the police can track him down if need be, so this should be reassuring to you.

You should be asking yourself what you want to get from your trip to India, if it's just a holiday, throw the telephone number away and forget about this man, but if you want to learn something about a world so very different to your own, then give him a call.

Be warned though, seeing the less advantaged side of India will live with you forever, it can haunt you or inspire you, it can warm your heart or fill you with anger, one thing's for sure though, it will affect you in some way.

Are your family ready to hear you banging on about this place for an hour, when all they want to hear is what the Taj Mahal was like, "oh yeh, the Taj was nice as well".

Are you ready to find out what great things can be done with the money you spent on your last night out in London, or what miracles can happen with the money you spent on your flight to India? it's not this man's request for a donation that should be your biggest concern, it's your own emotions you should be concerned about, how will this visit effect on the rest of your trip, can you really justify spending all that money on hotels when a cheaper room could allow you to help those kids out.

I had such a visit 10 years ago, it changed me for the better, made me look at a lot of things in my life a little differently, but here's a strange thing, I've took my Mrs. to India twice, but not taken her to the place I visited, I just don't think she'd emotionally strong enough to visit yet.

You'll sometimes hear about people 'finding themselves' on a visit to India, this visit can be the type of thing that'll help you understand those 2 words.

Are you emotionally ready (I don't think I was), or do you just want to visit the tourist sites?

This is a big decision, think carefully, you need to be comfortable with your decision.
Last edited by steven_ber; Oct 26th, 2013 at 14:00..
#11 Oct 26th, 2013, 12:22
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  • Legless soul is offline
#11
I would say that you ask him whether you can bring some friends too, if answer is yes then probably your fear of physical/financial harm part is solved. If he is overjoyed in the proposal then the donation part is sure. If the answer is no then Lord save your soul......
If a problem can be solved there is no use worrying about it. If it cant be solved, worrying will do no good ~ H.H
#12 Oct 26th, 2013, 12:53
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#12
Genuine does not, in any way, exclude requests for a donation. Bear this is mind and go.

Of course, a con man always appears to be genuine, and trusting the gut is no defence, but my theory here is that suggestions of criminal intent are more paranoia than reality.
#13 Oct 26th, 2013, 12:55
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#13
Any day I would go for the visit. Aside from the advice I got from my late father in law, always eat what is offered in a family context it does sound legit and a great opportunity that most turistas don't get..
#14 Oct 26th, 2013, 14:01
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#14
He's done this before no doubt. I would be wary, take a friend with you, but no chocolates etc, and if you are concerned about the meal, you have Delhi Belly and cannot eat much food.

Met a well dress old man in Macdonalds in CP, who tried to converse, but I left. Im sure he would have had years of practice picking up foreigners.

Keep in touch
#15 Oct 26th, 2013, 14:54
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#15
Slightly OT but, why do Indians try and pick up foreigners. I can't imagine anyone I know trying to pick up a foreigner.

Life is busy enough as it is without picking up foreigners. I know the last sentence seems silly as I am here wasting time on a forum.
Lord, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to hide the bodies of those people I had to kill because they pissed me off.

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