37 Most Common Tourist Scams in India

New Delhi, Jaipur, Goa, Mumbai, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Bengaluru, Agra, Kochi, Manali, Munnar, Chennai, Hyderabad, Rishikesh, Srinagar, Pune, Gurgaon, Jodhpur, Kolkata, Amritsar, Shimla, Varanasi, Varkala, Leh, Pondicherry, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Coimbatore, Thane

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As the world’s seventh largest country by area and with the world’s second largest population of over a billion people, India can lay claim to being an extremely diverse country. India boasts a plethora of sights and sounds rich with culture and heritage that are an amalgam of the past and present. Incredible! India it is indeed.

However, behind the beauty lies the ugly other side, which is that India is also home to one of the most number of travel targeted scams in the world. It truly pays to do your own research beforehand so as to enjoy and marvel at this unique subcontinent of the world.

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. Fake government approved tourist information centres/overcharging tour agencies

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There is only one real official government India Tourism office which is at 88 Janpath Rd, as shown in the picture below:

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If possible, avoid the use of offline tourist agencies. Many of these agencies charge exorbitant fees for crap service, charge hidden costs and receive kickbacks/commissions from the multiple shops that they bring you to.

Also, be wary when such agencies claim that a certain place is unavailable, and then recommend a different place which that is further away. This is so they can earn a larger cut from their driver friend and also affiliated hotels if it’s accommodation you are looking at.

This is an interesting article on how a fellow traveller got off a scam tour! http://grrrltraveler.com/countries/asia/india-asia/tip-hotels-india/getting-off-of-an-india-tour/

Rule of thumb:

Find legitimate service providers online. When dealing with tourist agencies, do not pay until the service is provided for and stand your ground.

 

2. Begging for milk and pen

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There are beggars in India who don’t beg for cash, but for milk and pen (same in Cambodia)! Pitiful looking child beggars in Hampi and Kerala are the ones who usually beg for pens. What they do upon receiving one is to return them to the stores for cash.

Bombay also has many sightings of these beggars begging for milk.

Rule of thumb:

Ignore them but be wary if going past a bunch of them, as they may suddenly rob/steal your valuables.

 

3. Beggar robbers

Be wary of streets lined with beggars. If you find your path blocked, there have been reports where tourists find themselves “massed” by beggars who dig through your bags and pockets. You won’t have any time to react.

Rule of thumb:

Give the beggars a wide berth.

 

4. Student providing free tour guide services in exchange for books

This works similar to the begging for milk and pen scam. After providing tour guide services, the scammer will bring you to an affiliated bookstore and buy ridiculously expensive books. He will then return these back to the store for a cut.

Rule of thumb:

Do not take up any free tour offers from a stranger on the streets.

 

5. Young beggar girl with a baby/child

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Besides the robber beggars and child beggars, you will see young girls carrying a baby or child begging for food. Don’t fall for it.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject, as donating will only encourage such behaviour.

 

6. Fake products

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This is not such an easy one to spot. Good quality Indian products which are popular with tourists, such as cashmere and pashmina, are usually expensive. A low price is almost a sure fire sign that the product is fake. However, there are many retailers who still peddle fake products at premium prices.

To ensure you buy only the right stuff, make sure to check official sources and get them only from the authentic/authorized online/offline retailers. Some reported fake products: Rajasthali brand in Rajasthan

Rule of thumb:

Buy only from the reputable shops. If something is too good to be true, it is.

 

7. Flower bracelet/red string/indian flag tokens/free gifts

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This is India’s version of the friendship band in France/Europe.

The scammers’ modus operandi is to talk to you to make you comfortable, and once you let your guard down, they tie the bracelet/string on your wrist as a sign of friendship. Once tied, they will demand payment and you will find it impossible to remove. They might also initially claim it is free only to demand payment later.

Like the bracelet/string, you might find Indian ladies pining the Indian flag onto you forcefully at metro stations and bridges, or anywhere where the only path is a narrow one. Besides bracelet/strings, it can be anything which is given “free”, so watch out.

Rule of thumb: Fold your arms and avoid anyone u see holding such bracelets or strings; reject free gifts

 

8. Paid blessing

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At religious places such as by the Pushkar Lake, Varanasi or even the temples of Kanchipuram, you will find “holy men” or Sadhus conducting ceremonies to bless anyone willing to pay a fee. Should you have one or more companion, these holy men will initially agree to a set fee, only to claim that the fee is for each person.

If you do not pay up, he will curse you instead. Just pay what was initially agree upon and leave as these “holy men” are unlikely to bother you further.

Besides blessings, some of these scammers carry out the bracelet/string scam. There are also some who will ask for donations.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid or only pay what was initially agreed upon.

 

9. “Can I help you my friend”

This is a very popular scam in Asia (e.g. Thailand) and Africa (e.g. Morocco), where a stranger will come up to you to offer his help and act all friendly. Rest assured that even if it is for something extremely small, payment will be demanded.

This is not the worst though. More malicious scammers will think of ways to extract information such as your travel plans for the day, shoot it down, and recommend something “better”. Recommended places are basically where he can get a commission.

Or he could simply bring you to the nearest tourist agency (which is fake) and fleece more money out of you.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid engaging overly helpful/friendly strangers who offer unsolicited help.

 

10. Elephants/camels/”picture worthy” animals or people

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When you see such picture worthy animals or dressed up strangers roaming the streets, have second thoughts before taking a picture. There is likely someone who will pop out to demand payment.

Rule of thumb:

Be aware of your surroundings

 

11. “Dynamic” prices

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Bargaining is a national pastime in the country. Prices can change and different prices are given as the shopkeeper sees fit. As a foreigner, expect to face an absurdly high starting offer and bargain from there.

Rule of thumb:

Have a rough idea of the value/how much something really costs in India before purchasing. You could either do some online research, ask your hotel or ask your driver. Bargain hard and start with a ridiculously low offer as well.

 

12. Importing duty free gem stones

This is a commonly perpetrated scam in Jaipur, Agra Goa and Rishikesh.

It is a simple scam. A stranger approaches you and asks if you could help him out by using your duty free allowance to import gemstones for him. He then guarantees that these gemstones will be sold to his customers/partners in India. Obviously, this is all a ruse and what happens at the end is that you will be left with a pile of worthless gemstones.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly dgecline if approached for such business deals

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Taxi driver doesn’t know how to go your hotel/place/information counter or it is no longer there

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This is an easy scam for taxi drivers to execute.

At the start or halfway through your journey, the driver will suddenly say that he just realised that he doesn’t really know the way ! Or it could be that the roads are closed due to protests! What he can do for you, is to offer to bring you to another hotel or a travel agent to set things up if you have not paid for hotel booking.

Logically speaking, you can of course choose to get out of your cab and hail another. Practically however, you might be in the middle of a highway, or simply do not know where you are, and are too tired from your flight/travelling to think straight.

Accept the offer, and you will most likely be set up with overpriced, dodgy accommodation. Like hotels, this can happen to any place that you would like to go. Besides claiming that one doesn’t know the place, the taxi driver can claim that the place is closed, burned down, under renovation, has shifted and what have you.

Either way, he will recommend you another place, where he’s most going to get commission from. Or it could be a place owned by his family or friends. This is actually a very common scam in emerging markets, such as in Thailand.

Rule of thumb:

Do not get recommendations from drivers unless well acquainted. An alternative is to get pick up transport service from the hotel.

 

2. Fake train ticket office/information counters

This is one of the top scams in India! There have been MANY of such reports.

At a fake train ticket office or information counter, many things can happen. You might be charged an obscene amount for a fake train ticket, hounded for a tip, or simply sent somewhere where the perpetrators can get a commission from.

Rule of thumb:

If possible, try to find out roughly how much a trip costs. Also see if there are other people/proper equipment at a train ticket office

 

3. Pre paid taxis at airports

Not technically a scam per se – pre-paid taxis are priced at exorbitant amounts.

Rule of thumb:

One workaround is to go to a government approved pre paid taxi stand (e.g. MERU cabs) which cost Rs 50 only. You can then arrange with the driver to meet outside and use the meter which will cost much less.

 

4. “Meter doesn’t work”

You should know the drill as this happens almost everywhere in the world. In India, it would be the big cities like Mumbai. The cab driver claims that his meter doesn’t work and demands a ludicrous pre agreed price. In cities where this is illegal, simply threaten to report him to the police or just look for another cab.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid non metered taxis. However, even for cabs who turn on their meters, do at least watch how the meter jumps initially so that you know if it is rigged.

Also, if you have the time, before going on a trip, a quick Google search will tell you how much the trip should cost.

 

5. Rogue rental/taxi drivers

There have been cases of rental/taxi drivers driving off with tourist belongings.

There are then some who would like to try their luck and ask for a small sum to cover gasoline on long trips, or any other arbitrary items like the use of the boot for your luggage!

Other tricks include the “disappearing money” sleight of hand trick described later.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid leaving valuables on the vehicle and only pay at the end of the service. For your luggage, try to keep them beside you in the car instead of in the boot. Also take a photo of the car plate and/or driver’s license as a fail-safe.

 

6. Rickshaw drivers

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These drivers are as infamous as the tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok at scamming tourists. The usual tricks would be claiming that a place is closed and bringing you somewhere else.

Or they could simply send you to a fake information tourist counter which provide you recommendations for tours or accommodation at huge marked up prices.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid, even for very short trips. If you were to take, agree on a price first no matter what they say about the trip being free, etc.

 

7. Unofficial road fee asked by police officer

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On the road, your vehicle might be pulled over by a police officer asking for a road fee to be paid on the spot. Note that this is unofficial and does not have to be paid, unlike tolls which are legal.

Rule of thumb:

When confronted with such a situation, refuse to pay. If you have to, ask to pay only at the official station and ask for an official receipt after payment.

 

8. The train has stopped/is cancelled

This is none other than a scam to get you to book a long distance trip by car.

Rule of thumb:

Confirm this with the official authorities.

 

9. Fake train officials

Be wary, as these scammers can sell u fake train tickets at a much higher price.

Rule of thumb:

Watch out if these officials only check tourists’ tickets, or everyone’s.

Also do these officials have their badges with name and number? Finally they should have a seating chart to tell which seats are taken and which are not.

 

10. Taxi fare discount for visiting shops where drivers get a commission

The proposition is simple, a taxi driver can offer you a discount in return for going a few shops where he can get commission. Of course, he will throw in the guarantee that you do not have to buy anything else.

The truth is that a few shops = at least 5-6. And while technically you do not have to buy anything, the shopkeepers have a way to gang up and exert pressure on you to buy.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject such an offer to save yourself the time and trouble.

 

C. MISC

1. Providing wrong bill and not rectifying service charge

This is a simple and lucratively easy scam for service providers (restaurants/hotels, etc) to execute as long as you do not pay attention.

When you ask for your bill, one will be provided with extra items which you did not order. If you did not spot it, you will obviously be paying more.

If you spot it, fine, a new bill will be provided. However, the service charge (15%) and luxury charge (>10%) if applicable may not change! That may or may not be significant depending on the amount spent, but it still pays to scrutinize your bills in India.

Rule of thumb:

Check all line items on your bills and ask if unsure.

 

2. 100 or 1000 rupees?

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Be careful when handing over money, as the product or service vendor can simply claim to have received a lower amount.

Rule of thumb:

When handing over cash, make it clear how much there is (for instance, count the notes out loud).

 

3. Copycat locations

This is a scam that is commonplace in Vietnam as well. If there is a place that has been popular with tourists, be it a place of attraction, shop, service provider or a hotel, there will be copycats with the same name but a much worse product or service.

These copycats work in cahoots with taxi drivers or even unofficial “tour guides” at places of attractions to bring you or to recommend their inferior product or service.

Rule of thumb:

Always do your research and know where you are going/what you are getting before going.

 

4. Paying before and after

There have been reports, especially of hotels, where they collect payment before your stay and demand payment again after your stay/service. They insist that you have not paid initially.

Rule of thumb:

To avoid trouble, always try to get a receipt payment.

 

5. “Damaged” rental equipment

Another very common scam around the world  (e.g. Mexico, Cambodia, etc), the rental company will claim that you have damaged the equipment which you have rented. It could be anything from a motorbike to a car. An exorbitant repair fee will be demanded.

Rule of thumb:

Thoroughly inspect your equipment, raise any issues and take photos of it before using.

 

6. Tampered food and drinks

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There are many ways food and drinks can be tampered with. For instance, food and drinks can be drugged, which have been reported on long haul travel/transport or in bars. Drinks such as bottled water can also be refilled with tap water with the cap taped back on.

Rule of thumb:

Do not accept food from strangers and always inspect your food or drink before consumption.

 

7. Giving the wrong change

An innocent mistake, or is it?

Rule of thumb:

Always count your change no matter who you deal with.

 

8. Fake sunscreen

At the beach, you might have vendors offering sunscreen, either on a bottled basis or on an adhoc basis. These are most likely baby lotion or some other cheap substitutes which are not sunscreen.

Rule of thumb:

Decline or if you would like to take the chance, inspect the product carefully (sight, smell etc) before taking up the offer

 

9. Unofficial SIM card

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I know, getting a SIM card from the official offices can be a huge hassle. However, buying from unofficial sources will most likely get you a defunct or inactive one.

Rule of thumb:

Buy from official sources and not local ones. Don’t buy SIM cards without valid registration or document signature

 

10. Disappearing money/swapping money (with counterfeit bills)

This happens when a large number of notes changes hands, be it while changing money or for a product or service. This sleight of hand trick is expertly carried out by many scammers who while counting your notes in front of you, can slip one or two notes into their lap/drop it onto the floor and then demand you top up the shortfall.

Besides making the money disappear, a large note can also be easily swapped with a small note by these skillful manipulators. In the past, before demonetization, a common scam was for the scammer to swap a large note with a counterfeit one. They then pass it back to you and ask for a new one.

Rule of thumb:

Do not blink (just kidding – just watch really carefully).

 

11. Donation scam

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There are these donation boxes which you see at religious places, and it’s difficult to tell if they are really legitimate.

Rule of thumb:

If you must donate, ask for licenses or read the official rules and regulations.

 

12. Pickpocket

This is less so a scam and more so a crime. Pickpocketing is also common in India, especially in crowded places. Check out Netherlands and Spain as well, to find out the multitude of ways creative pickpockets can go about stealing your valuables.

Note that it is not just your small valuables such as handphones or wallets that can stolen. Even your luggage can be stolen, for instance at luggage inspection points in airports.

Rule of thumb:

Stay alert and keep valuables guarded securely, especially in crowded places. Try to keep some valuables in the hotel safe along with your passport/ID. Use a photocopy of your passport/ID instead.

Also, consider using a spare wallet or money belt.

 

13. Quack doctors

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In India, there is the same number of qualified doctors as unqualified ones, meaning a 50% chance of getting a quack doctor.

Of course chances are lowered around bigger cities with a better rule of law, but it pays to do your own research before consulting a doctor/going to the clinic.

Rule of thumb:

Do some research and seek help only from the reputable places.

 

14. The faeces scam

There have been reports of this in Delhi, where a scammer throws garbage of faeces at your shoes/clothes while you’re unaware. An accomplice suddenly appears to help you clean up the mess.

In the ensuing chaos, the same accomplice or another accomplice then steals your valuables without you realizing.

Rule of thumb:

Always be aware of your surroundings. Stand your ground and reject any help should you find yourself in such a situation.

 

15. Luggage helpers at airport

This happens everywhere in the world. Watch out for anyone who offers a trolley or a helping hand at carrying your luggage, as he will ask for a tip after helping.

That is if you are lucky and he has not already ran off with your bag.

Rule of thumb:

Decline firmly, unless you really need help

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

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  • All in one emergency number :112
  • Police: 100
  • Fire: 101
  • Ambulance: 102
  • Disaster management: 108
  • Women’s helpline: 181
  • Air ambulance: +91 9540161344

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