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
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 boasting 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, beyond 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, as documented on this website. 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
There is only one real official government India Tourism office which is at 88 Janpath Rd, as shown in the picture below:
If possible, avoid the use of offline tourist agencies as 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 that they would recommend you a different place which could be much further away – they commission from their driver friend who can earn from a longer trip 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 legit 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
There are beggars in India who don’t beg for cash, but for milk and pen! Pitiful looking child beggars in Hampi and Kerala are the ones who usually beg for pens, and what they do is to return the pens given to the them by travellers to the stores for cash. Bombay has also many sightings for these beggars begging for milk
Rule of thumb: ignore them but be wary if we a bunch of them, as they may suddenly rob or pickpocket 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 and you won’t have any time to react.
Rule of thumb: avoid beggars
4. Student providing free tour guide services in exchange for books
This works similar to the begging for milk and pen scam, where after providing tour guide services, the scammer will bring you to an affiliated bookstore and buy ridiculously expensive books, which he will then return back to the store for a cut.
Rule of thumb: ignore
5. Young beggar girl with a baby/child
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: avoid beggars
6. Fake products
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: if something is too good to be true, it is.
7. Flower bracelet/red string/indian flag tokens/free gifts
This is India’s version of the friendship band in France/Europe. Their 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
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, and there are others who ask for donations.
Rule of thumb: avoid or 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”, which is basically places 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 overly helpful/friendly strangers who offer unsolicited help
10. Elephants/camels/”picture worthy” animals or people
When you see such picture worthy animals or dressed up strangers roaming the streets, have second thoughts before taking a picture, as there is likely someone who will pop out to demand payment.
Rule of thumb: be aware of your surroundings
11. “Dynamic” prices
Bargaining is a national pastime in the country, and as such, 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; else 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, where 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: decline if approached for such business deals
1. Taxi driver doesn’t know how to go your hotel/place/information counter or it is no longer there
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 to your hotel or any place of attraction! 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 is 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 and 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 obscene amounts. 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.
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.
Rule of thumb: avoid non meter cabs and watch out for rigged meters
5. Rogue rental/taxi drivers
There have been cases of rental/taxi drivers driving off with tourist belongings, so it is better to be safe than sorry with the following measures.
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. Also take a photo of the car plate and/or driver’s license
6. Rickshaw drivers
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
7. Unofficial road fee asked by police officer
On the road, your vehicle might be pulled over by a police officer asking for a road fee. 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, either refuse to pay or if you have to, to 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: approach only official sources
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’; 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 harsh 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 on and exert pressure on you to buy.
Rule of thumb: just avoid and save yourself the time and trouble
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?
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: 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, insisting that you have not paid initially.
Rule of thumb: to avoid trouble, always try to get a receipt after payment
5. “Damaged” rental equipment
Another very common scam around the world, where the rental company will charge you an obscene amount for damages sustained your time of using the equipment which can be anything from a motorbike to a car.
Rule of thumb: thoroughly inspect your equipment, raise any issues and take photos of it before using
6. Tampered food and drinks
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
I know, getting a SIM card from the official offices can be a huge hassle, but buying them from unofficial sources will most likely get you a defunct or inactive one.
Rule of thumb: buy from official sources not local ones; don’t buy SIM without valid registration or document signature
10. Disappearing money/swapping money (with counterfeit bills)
This happens when large numbers of notes change 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 to top up the shortfall.
Besides having the money disappear, a large note can as easily be swapped with a small note by these skilful manipulators. In the past, before demonetization, a common scam was for the scammer to swap a large note with a counterfeit one, pass it back to you and ask for a new one.
Rule of thumb: do not blink (just kidding – just watch really careful)
11. Donation scam
There are these donation boxes which you see at religious places, and it’s difficult to tell if they are really legit.
Rule of thumb: if you must donate, ask for licenses or read the official rules and regulations
This is less so a scam and more so a crime. Pickpocketing is also common in India, especially in crowded places. Check out this article of the pickpocketing capital of the world to find out the multitude ways creative pickpockets can go to steal 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: keep valuables guarded and in secure areas, especially in crowded places
13. Quack doctors
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 better rule of law, but it pays to do your own research before consulting a doctor/going to the clinic.
Rule of thumb: do your own research first
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, and then suddenly appearing to help you clean up the mess
Rule of thumb: always be aware of your surroundings
15. Luggage helpers at airport
Happens everywhere in the world, watch out for anyone who offers you 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, unless you really need help
D. GETTING HELP
1. Emergency numbers to call
All in one emergency number :112
Disaster management: 108
Women’s helpline: 181
Air ambulance: +91 9540161344
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