36 Most Common Tourist Scams in India

Safety at 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

Image source: peasinablog.com

 

As the world’s seventh largest country by area and with the world’s second largest population, India can lay claim to being an extremely diverse country.

The country 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 homework beforehand so as to enjoy and marvel at this unique subcontinent (South Asia) of the world.

Read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Fake government approved tourist information centres

Image source: leavemehere.wordpress.com

 

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

Image source: leavemehere.wordpress.com

 

How it works:

If possible, avoid the use of offline tourist agencies.

Many of these agencies charge hidden costs and exorbitant fees for crap service, and receive kickbacks / commissions from the multiple low quality shops that they bring you to.

Also, be wary when such agencies claim that a certain attraction / shop / restaurant / accommodation / transport is unavailable, and then recommend an alternative where they can get a commission.

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

 

What to do:

Find legitimate service providers online, or check with your hotel.

When dealing with tourist agencies, do not pay in full upfront.

 

2. Flower bracelet / red string / Indian flag tokens / free gifts

Image source: holidify.com

 

How it works:

This is India’s version of the friendship band in Europe (e.g. France / Italy).

A scammer will first talk to you to make you feel comfortable. Once you let your guard down, they tie a flower 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 claim it is free initially 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.

 

What to do:

Fold your arms and avoid anyone u see holding such bracelets or strings; decline anything “free”.

 

3. Paid blessing scam

Image source: hobohop.com

 

How it works:

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 be in a group, these holy men will agree on a set fee initially, only to claim later 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.

 

What to do:

Avoid or only pay what was initially agreed upon.

 

4. Pickpocket

 

How it works:

Crowded streets, train stations, public transportation, markets, shopping malls, tourist attractions, hotels, nightspots or anywhere tourists hang out at are pickpockets’ favourite spots.

An interesting statistic is that over 90% of pickpockets caught on the Indian metro are females, and some of them are accompanied with children to make them look less suspicious.

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelery / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround him or her and then work like this:

  • One will keep a lookout and block passer-bys from seeing the scene
  • Another will push or distract the target (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it)
  • A third will steal your valuable / slash your bag and then passes it on
  • The last will hide the loot under a jacket / items and then escapes with it

Do watch out for child pickpockets as well.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done in a crowded environment.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

This is because once you are targeted, you will almost definitely lose your valuables in a split second.

To make it impossible for thieves to steal from you, we recommend:

  • Carry small amounts of cash in a cheap, spare wallet that you wouldn’t mind losing. Do not leave it in your back pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables securely in a slim fitting money belt or hidden pouch.
  • Store larger valuables in an anti-theft bag that is slash resistant and lockable. Keep it in front of you.
  • Keep most of your valuables in your hotel / hostel safe, which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.

 

 

5. Can I help you my friend scam

 

How it works:

This is a very popular scam in Asia (e.g. Thailand) and Africa (e.g. Morocco), where a friendly stranger will come up to you to offer his help.

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.

 

What to do:

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

 

6. Elephants / camels / picture worthy animals or people

Image source: traveltalesfromindia.in

 

How it works:

When you see such picture worthy animals or dressed up strangers roaming the streets, have second thoughts before taking a picture.

If you take a picture, someone will spring out from the shadows to demand payment.

 

What to do:

Be aware of your surroundings.

 

7. Fake products

Image source: mapsofindia.com

 

How it works:

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, etc

 

What to do:

Buy only from the reputable shops. Do some online research or check with your hotel staff.

 

8. Fake sunscreen

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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

 

9. Dynamic prices

Image source: festiviya.com

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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 driver, or check out a fixed price shop for a ballpark figure.

Then bargain hard and start with a ridiculously low offer as well.

If you are tired of haggling and wouldn’t mind paying a slightly higher but fair price at souvenir shops with fixed prices, you can check these out (by no means exhaustive):

  • In general: shopping malls, state government emporiums (e.g. Central Cottage Industries Emporium), there are fixed priced shops in markets / bazaars as well but you stil have to be careful with those
  • New Delhi: Khan Market, People Tree, Fabindia, etc
  • Mumbai: Central Cottage Industries Emporium, Avante Cottage Crafts, The Bombay Store, etc
  • Chennai: Victoria Technical Institute, Saravana Stores at Pondy Bazaar, etc
  • Agra: The Warehouse of Gifts & Souvenirs
  • Kolkata: Dakshinapan Shopping Center, etc
  • Rajasthan: Rajasthali, Jeypore Souvenirs, etc
  • Goa: streets of Calangute and Candolim,

Also, just because a shop has the word “emporium” in its name does not make it a government owned enterprise. Some are private but may claim to be a government shop / government backed.

 

10. Importing duty free gem stones

 

How it works:

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

A stranger approaches and asks if you can 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.

 

What to do:

Firmly decline when approached by a random stranger for business deals.

 

11. Chilika Lake gem stone scam

 

How it works:

During a boat tour along Chilika Lake in Odisha, you will be brought to an island, and shown a live demonstration of how gemstones such as black pearls are extracted from shells, which are then sold for a bomb.

This is of course, all a ruse. The “gemstones” are worthless fake. They are simply inserted into the shells prior to your arrival.

 

What to do:

Avoid buying.

 

12. Begging for milk and pen

Image source: Flickr – Greg Younger

 

How it works:

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.

There are also sightings of these beggars begging for milk in Bombay.

 

What to do:

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

 

13. Beggar robbers

 

How it works:

Be wary of streets lined with beggars.

If you find your path blocked, there have been reports where tourists find themselves “thronged” by beggars who dig through your bags and pockets.

You won’t have any time to react and your valuables will be stolen in a split second.

 

What to do:

Give the beggars a wide berth.

Also, to protect yourself from such a scenario, store your valuables in a sturdy anti-theft bag that is slash resistant and comes with a locking system and in a money belt or hidden pouch

You can also use a cheap spare wallet to contain small notes for your daily transactions to minimize any losses if targeted.

 

14. Student providing free tour services for books

 

How it works:

This works similar to the begging for milk and pen scam.

After providing tour guide services, the scammer will ask that you buy some ridiculously expensive books for him from an affiliated bookstore instead of paying a tip.

He will then return these back to the store for a cut.

 

What to do:

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

 

15. Young beggar girl with a baby / child

Image source: haikudeck.com

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

Firmly reject, as donating will only encourage such behaviour.

 

16. The garbage / faeces scam

 

How it works:

This is India’s version of the globally infamous spilled liquid scam, where in Delhi, a scammer throws garbage or faeces at your shoes or clothes.

Next, 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.

 

What to do:

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

Again, it will help if you have stored your valuables in a sturdy anti-theft bag that is slash resistant and comes with a locking system, and in a money belt or hidden pouch.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Taxi driver doesn’t know how to go / place closed

Image source: seattleglobalist.com

 

How it works:

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 bring you to another hotel or a travel agent to set things up if you have not paid for your 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 to think straight.

Accept the offer, and you will most likely end up at an overpriced, dodgy accommodation.

Besides hotels, this can apply to tourist destinations as well.

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 or what have you.

Anyhow, he will most likely recommend going to a shop where he’s going to get commission from.

 

What to do:

Stick to your plan. Do not get thrown off by such claims.

Do also check out the opening hours of any place you are planning to head to.

 

2. Pre paid taxis at airports

Image source: hindustantimes.com

 

How it works:

Not technically a scam per se, more a tourist trap, as pre-paid taxis at airports are priced exorbitantly.

 

What to do:

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.

 

3. Meter doesn’t work

 

How it works:

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 an inflated flat fee.

In cities where this is illegal, simply threaten to report him to the police or just look for another cab.

 

What to do:

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.

Do some research online to find out the rough price of a route. You could check online taxi fare estimators, check with your hotel staff or simply use a taxi booking app like Ola Cabs.

 

4. Rogue rental / taxi drivers

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

Avoid leaving valuables in the boot, try to keep them beside you in the car instead.

Also, do not pay upfront and take a photo of the car plate and / or driver’s license as a fail-safe.

 

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

 

How it works:

The proposition is simple, a taxi driver can offer you a discount in return for going a few shops where he can get commission.

He will also claim that you do not have to buy anything.

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.

 

What to do:

Don’t waste your precious holiday time.

 

6. Rickshaw drivers

Image source: aroundtheworldl.com

 

How it works:

These drivers are as infamous as the tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok or cyclos in Vietnam 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 inflated prices.

The more ruthless ones will simply drive you somewhere secluded, and then demand for a higher payment.

 

What to do:

Avoid, even for very short trips.

If you were to take one, agree on a price first no matter what they say about the trip being free, etc.

We also recommend concealing your valuables with a money belt / hidden pouch, and to use a cheap, spare wallet with little cash inside to act as a decoy.

This is to show the scammer that there is little point in exploiting you when caught in such a situation.

 

7. Corrupt traffic police

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

When confronted with such a situation, refuse to pay. Threaten to call the police hotline (at the end of this article).

If you have to, ask to pay only at the official station and ask for an official receipt after payment.

Again, we recommend concealing your valuables with a money belt / hidden pouch, and to use a cheap, spare wallet with little cash inside to act as a decoy.

This is to show the scammers that there is little point in exploiting you when caught in such a situation

 

8. Fake train ticket office / counter / officials

Image source: http://withoutbaggage.com

 

How it works:

This is one of the most common scams in India! There have been MANY 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 for the simple advice they provide
  • Sent somewhere where the perpetrators can get a commission from
  • You are told that the train is stopped / cancelled and to take a long distance rental car instead where they can charge you more

There are fake train officials who go around targeting tourists as well, claiming that you have bought a wrong ticket / are on the wrong train / at the wrong seat and have to pay a fine.

 

What to do:

If possible, try to find out roughly how much a trip costs.

Also try to identify if there are other people / proper equipment at a train ticket office, and watch out if any train officials only check tourists’ tickets, or everyone else’s.

Furher, 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.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we again recommend concealing your valuables with a money belt / hidden pouch, and to use a cheap, spare wallet with little cash inside to act as a decoy.

This is to show the scammer that there is little point in exploiting you when caught in such a situation.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Snatch theft

 

How it works:

If you do not know, the country adores gold, and many adorn gold chains or jewelry, which are hot targets of snatch thefts. There are endless variations:

One such is thieves on motorbikes driving up to you and snatching your valuables from you. This can be dangerous as you can also get dragged along the road at the same time.

Another variation is that of a simple snatch of your phone / jewelry from behind you, and then running into a getaway car to escape.

  • Restaurants seem to be a favourite place for these thieves, as victims are usually in a relaxed state.
  • A bag, wallet / purse or camera slung around the chair, or left on an adjacent seat are super easy pickings for thieves. The either steal it stealthily, or do a distract and grab.
  • Hotels are another as you will be carrying all your valuables out and are usually distracted while handling the registration process.
  • The seats beside a train’s doors are a great spot as well as the thief can time his escape perfectly just before the doors close.

A third variation could be a thief snatching your valuables through a car / bus window. It will be difficult to catch him, as your car / bus would not be able to reverse into oncoming traffic.

 

What to do:

Stay alert at crowded places, and even at seemingly safe places like at a restaurant or hotel:

  • Do not lay your valuables out on the table or expose them unnecessarily in public.
  • Keep your bags in your line of sight and as close as possible (e.g. on your lap when at a restaurant).
  • Ideally, use a money belt or hidden pouch to conceal your valuables securely.

 

While out walking / on a vehicle on the road or streets:

  • Watch out for motorcyclists who seem to tail you, especially if they have a pillion rider (accomplice).
  • Carry your valuables in a bag across your body with a cross body anti-theft bag, away from the road / windows of your car / bus.
  • Do not carry items in your hands such as a mobile phone when walking by the road or when beside the window in a car / bus.
  • Avoid wearing obvious jewelry which can be easily ripped off your body.

 

 

2. Quack doctors

Image source: YouTube – News7 Tamil

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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

 

3. Unofficial SIM card sellers

Image source: scamdesk.com

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

Buy only from official sources. Don’t buy SIM cards without valid registration or document signature.

 

4. Paying before and after

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

To avoid potential trouble, insist on getting a receipt payment.

 

5. Tampered food and drinks

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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

 

6. Providing wrong bill and not rectifying service charge

 

How it works:

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 end up paying more.

If you spot it, 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.

 

What to do:

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

 

7. Currency switcheroo / counterfeit bills

Image source: indiascup.com

 

How it works:

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.

He or an accomplice may cause a distraction and he then slips a few notes into his laps / drop it onto the floor and then demand you top up the shortfall.

Besides making the money “disappear”, a large note (e.g. 1000 Rupees) can also be easily swapped with a small note (e.g. 100 Rupees).

In the past, before demonetization, a common scam was for scammers to swap a large note with a counterfeit one. They then pass it back to you and ask for a new one.

 

What to do:

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

Watch the shopkeeper carefully.

 

8. Giving the wrong change

 

How it works:

An innocent mistake, or is it?

 

What to do:

Always count your change.

 

9. Copycat locations

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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

 

10. “Damaged” rental equipment

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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

 

11. Donation scam

Image source: hat.net

 

How it works:

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

 

What to do:

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

 

12. Luggage helpers at airport

 

How it works:

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 run off with your bag.

 

What to do:

Decline firmly, unless you really need help.

We recommend concealing your valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and in an anti-theft bag that you can keep close to you, rather than in a large luggage.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Image source: .thefrustratedindian.com

 

  • 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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2 Comments

  1. Avinash

    To avoid all the taxi / transportation scams, use Uber or Ola app based taxi services. These cabs area available in all major cities. For other towns, check distance using Google maps and agree to a fixed fare before boarding.

    Reply
  2. joe

    These scammers are bring to the western world as they flood in. I’ve confronted them (mainly indians so far) about tiny prices increases at petrol stations. Hardly noticed they go unchecked but when they do it to 100 people its a small profit that goes in their pocket.

    Reply

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