Avoiding Scams

If there is one journey that free spirit adventurers must experience, it is backpacking through India. It can be life-changing, eye-opening, and a soul-searching experience.

However, it is also a poor country, having gained it’s independence from British colonial rule a mere seventy odd years ago.  You get to see five star modern resorts next to flailing slums. You see people sleeping on the streets in big cities. Even though many initiatives have made cities clean and organized, you will occasionally smell rotting garbage, manure cakes patched to road walls, and children defecating in village streets.

With poverty comes the need for deception. Especially when there is a common perception that all “Westerners” are rich and loaded with money, so scamming them does not seem morally repugnant (the Robinhood syndrome).  Whether you are a college student, or a businessman, its all the same to the locals.

So be prepared for some of the common scams that you might encounter as an unsuspecting tourist. Being prepared will keep you one step ahead, and you will be able to spot the deception before anyone has a chance to scam you.

Here are the 10 Most Common Scams in India

1. The hotel you booked no longer exists

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This is quite easily the most common scam. It unfolds something like this…

You step out of the airport, get a taxi, and ask the cabby to take you to your hotel. Chances are the cabby will try to take you to a burnt down building instead, and make up a story that a fire destroyed the hotel you had booked.  He will then take you to another hotel, where he will no doubt get a commission for taking you there.

You on the other hand, an unsuspecting, jet-lagged weary tourist, might even give him an additional tip for his enormous help in finding you another hotel comparable to the one you had booked.  Of course, in reality, your hotel was never burned down.

  • The best way to counter this is to have a smartphone in your hand with a map and address of the hotel. Even though it is not yet functional with an active data plan or wi-fi, it will act as an effective deterrent.
  • Mention to the driver that you called the manager of the hotel this morning to confirm your booking. Again, you needn’t have done that, but saying so will be an effective deterrent.
  • You should also only get into registered prepaid cabs from the airport. This will deter the cabby to spend extra mileage on detours.
  • Whenever you get into a cab, always take a photo the taxi number and the cab-driver. Additionally, without realizing, you will have just complimented the cabby and have him grinning from ear to ear.

2. Expired Sim Cards

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Buying a sim card in India can be a tedious and painful process, but it does not have to be.

  • Always buy a sim card at the airport, and never from a street vendor.
  • Never buy a sim card that is already active, or registered to someone else.

Read more on this topic here: https://explorer.bookindiaretreats.com/planning/getting-a-local-sim-card/

3. Street beggars

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Begging is big business in India, and you should absolutely not partake in it. Never give money, items, clothes or food to beggars, no matter how desperate and desolate their situation may seem.  Begging is an organized crime, and the more it thrives, the more this social tumor spreads.  Just watch the movie Slumdog Millionaire to know what I mean. Begging is banned in tourist cities like Rishikesh and Haridwar, but you can still find street urchins at traffic lights.

4. Monkeys

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Monkeys are pretty much everywhere in India. Hindu traditions have protected them (though not revered to the scale of cows) and they are commonly found hanging from temple walls and village trees. They are cute and amusing, but also first-class mischief makers. Monkeys regularly steal clothes from washing lines, food from tables and even sunglasses from tops of heads.

While this may not technically be a “scam”, it can get problematic, if you were to lose your smartphone, or fanny-pack containing your passport.

5. Cab Scams!

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While this is rare now, with technology advances and a smartphone in every hand, it is good to take precautions.

Download the Ola Cab, and Uber apps on your phone. Load money on the apps… get the hotel reservation staff to use a local credit card to add money to the app, which they will add to your hotel bill. Once you prepay for the ride, the cab driver has no incentive to take you through long routes to jack up the bill.

6. Train Tickets

shutterstock_1018299256Only buy tickets at the platform of the train station. If anybody approaches you in the station offering to sell you a ticket, (even if they are wearing ID) they will either sell you a fake ticket or a genuine ticket for twice its actual cost.

Alternatively, you can buy tickets from reputable travel agents if you are happy with the amount of commission they will levy.

Read more on this topic here: https://explorer.bookindiaretreats.com/getting-around/getting-around-by-train/

7. Taxi Meters

I think its fair to say that taxi drivers the world over can be pretty unscrupulous. This scam isn’t unique to India but is certainly prominent there. There are two variations on this, they will either say that their meter doesn’t work or alternatively, they will set the meter to a higher starting rate.

Do your research, google up rates on the internet, track mileage on your smartphone. You won’t always be able to get the best rates, but it will be hard for someone to scam you if you keep yourself informed.

8. Unofficial tour guides

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Many people will claim to be tour guides. Some are genuine, while others are not. More often than not, you will find these unofficial tour guides lurking at the historical and religious attractions, and targeting mainly the foreign tourists and then charging exorbitantly.

It is advisable to go for the guide for whom you have to pay at the counter of the attraction. Use your best judgement while hiring a guide. 

9. Pickpockets

Pickpocketing is another common scam in India. Pickpockets work in teams, and use distraction tactics to pick your pocket. One will act to divert your attention, while his accomplice will knick your wallet/purse. The best way to avoid this scam is by keeping your wits about you and being mindful of your belongings. Do not keep all your cash in one place and be attentive when someone bumps into you.

I always keep my valuables in a money belt under my shirt, and use a backpack that has straps at the front as well, so it’s impossible for someone to run into you and grab it from my shoulder.

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10. Con men disguised as policemen

This scam is more common than you think.  I have seen even many locals falling for this trick in the spur of the moment.

Simple but effective scams can include being stopped at a fake police road barricade, where the scammer will ask you to step out of the car or cab, where they search through it.  Never give your passport or other valuables to anyone on the street, how much ever official they look.

It’s best to be safe than sorry…

Please don’t let this cancel your trip.  It is our responsibility to let you know of all possible scams, however unlikely they may be.  India is a truly unique and unforgettable experience and is very much worth the challenges it presents. If you keep any eye and ear, and your wits about you, you shouldn’t get scammed at all…


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