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17 scams to avoid in India

Photo: sandeepachetan.com

1. Taxi driver commissions

When a taxi driver tells you your hotel has moved / burned down / changed names, this most likely isn’t true. The driver is going to take you to his friend’s place in exchange for a commission. On the way, he’ll ask if you’re hungry or need a pashmina. Anywhere he drops you, he’s getting commission. Unfortunately, India isn’t the place to ask your driver to take you to the best local food in town — he’ll just take you to his cousin’s place. If you get to know a driver and use him often, then you can start to build trust.

2. Fake SIM cards

Beware of the SIM card scam. If you buy a legitimate SIM in India, you need to fill out paperwork, give a copy of your passport, and provide a 2×2 photograph. If they don’t ask for all that, they’re either giving you a used SIM — meaning you’ll get calls all day from rando Indians — or they aren’t even planning on filing your paperwork which means the SIM you just put 500 rupees on will shut off before you can even use it. As a tourist, it might be best to go straight to the main office of Vodaphone, Idea, or whatever company you choose. Vodaphone is the worst — they turned off three of my SIMs!

3. Road-fee shakedown

If the police stop your taxi (and no one else’s) and tell you to pay a road fee, they’re lying. The cab driver might tell the cop no or he might tell you he can’t go until you pay. You can either pay the “fine,” “fee,” “tax,” or whatever they want to call it and be on your way, or you can argue it. If the driver won’t go and you’re forced to pay, just know that the “fee” won’t go to maintain the road — it’ll go for the cop’s next beer. On the other hand, tolls are real and the passenger does have to pay.

4. Inflated bar tabs

Unscrupulous bartenders will add extra cocktails to your bill and base the 10-15% service charge on the incorrect bill total. After telling the bartender you didn’t order them, they’ll say “Oops, that was another table!” They’ll subtract the drinks from your bill, but that’s just the first half of the scam. What they won’t do is adjust the service charge to reflect the new, lower bill amount. Have them make you a whole new bill with the correct total and service charge.

5. Swapping rupees

You’ll give a taxi driver or shopowner 1,000 rupees, only to have them say you gave them 100. Expect to have to argue this one. To prevent it, show the bill amount very clearly as you hand it over. Most times, in a scam like this, if you ask for help from people on the street the scammer will turn honest quickly.

6. Milk and pens

It begins innocently enough with you thinking, “I won’t give this beggar money and make the begging situation worse. Instead, I’ll go to the local store and get them milk for their hungry baby or pens for the kids to use in school.” The pens thing is big in Hampi and Kerala. The milk scheme is popular everywhere. The beggars are in cahoots with the stores and will return the product when you leave, and receive their cut — in cash. It’s a sad scam because you’re genuinely trying to help.

7. Fake cashmere

“Pashmina? Cashmere? Only 1,000 rupees!” You’ll never get real cashmere that cheap, so you know right away it’s fake. You can negotiate down to 500 but you’re still overpaying for a silk-blend product. The upside is that even some of these fake cashmere products are beautiful!

8. Costly travel agents

You may buy a one- or two-week “tour” (which is really nothing more than bus tickets and hotel reservations) through an agent. They’ll charge you a higher price for each leg of a driving route, and a higher rate than normal for each hotel, while they take commission on each night’s accommodation. Keep in mind local buses can get you from point A to B overnight for somewhere around 300-700 rupees no matter where you’re going. Don’t give in to the temptation because of stress. I met loads of girls who’d paid for these “tours,” and all paid more for two weeks than I did for three months of travel.

9. Fake train ticket offices

These are tricky and happen all over the world — use your best judgment. This one in Delhi was the worst and made me want to punch a biatch!

10. Bracelet “gifts”

Kids or “holy men” will put flower bracelets or red string on your wrist, saying “It’s a gift!” It’s not a free gift — just say no!

11. Pushkar Lake scam

This one is cute. The holy man will do a ceremony for a previously agreed price, let’s say 100 rupees. He’ll ask how many people are in your family and bless them, each and every one. Afterward he’ll say, “You misunderstood. 100 rupees per person in your family. Pay me 500 or I will curse your whole family!” Like I said, it’s a cute one. Pay Rs 100 and walk away. You can’t let people get away with things like that; you have the right to pay what’s fair and leave.

12. The name game

If there’s a popular hotel or restaurant, you’d better believe there is another one with a similar or even the exact same name nearby. If it’s a popular place, you can bet your driver knows it. If he takes you to the wrong one, he’s done it on purpose. Try to remember what the place looks like from pictures online.

13. Pre-paid taxis

Are pre-paid taxis at the airport always the best deal? No way. Bombay, Delhi, and Bangalore all offer pre-paid taxis at obscene prices. A meter is the best deal, but it’s almost impossible to get a driver near an airport to use one. You’ll want to go to a government-approved pre-paid stand like MERU cabs and pay the Rs. 50 for a ticket. The driver will then meet you outside and will use his meter. Use your GPS to ensure he follows the shortest route.

14. Pre-paid hotels

Get a receipt if you pay upon arrival at a hotel. I’ve had a couple places try to make me pay again at check-out, swearing I never paid. This goes for more than hotels; get a receipt for anything you pre-pay. If you agree on a set price at check-in, get it in writing.

15. ‘Help’ from strangers

Strangers on the street will offer to give you directions, or help you find something, and then demand money. If you’re somewhere touristy like Varanasi and someone starts to tell you about what’s happening around town, they will demand money afterward. As soon as they start talking, tell them you aren’t interested. They’ll say “No, no, I’m just being your friend.” But they aren’t. Sadly.

If you want a guide, go for it, but work out a price ahead of time. Even airport employees will do this. I was yelled at in Bombay by an employee once he pointed out where the ticket printing counter was located. Apparently, he didn’t think that should be a free service. He followed me, yelling for five minutes until I lost my cool and yelled back. Eventually, another employee came over and broke it up.

16. Broken taxi meters

“Meter is broken miss.” It’s not broken. In Bombay, it’s illegal not to use a meter (however, near tourist attractions they will never turn it on). When you say you’ll tell the police, the invisible meter fairy always fixes the meter. For taxis outside Bombay that don’t use a meter, agree on a price beforehand. Show them the map on your phone if they do use a meter (even if it’s a fake map), so they go the shortest route. It will save you money and prevent anger issues.

17. Fast taxi meters

Keep in mind, just because taxis are willing to use a meter doesn’t mean the meter is set appropriately! Just use your best judgement. You’ll get used to how fast the meter should run. If it’s going too quickly, call the guy out on it, threaten to tell the police, and leave.

If you get to your destination and you KNOW the amount you should pay because you take it often, just give that much. The driver won’t argue because they know what they’ve done. I’ve done this often. You can even say, “You must be able to tell that meter is broken, see how fast it went? I know you’re an honest man, so you won’t charge me that price. You’re taking it to get fixed now, yes?” Since the guy knows he’s caught, it’s an out for him to take without being embarrassed and will prevent a fight.

This post originally appeared on HippieInHeels and is republished here with permission.