You are coming to India, great, come for travel, spiritual awakening, curry, whatever the reason you will likely get conned at some point. It happens to everyone here, Indians and foreigners alike. Hopefully I can make you more aware of them so you can keep your sanity and money in your pocket! Here is a Delhi expats list of the top 25 Common Tourist Scams in India, and how to avoid them. Along with the ever so important Emergency Numbers.
This post is a long one with a lot of information so take a seat, grab a
snack meal and start your journey. Men, you may have grown a beard by the end of this post so be forewarned.
Firstly here are some EMERGENCY NUMBERS to note down if you ever need help.
All in one Helpline- 112
Tourist Help line 1800-11-1363 or 1363
Disaster management 108
Air Ambulance +91 9540161344
Women’s Helpline 181
- The most common scams is going to be over charging for your Auto/rickshaw ride. If you are going anywhere, first look up how much it is on Uber or Ola (click here for the most helpful apps to use in India). You need to set a price first before you step into the Auto or ask them charge you by the meter reading generated for your tarvel. You will probably have to bargain for the price but know that Uber and Ola generally have the same prices as an Auto. Tell them the landmark you want to go to (like India Gate or CP in Delhi) then when they get there further direct them to the specific place you want to go. I know for Srinagar in Kashmir Uber and Ola are useless and let me tell you from experience, cabs there are really expensive.
- Taking you to the wrong hotel on purpose. Your Auto driver will do this at some point during your trip. You need to have open the google maps location you are going to and hopefully you have a picture of your hotel. When they take you to the other hotel they will say your hotel is all booked, it wont be, and even if it is how would they know? If you get there and it is all booked, have the hotel tell you another hotel because they (usually) won’t be making a commission off of you by sending you to another hotel like the driver would.
- This goes for every country, but airport taxis overcharge. Trust me take and Uber or Ola instead of a prepaid taxi service. I know in Delhi they also have an airport metro line which will be the cheapest option, but I understand this isn’t always a possible.
- “Luggage Helpers” People helping you with your luggage at the airport. They will expect money if they help you with your luggage so just refuse the service (a no thank you will suffice) and keep walking.
- Road Fees, sometimes if a tourist is traveling a Traffic Cop or Police man may pull over the car. Then demand a road fee in which YOU will be the one paying. Sometimes the driver will say no sometimes not. You will have to say no, then if they don’t let up threaten to file a police report on officer and the driver. With this said usually there are road tolls when you take buses or if you order a taxi online from redbus to further away location. However, on a bus or a ordered taxi you should still not be paying those fee. The fees are already built into the price you payed for the ticket. These tolls tend to be just after or before a city, so it’ll be more country feeling, plus there will be signs saying the fee rates.
- Fake Train Station officials. They will be in a uniform and they will even have ID/Badges from the “train station”, this is usually fake. I was once helping some travelers find their way around Delhi and they were going to the train station to buy their train tickets. We were stopped by a “train station official” and told we were not even allowed in the station, Lie #1 then he said that they could not book a train ticket… at the train station, Lie #2. Then he showed us his ‘official ID’, Lie #3, and directed us to his friends tourist office, which was a scam. This is one of the most common scams.
- You are allowed in the train station.
- You can buy your tickets at the train station however it is best to do it online, trust me. If you can’t book it online, call there office and try to book. If nothing else go back to your hostel or hotel (if they seem trustworthy) and book through them. You will pay a higher price through them but they are more trust worthy than a random man on a street.
- Your Train is cancelled/ closed. Its not. Very very rarely does this happen, and it usually only happens in extreme cases in which it’ll be on the news and there will be hundreds of Indian and foreign travelers who will be stuck with you. The people at the ticketing counter will help you or guards (still be cautious and find other travelers on the same train if it is really delayed so you are not alone). It’s better to spend extra time getting the correct information instead of blindly following what a random person says.
- Fake tourism offices, there are hundreds of thousands of these. Some are real (these ones will have a good reputation online with reviews, and always read the reviews) and some are scams. Look at the place, do they even have a computer to book things on? Do they have a website or any reviews? Always be vigilant and aware of your surroundings because that will tell you a lot about the places legitimacy. You need to very cautious. I knew a poor soul who paid for a average 2 day hike and payed 1000 USD for it. He wasn’t being vigilant nor smart here and got badly conned. For example A 5 day hiking tour through a company can cost 3k-5k rupees a day where as if you meet local people there and they or their friend is a guide you can get it for 500-1000 rupees a day. I am not saying either is better but there is a difference in 1 an Experience and 2 price. You can also go hike on your own for free in most places.
- People being your “friend” by giving you directions then demanding pay. People will randomly come up to you to make sure you are fine and know where you are going, these people will demand a tip or payment for their unwarranted ‘service’. If you don’t know where you are going and you are in the metro for example, ask a fellow passenger, or someone who isn’t looking for money. Many Indians are willing to help you, just ask the right people.
- Hotels making you pay twice. Keep this as a general rule to pay for your hotel (auto/anything) at the end of your stay. Also if you buy food from the hotel you won’t have to pay taxes and a service fee twice. If you pay upfront get the bill for future reference. Also if you pay before sometimes you are given less service as they already have your money.
- Meeting people and they say to come stay at their place for ‘free’. Then they charge you for a blanket, bed, towel, food, etc fee. Preferably only stay at hotels and hostels, especially if you are a woman. I am in a few travel groups, some specifically for India, and this poor girl was too trustworthy of a man who said to come with him and stay at his families house boat. He said it would be for free and they would arrange for hiking for her. She naively went with him, in where he trapped her on his family house boat. She helped the mother with chores, gave her massages, he asked her to do stuff with him (she declined obviously), never set up any hiking trips for her, and wasted 6 days of her time. She called the tourism help line and they urged her to get off the boat. She tried to even ask the neighbors for help but they didn’t want to get involved. She was on a boat she couldn’t get off unless he let her. She begged and begged him to let her go and he finally let her go after 6 days, charging her 30k rupees, for what should’ve been free. He even told her that it didn’t matter if she reported him because he comes from a well known family, meaning nothing would happen to him. It is illegal to stay at locals house boats, and for good reason. Do not be naive like this girl. Their are hotel house boats which will have reviews and sites which you can stay at but DO NOT stay at a locals house boat.
- Tap filled water bottles. Always check your water bottle to make sure it is sealed because some shop keepers will buy bottles, fill them with tap water, and resell them. The water can make you very sick so always check.
- When renting a bike always take pictures of it before you rent it. Especially any damage on the bike so they do not charge you later for damages that existed when you got the bike. This goes for any country with scooters, cars, bikes, shoes, anything.
- If you are going to be blessed by a “holy” man remember God doesn’t pay his bills, you do, so expect to pay for a blessing. If not you may be ‘cursed’. What people and kids also do is they will give you a dot on your forehead and try to bless you, sometimes giving you a “friendship bracelet” expecting you to pay them for the blessing and the bracelet. This mainly happens at tourist destinations however once Ash and I were blessed in the middle of a subway. All the holy men I have encountered were actually very nice, however they expect a tip.
- Taking pictures of animals/ people/ performers will also expect money. If they perform for you, you ride their animal or take a picture of them or the animal they will demand a tip or be prepared to be yelled at.This picture is from Nepal but you get the point!
- Guide Charge Scams, when you go horse/animal riding they will over charge you. In some places they will have signs up of the fees to ride the horse and to what places. You will know how much it will be because of the sign then when you ask for a ride they will say 500 more rupees than what the sign says, telling you it is a guide charge. It’s not, they are trying to squeeze more money out of you. So stick to your guns. The best thing to do is to try to become friends with a local, your driver or a hotel staff person so they can tell you the best prices and possibly bargain it down to a normal price for you!
- Guides outside of tourist places. They will see you are foreign and charge you an exorbitant amount. For the Taj a guide should cost 400-600 rupees but they will charge you 1000+. The best way to beat this is to have around 200 and some small bills in a wallet and say That is too much (click here to learn Hindi), keep bargaining and if you are still not satisfied with the price just show your wallet that only has a few bills. Trust me, you more than likely won’t get it lower than 400 at the Taj (maybe other places). I am not saying to con them because they are still providing a service to you, in which they should be paid, but you shouldn’t be over paying or adding a tip to the amount agreed upon.
- However the best thing to do instead of hiring the guide outside of those places is, if you know you know where you are ahead of time you can post on some of the Facebook groups I have provided below and ask for a local / guide and what their charges are (if they charge you) for what places and how much per place/day.
- Beggars will come up to you all the time, and street children will try to pick your pockets. I had a cute little boy follow me for 10 minutes begging for money, then we stopped (he was still with us) and he tried to get into my purse! Doesn’t matter if it is a child begging with a baby or someone who is disabled do not give them money. It doesn’t help them or this country. If you want to help, donate money to a organization here (carefully look into the organization before you give any money). I worked with Udayan Ghar and they are great. The reason it doesn’t help is because often times these people are being forced to beg by powerful gangs/mafias or abusive family members. Some were taken as children and purposefully disabled so all they could do was beg. Hence give to charities who are more knowledgeable on how to combat these problems.
- The milk, pen, book scam. This is typically in south India (I haven’t ran into the scam in the north but I am sure it still happens). Children/ kids will come up to you begging for you to buy them milk or pens for school. Things children need right? Wrong the children will take what you give them, return it to the seller and take the money. The book scam is a little different because kids or college age students will ask you to buy their books at an over priced shop. Then when you leave they will return the books and take the money.
- Fake henna scam, in any tourist destination you will find someone who will do henna on you, if you so please, however they will charge an exorbitant price. Don’t do henna at these places as it is usually fake henna, it will be over priced, and because it is fake it can cause allergic reactions or skin problems. Fake henna also lasts and annoying amount of time. Real henna will take a long time to dry, about 7 hours long. This henna in the picture below was from a friend of mine who was told for 3 hands it would be 10,000 rupees on the streets of Paharganj (a touristy place). Henna starts at 50 rupees and goes up from there depending if it is in season (Holi/Diwali etc.) and how big/detailed of a design you want. Henna is often offered in Salons. This is a better way to get henna and a more sanitary way. Go to google maps and look up beauty parlors, be sure to read reviews. After call to ask of they offer henna, and get a base price. Better yet ask a local female where she gets hers done and how much!
- An extra drink or food charge on your bill. Check all of your bills before you pay them to ensure they are correct. This is good practice anywhere. Here a couple of drink charges may be put on and normally in the restaurant you just need to say that it was incorrect and to please fix the bill. If you are less trust worthy of say a hotel or tour, write down all your expenses (room service for example), an or the things the tour was to cover, just in case.
- ALWAYS get the bill. Hotel, food, whatever it is get the bill and keep it.
- Fake change. Since the demonetization happened a lot of fake currency has been flushed out of the system but there still is some. Look at your bills and coins to ensure that it is proper.
- Miss counting your money. While paying you show and count all the money to be paid to the shop keeper or who ever, then they count it back and there is 500 missing. MISSING! How could it be missing you counted it in front of the man? That’s because the man slipped it in his lap to make you pay extra. If this scam happens you can say “I know I counted that correctly maybe it accidentally fell in your lap”, or demand to speak to the manager as he is trying to steal from you. I think the first is nicer because it says ‘I caught you red handed but imma let you go but count my money correctly’.
- Another version is paying some a big bill (2000, 500, as of July 2017 there are no 1000 bills) and then the driver/ shop keeper says you only payed 200 or 50. Count what you are paying them and say how much it is out loud.
- Over priced goods. When in a market they will see you are a foreigner and over price things for you. You will need to bargain things down to a quarter of the price that they first quote you. For example the average price of pants on the street, even those hippie pants, are 250, they’re going to tell you 1000. Definitely try to talk to locals for prices or avoid such places and go to shops where the prices are set. The best and most western places for things are malls, Big Bazaar (Walmart of India), and Hyper City (Target of India). Also goods here have MRP (max retail price) printed on them, so check it.
- Kashmir and Pachmimas for 1000 rupees, what a deal! Its not, because it is not real, it’ll more likely be a wool silk blend or some other blend. I mean if it is cute go ahead and buy it. All the ‘pashminas’ here will pass the ring test which is a myth. Not even all pashminas pass that test where it will be pulled smoothly through a ring and won’t get caught. Real pashimans will feel nicer than any scarf you have ever touched and go from 6k rupees to a lot more for embroidered and bigger shawls.. And the way to test a real pachmina is to hold a flame to the scarf, the pachmina will only burn if the flame it touching it. When the flame is pulled away it will stop burning, and it will smell like burning hair.The blue and white were real while the pink was fakeThis is a real Pachmina with all the designs done by hand, this was for 35k rupees.
- Photographers at monuments. They are going to try to get you to pay outrageous amounts for a photo at a monument. The best thing to do is to go to these places as early as possible. Honestly the best time to go is at sunrise. You’ll have no one in your photos in the background. No people and a sunrise photo, and can we say #instagramworthy ? You will have to pay the photographer for taking the photo but here are some rates for copies. How well photographers follow these rules, I have no idea, but hopefully this helps anyways. This is a screen shot of the article. You can find the whole article here written by Rakesh Dubbudu. Isn’t that the best last name ever?
Also join these groups on Facebook to further help you and possibly make some new connections and or traveler friends.
With all this said there are still good people here who will help you. Once I couldn’t find my way to a place and I asked a couple of girls my age where it was and they didn’t know where it was. We weren’t in the safest area and so they said they wanted to stay with me till my friend came. They ended up being 20 minutes late to class just because they wanted me to be safe. There are good people here, there are bad people here, in fact there’s just a lot of people. So be wise on who you trust and eat lots of Shahi paneer.
Still need more help?
Here is my India 101 guide Part 1
Dealing with Delhi Belly and Travelers constipation
There are so many more groups on Facebook these just happen to be some that I am apart of. I encourage you to find the best groups for yourself and your travels to where ever!
This is my FAVORITE group that I am apart of. This is for females only from all across the globe. The community is really helpful and kind. As a group they are all so kind wonderful and inspiring
This is another great group. The original admin (now moderator) Shraven, of this page found me on his general travel group. He wanted a place where women can post online without getting a million friend request and messages from random men. There is now a new Admin named Rashmi as of June 2017.
This is for men and women, who travel the world with little money and impact (living more green, whats that word? Ecosystem e….eeeee… e something).
A nice group for specific areas, on this and all these groups, you can ask questions, offer help, find a travel buddy, or a local who will help you!