The 4 most common tourist scams in India
India has been drawing in travellers from around the world for many years, and while I love to travel here, I won’t lie to you. You need to be aware that you are very likely to be the victim of one scam or another at some point. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you are on a long trip and not a victim of at least one of the many tourist scams in India, I will happily change my name to Susan. There are that many!
You don’t need to take my word for it as India already has the ominous yet unfortunately well-deserved reputation for being one of the countries you are most likely to get hustled in. While the threat of physical violence is remarkably low across the subcontinent, even in Kashmir and Manipur (the parts where the UK government advises all but essential travel to.) On the other hand, the chances of you becoming a victim of some kind of scam are incredibly high.
I know I have been a victim of countless scams throughout the years, so I would like to share with my readers what to look out for to avoid falling into the same pitfalls I have. After all, it is always best to learn from some else’s mistakes, right?
Some scams are surely not news to anyone. If some random stranger stops in the street and wants to talk about something as arbitrary and blindingly obvious as the weather, it is a safe bet they may not have the purest of intentions.
Often people often come up to me casually, exclaiming its a hot day when I am in New Delhi, and where am I going? However, I know It is best to stop that conversation right there and save either of you wasting more of your time. Of cause it bloody hot it’s New Dehli! That is a scam that is just not thought out very well, but let me tell you about one that is to put things in perspective.
Time for a quick story.
Some scams you may encounter are so elaborate and well thought out it has been hard not to commend the person trying to get money out of me. There are four main areas of your travel where the risk of being scammed is likely to occur, and I will go over each one in detail, but before I do, I want to talk about what I think is the best scam of all time despite the fact it didn’t work.
One day in Dehli, I wanted to get a rickshaw from Parhagange to Connaught Place in search of a book shop called Jain bookstore. Sounds simple enough, right? What could go wrong? Well, for a start, My driver had driven me to altogether the wrong place. Upon arrival, I told the driver I would not pay until I reach my destination. The driver seemed to bate me and cause me to become annoyed deliberately. I have to say it was working. He was really getting on my nerves.
As the conversation began to heat up, a man came out of his shop and wanted to defuse the situation. He exclaimed he is just a poor man trying to make a living, and I began to feel bad about my actions. He said he would walk me to the bookshop himself, and it is not far. I still paid the driver a little less than the agreed price out of protest, and he was surprisingly ok with that.
It was a hot day, and the friendly man said to come to his shop and have some water first. He gave me a map and showed me where the shop was for future reference and asked me where I was going next. I thought, what a lovely guy!
I told him I was going to Jodhpur, and he was happy to help me with my tickets, and before I knew it, he was selling me all kinds of tours, packages and tickets. He was so good at talking I almost paid, but then it dawned on me that the driver had deliberately driven me outside this mans office. He had wound me up so that this gentleman could get me into his shop by playing the humble peacekeeper. When I called him on my theory, I could see in his face that this was indeed the case. This scam was so elaborate and well thought out I was too impressed to be upset.
I nearly spend thousands of rupees on stuff I didn’t even want or need! I told this story to highlight just how good some scams are here and how they are quite unlike anything we would experience in our own culture. We will now look at some of the most common things that you should watch out for and the scams you are likely to encounter, but before I do, let us look at withdrawing money and carrying money.
Withdrawing and carrying money.
India is certainly blessed with a variety of landscapes, cultures and wildlife. Sometimes it can feel like India is many countries all wrapped up into one. However, something everywhere has in common is that everyone uses the rupee. The notes come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 2000 flavors. The rupee is then divided into paise. They are divided into coins that come in 1,2,5, and 10s.
ATMs are almost everywhere, and cards are becoming increasingly more excepted in many shops. However, I still carry a lot more cash than most people would be comfortable with, but you get a much better rate if you change hard cash as you often pay no fees.
The banks give you the best exchange rates for cash. It would be best if you were very suspicious of anyone offering something better. As it is often in life, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. I check the notes before I leave to make sure as one mistake on a 2000 rupee note is a fair bit of money when you are on the road for months at a time.
If this is not for you and its not for most people, withdraw as much as possible from any ATM in one hit. You will be charged every time you make a transaction, which adds up fast. Most ATMs let you withdraw 2000 to 10000 rupees at a time, and that is not much if you are there for months on end. In some parts of the country, ATMs are not available at all. Given these two factors alone, I think it is a good idea to carry some cash on you.
Store it in a money belt like the one shown above. I trust the brand Eagle Creek, and it only costs a few pounds from Amazon and very durable. I have used them continually for a year on the road with no problem.
You can put this belt inside your trousers when you move around and put it under your pillow or mattress when you sleep. Do not store your passport inside it as it will get damaged in no time. Wrap the money up in plastic ziplock bags as the heat from your body will turn your funds mouldy, and wash it regularly. I have found this to be the safest way to store your cash over and over again.
I wrap the notes up into bundles of 100, so it is easy to count when doing your accounts. For the British, that’s four twenty pound notes with one folded over the top to separate them from the rest. Take smaller denominations as they are easier to change. I am sure everyone else gets the picture, right?
If you do not do this, you will have to count your money every time you change anything, and it works out to be very inconvenient. Avoid using your card for everything you buy as many places do not accept them, particularly in rural areas, and you will get charged every time you do, so that makes no sense for your budget.
Number 1 – Fake notes.
On 9 November 2016, prime minister Narendra Modi announced that all 500 and 1000 rupees notes would be replaced by new 500, 200 and 2000 rupee notes. He then proceeded to say that all old tender had to be exchanged by 30 December. It was giving the Indian people a Balmy 50 days to get rid of it all. The idea was to clamp down on black money initially, but it also forced the funds stored in shoeboxes under peoples beds to be sent back into the economy.
I heard of many couples discovering there loved ones had massive secret stashes of loot they had no idea was even there. Queues ran down the streets as people scrambled to change all of their old money before it became obsolete.
So how can this affect you? If you have just arrived, you won’t know what the new notes look like, and there are plenty of worthless ones to give to unsuspecting tourists. I would advise changing or withdrawing a little money at the airport or bank to get a feel of what they should be. It is not a massively common scam in 2021, but it still happens from time to time.
The new notes are harder to counterfeit. But there are still many in circulation. Here are a few ways to see if your banknotes are real or not. Check the micro lettering on the vertical strip. It should say RBI all along its length. Check the watermark is visible and not so bold it looks fake. The serial numbers should match, and the figures in the notes align. If you are still not comfortable, the Times Of India did an in-depth article on all you need to know.
If you get a note of a larger denomination that has been written on in pen, it is seen as invalid and will not be excepted. If you find this has happened to you, change it at the bank. Interestingly, writing in pencil seems to be just fine.
Number 2 – Overpricing on just about everything.
From the moment you arrive in the country, the risk of being overcharged is very high. It is hard for a traveller to understand how much things actually cost without any experience. Always negotiate a price before taking any service and make sure that the price is in rupees. Yes, that does happen from time to time so stay sharp! While this can become tiresome, it is necessary so as not to be continuously fleeced.
When you ask how much something is, you will invariably get a much higher price than it actually is. Something I have found that works for me, whatever price you get, offer half. While that is probably too low, eventually, you will meet in the middle somewhere. It can be awkward for some of us, to begin with, as bartering is not in our culture but, remember no vendor will sell their products at a loss.
Many products you get from shops have a recommended retail price on the side. Please look at it and don’t spend more than it states as this is the government’s recommended price.
Number 3 – Petty theft.
Like anywhere else in the world, petty theft is a real problem, but these risks can easily be minimalised using good judgement and common sense. Now I will share some useful tips to help you avoid problems.
You will be given a padlock for your door in many hotels, so I would advise purchasing your own lock. Some hotels are not happy with this plan. But in my opinion, if they had nothing to hide, this would not be an issue as if you lose the key you will have to have to pay for any repairs automatically. Don’t keep valuables inside the room and on display through a window to avoid any temptation to break in.
I always keep my money in a money belt. I tuck that into my trousers and maintain a minimum amount in my wallet. So if I do lose it, the damage is not massive. Wrap the money in plastic airtight, Sealy bags on long trips as the sweat from your body will turn your funds mouldy.
I put the luggage under the seats on long haul trains and wrap the waist straps around the metal clips attached. When I sleep at night on the train, I keep my money belt on and take my small daypack on the bed with me, hopefully on the top bunk to make it harder for people to wander off with my possessions. There have been numerous cases of solo tourists being drugged and robbed in the night. The obvious answer to that does not except anything from a friendly stranger. Its a shame this is the case, but stay safe and don’t take the risk!
When travelling on busses, try and bring the bags on the bus with you and not on the luggage rack or boot as its hard to monitor what is going on when it is in motion. On overnight public busses, I tend to sit near the driver if I can as it is an extra set of eyes while I try and sleep. Since most Indian people are very kind anyway, locals tend to watch out for foreign tourists and just want to keep you safe.
I have often experienced help from local people even when I didn’t ask for it. I make a point of helping Indian tourists who ask for help while visiting London as I have been grateful for the guidance so often. There is, of cause always a small minority of people who are not so lovely but, don’t let it spoil your experience.
Number 4 – Transport scams.
When getting from a bus or railway station to your chosen destination, you will probably need some form of transport. Unfortunately, many drivers work with other hotels so they will want you to see the accommodation of their choice. They will of cause tell you it is much better and highlight any problems with your original choice, made up or not. The drivers get a good commission from these businesses, and if you chose to stay in one of these places, there is a good chance the cost of your room will increase to accommodate the commission needed to pay the driver.
It can all feel like a very high pressured sales pitch and becomes annoying quickly. To avoid this, either say you have a booking or ask to get out at a landmark close to where you want to be. It will probably push the initial price up of the journey, so negotiate the cost before you start and make it clear you are not interested.
Many hotels offer a free pickup so double-check with any place you book with to see if this is a service they will provide. If they have one, this will often state this on their website, and you will just have to inform them when you want to be collected. It is a good way of saving yourself the pain of negotiating the cost of transport from wherever you arrive too your hotel and saving your self money into the bargain.
When trying to work out a reasonable price for a journey, look at the map and see how far it is to your destination. It should never be more than 20 rupees a kilometre. If possible, use the uber or ola apps as this is a consistent and cost-effective price. But these services rarely work outside of the big cities.
When booking train tickets in India, try and use the government offices if possible as they have access to the tourist quota and won’t charge a commission for booking it for you. They will also help you plan your route. Booking trains and using the Indian railways is a big subject so check out my in-depth post
When you get the busses and if it is possible to make sure you get a printed ticket to make sure you have paid the correct cost. If it is not, I tend to ask local people if that sounds correct. Also if you are a lady in Rajasthan you will get a discount on the government busses. Dont ask me why but you do. Just double-check to make sure you are being charged correctly as sometimes conductors forget to give it to you. Forgetful conductors hey.
Not all risk factors are within your control.
I know it is not a scam and it is slightly off-topic but while we are talking about staying safe I thought I would add a couple of extra tips. You can protect yourself all you want but some things are out of your control.
You can fend off a con merchant, but it is complicated to protect yourself against the tectonic movement of India. Geographical statistics show that almost 54% of the land is vulnerable to earthquakes. But then that is an improbable outcome that you would be involved in one, given the timescale, they happen on. There is little point in worrying too much about issues like that. A much more likely outcome would be you eat a lousy curry and get an upset stomach. For information on measures, you can take to stay healthy, check out my post.
Summary of my post on tourist scams in India.
There are certainly many chances for tourist scams in India to consider. However, Once you can appreciate what they are and how to protect yourself from the many scams, these risks become infinitely smaller. The aim of this post is not to scare you. It is to arm you with the knowledge to prepare for the many schemes of money-hungry con merchants that come with backpacking across this beautiful country. I hope you enjoyed that and found it a good read. There was a lot of tips in a short amount of time. I hope you find at least some to be of value to your dream trip.
The fact of the matter is the upside of travel here far outweighs the bad If you need inspiration on why to visit India, just read my post. Why go to India?
Make sure to check out what your government website is saying so you can see if your insurance covers you for your desired plan. It is also a good source of information regarding the current events in the country, albeit often a little exaggerated. As always, if you have any more questions or concerns on the subjects covered here or anything else, just leave them in the comments box, and I will get back to you. That is all for now folks so until the next time my fellow intrepid travellers, stay safe.
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