India is an exciting place to travel but before visiting here, you need to be aware that, like most countries, there are opportunistic people looking to earn an extra Rupee by exploiting unsuspecting tourists. There are so many different tourist scams in India, I want to write about some of the one’s I have experienced.
Most of the scams in India that I experienced were somehow linked with catching a taxi/rickshaw. I want to share my tips on how to avoid these most common tourist scams.
Agree your terms
Sometime getting a rickshaw is like signing a contract. Ensure that your agreed price is for the complete journey and not per person. Every day, I experienced an attempt to try to charge me double if I was two persons. And ensure that this is also included in the price, if you are taking a two leg journey. Drivers will sometime try to charge you for their return journey if they take you somewhere far. Agree how long you will be at an attraction so that he doesn’t try to charge you more if you spend a long time there.
Never pay up-front
Don’t pay your driver upfront, as you lose all your bargaining power. I have made the mistake of doing this after becoming a little complacent. When you come to a disagreement about the journey, they will be less willing to listen to you if you have already paid them something. Especially if this is a 2 leg journey where you need them to take you back after visiting an attraction.
Negotiate your fare
This isn’t really the worst of the scams in India, but i still think you should always negotiate the price with your driver. They will normally quote you many times higher than a sensible price, that even if you cut it by half, it’s still more than you should be paying. Remember, if you don’t go with that driver, there are several others you can go with. Don’t be bullied by them. Do bear in mind though, that many of the rickshaw driver’s do have loyalty with each other and will collude to help their buddy, get your custom.
Have some small change ready
Have small bills ready. Try not to hand over large bills to the driver. After having a disagreement with your driver, its best to give them the correct change and be on your way. The last thing you want is to have to wait for your change from a disgruntled driver. Some drivers will take any chance they can get to pull a tourist scam on you. Whether it be short changing or just saying they don’t have any change at all.
My Cousin’s Shop
Don’t go with them to their cousin’s shop. Drivers get commission for bringing tourists to certain shops. They will tell you that it’s their Cousin or Uncle’s shop and that he will take you there and you can just have a quick whizz around and leave. He will inform you that this will make him some money and that is how he can give you a cheaper fare. Don’t believe him, you will get there and be harassed and pressurised to purchase things and many people end up being stuck in the shop for quite a while. Be persistent and tell your driver politely that you have no interest in this.
“It’s closed today” tourist scam
The “it’s closed today” tourist scam. Not only is this one of the top scams in India but also around the developing world. After asking your driver to take you to your chosen destination, he will reply saying that that hostel/restaurant/attraction is no longer there or closed that day. Consequently, he will take you to another one. This is simply another tourist scam to earn him some commission. Don’t believe or give these drivers the time of day. Simply ignore them and look for another driver.
You never get free stuff…
Several people tried to befriend me in the streets randomly. I often humor the situation to see what their agenda is and whether it will lead to a genuine interaction. I was travelling after all and wanted to keep an open mind, giving most people the benefit of the doubt. On this particular occasion, the man wanted to give me a puppet. He was a friendly young man and insisted he wanted no money for it. He stated that it was a gift for visiting his country.
I knew his agenda and had no use for this puppet. I reluctantly decided to accept it to see where this interaction would lead us. He even wanted to give me two. On accepting this, he then wanted to go drinking together and for me to buy him a drink. On my rejection of his proposal, he subsequently asked for the money for the drink. I rejected his logic again and on this note, he grabbed his puppet back from me and changed his tone entirely. You simply have to laugh at these interactions and sometimes I quite enjoy the sheer audacity of the people here.
Short change tourist scam
Be careful of the change that you are returned when you pay for attractions. This tourist scam is very common and happened to me many times. They will try to short change you and as soon as you go to count your change the cashier will simply hand over the correct change. They basically try their luck with people who have paid with a large bill and every twentieth person will probably not realise. I remember them trying this on me at the Qutub Minar in Delhi
Money for Wood
I guarantee someone will try a tourist scam on you, whilst you visit the burning ghats of Varanasi. It’s almost a right of passage as a tourist. This is one of those cheeky scams in India where Indian men will offer to show you around the ghat and on doing so they will subsequently attempt to emotionally blackmail you into ‘donating’ money. They will tell you it is for the wood required for burning the bodies and that many poor people come here to be cremated. The money you donate will help these poor people buy the wood. This is actually a total lie though, so my advice is to not go with these men, simply explore the area yourself. Please remember that this is a place where people send there loved one’s into the afterlife, so be reserved and respectful.
As I stood to witness the burning ceremonies take place, a local man initiated conversation with me. He tried to tell me about the ritual. I couldn’t really avoid his talk, as I was simply standing and watching. After a few minutes he demanded I pay him for his guidance. I refused and he instantly became hostile, swearing at me, and telling me to go away.
Don’t let all these freak you out though. Embrace the madness! It can be draining to go through this each day, but if you think about it, the audacity of these people to try these tourist scams is humorous in a twisted way. I still smile when I think back to them. By the time you’ve finished your travels you will know all the scams in India like the back of your hand.