Tourist Scams to Avoid while in India

Here are a list of 15 scams to avoid while travelling to India. Most are targeted exclusively at foreigners, though some are perpetrated against locals too.

The Hotel Scam – “Pretending to have never heard of your hotel or that your hotel has moved places/burnt down/changed names etc”

The likelihood that this is true is minimal and the driver is almost certainly going to take you to an alternate place where he gets a commission for bringing in gullible travelers like you. It helps to have the location of the hotel on a map (offline or online if you have access to a data connection), distance & shortest route from the airport or railway station along with the hotel’s local number to call & check for directions if needed. Alternately, just get the hotel to organize a pick for you – more expensive but worth it to avoid the hassle. There will be plenty of time during your stay in India to try local transport once you settle in (relatively speaking!).


The SIM card scam – “You can buy & use SIM without filling any paperwork”

For buying a SIM in India, both locals & foreigners are required to fill out paperwork. For foreigners or tourists, you need to fill out a Consumer Application Form (CAF) and submit below information.

  • 2 color passport photographs
  • A photocopy of the personal details page of your passport. You will also have to produce your passport for verification, after which it will be returned to you.
  • A photocopy of your Indian visa. Once again, you will have to show the original visa for verification.
  • A photocopy of the proof of your home address in your country of residence. This could be your passport, driver’s license or any other Government issued document. Remember to carry the original document along for verification.
  • Residency proof – Proof of where you will be staying in India. Guidelines state foreigners may use the address of a local reference, a tour operator, or a hotel where you are staying – A letter confirming that you are a guest will suffice.

If they don’t ask for all that, they are either giving you a used SIM which means you’ll get calls all day from random Indians, or they aren’t even planning on filing your paperwork which means the SIM will not get activated. As a tourist, its best to go straight to a local cellphone dealer of any of the popular networks in India (Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance, BSNL), fill in the paperwork and get a new SIM card.


The change scam – “Give you the wrong amount or pretend that you have given a Rs 100 note instead of a Rs 500 or Rs 1000 note”

Show and if possible, say aloud the amount you are handing over to the driver or shop keeper or anyone else you are dealing with and always count the change you received right in front of them. It’s also a good idea to have more of 100 rupee notes with you so that these problems are avoided (change at your hotel or when buying something at a ‘respectable’ establishment). Many shops are unable to change or accept 500 and 1000 rupee notes for small transactions.


The photo scam – “Tips for a photo you take”

When taking photos of animals (usually elephants or dressed up cows) & sometimes even local people, someone nearby is expecting a tip. They may ask upwards of INR 100 and will shout or yell if you don’t pay up. If you see the owner around, check if there are any charges and negotiate before clicking a picture.


The beggar scam – “Exchange whatever you buy back for money”

Tourists are usually the first people approached by beggars/ children on the street etc asking for money. If you refuse to give money to support this “business”, they change tack and ask instead for you to buy milk for their hungry child or purchase pens for school. This sounds fine as you are not really giving money but helping them out in a more meaningful way. Unfortunately, this is a scam too as the beggars/ kids have a deal with the store to return the product when you leave in exchange for money.


The bill or invoice scam – “Asking you to pay again for the stay or charging for drinks/ eatables that you didn’t even order”

With anything prepaid, ensure you keep the receipts/ invoices handy to show the hotel if asked to pay again during check in or check out. The other scam to watch out for is being charged for food or drinks you didn’t order. If you catch it, they will claim it was a mix up from a different table and subtract the amount from the bill while leaving the service charge (~15%) and luxury charge (~10%) taken on the original higher amount. If the difference matters to you, get them to make a new bill.


The Commission scam – “Drivers/ guides etc get commissions from most places they recommend at your expense”

On the way, the driver or guide will check if you are hungry or are looking to buy anything. He is being incentivized or given a commission for bringing you there. And that’s why like most tourist places, its best to do your own research instead of asking your driver to take you to the best local food or shopping in town. Ask for a recommendation from your hotel desk or research online – TripAdvisor, Zomato (India’s Yelp) are good sources! If you get to know a driver and use him often or he comes with a recommendation from family/ friends, then you can start to build trust.


The Pashmina/ shopping scam – “Original available at only a 1000 bucks”

It’s a fake! There is no way you can buy original Cashmere or pashmina for Rs 1000. If you still like it and would like to buy, negotiate it down to a rate you are happy paying. Tip: Start at 50% of the original rate! On the other hand, if you are concerned about getting cheated or not one to bargain, shop at the different state emporiums in Delhi where rates are fixed but reasonable & you are assured of the quality. Other options include Delhi Haat (ensure you visit the original, fakes abound!), Tibetan market for cheap clothes & other knick knacks etc.


Bogus train tickets or information offices scam – “Phony offices selling you tickets”

If there are not many computers or proper desks, and the “employees” are telling you that trains or hotels are booked out due to an upcoming event but they can make alternate arrangements – you are at a fake office. Do your research on which trains are suitable for you, timings, costs etc before you go to a ticketing or information office.


The Free bracelet or gift scam – “Gifting you something or putting things in your hand saying they are for free and then asking to be paid”

Very common around temples where kids or “Holy men” put flower bracelets or tie a red string on your wrist saying ‘it’s a gift’ and then ask you for money. If you are not sure, feel free to decline and walk away.


The broken meter scam – “Check for a working meter before you get in a taxi/ auto rickshaw”

Check if the auto/ taxi has a working meter before you get in and if feasible, check at the hotel desk/ trusted local, on how much it will cost. If you are in a hurry, agree on a price ahead of time and show them the destination on a map (phone or otherwise) so they go the shortest route. Also keep in mind, just because they are willing to use a meter, doesn’t mean that the meter is set appropriately! You’ll get used to how fast the meter should run and if it’s going too quickly, call the guy out on it so he is aware that you know.


Leaving luggage in the car – “Only if you have hired the car & driver from a trusted source”

Do not leave any valuables in the car – your wallet, passport, travel insurance and any other important documents you are carrying. If you are leaving your luggage in the car, take a photo of the license plate, driver’s information (like name, phone no, where he is expected to park the vehicle etc) and don’t pay him until the end of the day.


Renting a bike or a car – “Check if it is in working condition (especially tires & brakes) before you rent it”

When you rent a bike or car, inform them and take photos of the damage already there – rent the one with the least damage to avoid hassles later. Check if the tires have sufficient air, brakes are working properly, how long the petrol is expected to last and take it for a short test ride to check if everything is in working condition. Always lock up your bike when parked even if you are running a short errand to avoid it getting stolen.


Food or Drink tampering scam – “Spurious bottled water, spiked food etc”

It’s important to inspect bottled water before purchase to check if the cap has been tampered with as there are cases where the shopkeepers refill with tap water and glue the lid back on – if possible, buy all food & drink at super or hyper markets. Be extra careful and never accept food or drink from strangers especially in trains as there are cases of tourists being drugged and robbed.


The Police scam – “Stop only the cab you are traveling in & ask for a road fee”

While traveling in a cab or taxi, if the police stop your car (and no one else’s) and ask you to pay a road fee/ fine/ tax etc, they are most probably taking you for a ride. The cab driver may be a good guy and tell the cop ‘NO’ or he may not have an option and ask you to pay to avoid getting into trouble with the local police. You can argue (not worth it) and in the end pay up as the driver won’t go otherwise. Road tolls, parking fees at certain places etc are real and you have to pay for them.

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