It’s impossible to come to India and not encounter at least one scam or someone trying to rip you off. You shouldn’t be paranoid, but it’s wise to be very aware and cautious. Here are the details of the most common scams that you’re likely to find in India.
Pretending not to Know the Way to Your Hotel
This scam is most often tried on visitors arriving at Delhi airport who attempt to take a pre-paid taxi their hotel. During the journey, the driver will say that he doesn’t know where your hotel is (or that it’s full, or doesn’t exist) and offer to take you to another hotel, or a travel agent who can find you a hotel.
Many people end up falling for this scam as they’re tired from their flight and overwhelmed by the onslaught of India for the first time. Make sure you insist on being taken to the hotel that you planned to stay in. In addition, in Delhi don’t give the pre-paid taxi voucher to the driver until he does so. The driver requires this voucher in order to receive his payment from the taxi office for the trip.
Saying that the Place You're Looking for has Moved or is Closed
This is a common scam that you are likely to experience all over India, but most often around tourist destinations in major cities. In Delhi, travelers looking for the International Tourist Bureau/Passenger Reservation Center at New Delhi Railway Station are often told that it's closed or has moved. They are then taken to a travel agent to make their booking. At New Delhi Railway Station you may also be told that your train has been cancelled, and you will need to take a car or a different train to your destination.
Other variations of this scam will be encountered when you attempt to visit shops and tourist attractions that are apparently “closed”. In each case, an offer will be forthcoming to take you to an alternative and sometimes even “better” place. You should ignore these people and continue to proceed to wherever you wanted to go.
Importing Gemstones Duty Free
This scam is widespread in Jaipur and also Agra, where many people come to buy gemstones. It's also now occurring frequently in other popular tourist destinations such as Goa and Rishikesh. The scam involves tourists being approached by a gem dealer, who convinces them to buy some gemstones for him, import them under their duty free allowance, then sell them on to one of his willing partners in the their home country for much more money than they originally paid.
Of course the details that you'll be given about the "partner" are fictitious and you'll be stuck with a lot of worthless gems. Definitely avoid anyone who approaches you with an offer like this or any similar scenario. More recently, there have also been reports of scammers posing as fellow travelers, so do be aware of anyone who tries to befriend you anywhere in India. Sometimes you won't be asked to buy the gems, but instead to provide a "financial guarantee" of your credit card number and signature. Read about one woman's terrible experience with this scam here.
Making the Meter Run Fast
Many taxi drivers and auto rickshaw drivers are honest, but some have meters that they’ve altered to run fast so that they can claim a higher fare. It pays to watch the meter to ensure that it’s ticking over at a consistent pace, and not too quickly. Another variation to this scam is the taxi driver saying that the meter is broken, and then quoting an inflated fee to your destination. Always insist on going by the meter. If you do notice that the meter is running fast, tell the driver that it appears to be broken and give him an opportunity to "rectify" it. If you know the correct fare to your destination, only pay that amount to the driver -- not the inflated amount. If he refuses to accept it, suggest going to the police station to sort the matter out.
Offering a Reduced Taxi Fare in Return for Visiting Emporiums
While this isn’t a scam as such, it can still be quite a bother. Taxi drivers will often offer a reduced fare if visitors agree to stop off at a few expensive handicraft emporiums on the way, so that they can get commissions. No purchases are necessary, only looking. The catch is when the number of emporiums to be visited increases from “a few” to at least 5 or 6, so that the driver can maximize his commissions.
The sales people in the emporiums don’t let potential customers get away easily, so such an exercise can end up taking hours. If you want to reach your destination promptly or don’t want to be caught up in what will feel like endless browsing, it’s best to give this offer a miss and pay the full taxi fare.
Down by the ghats in religious places such as Pushkar and Varanasi, sadhus (Hindu holy men) will commonly approach tourists and ask if they want a blessing. They'll tie a red holy thread on your wrist and then demand a large sum of money. Also, be aware of fake sadhus who approach tourists and ask for donations. Never feel obliged to pay such an amount in any situation like this. Only give what you feel is reasonable, if anything. This applies anywhere someone asks that you pay a high price for something. Make sure that you always negotiate a price before any services are performed, otherwise you may be asked to pay an inflated price at the end. In addition, always be wary of anyone who approaches you to give you advice, directions, or help. They are sure to ask for money, even if they deny it!
It can be heartbreaking to see a "mother" with a sleepy baby in a sling begging for money at traffic lights in India. However, these babies are often rented for the day and sedated. Another common begging scam involves approaching tourists to buy powdered milk to feed a baby. The beggar will guide you to a nearby shop where it's readily available. The milk will be over-priced though. If you hand over the money for it, the beggar and shopkeeper will keep the proceeds between them. Read more about begging in India. A similar scam operates involving pens.
Make sure you keep a very careful eye on your money in India! People will try and short-change you. And, they have some sneaky ways of doing it, including magician's sleight of hand! You may give the correct payment in cash but the scammer will "disappear" some of the notes while recounting them, and then claim that you haven't handed over enough. If you confront them authoritatively, the missing bill will miraculously be located and reappear. Alternatively, if you hand over a large denomination note, such as 2,000 rupees, the person may pass it back to you claiming that it's fake. Of course, they've swapped the real note for a fake one without you seeing. Here's how to spot fake currency in India.