The 7 Most Common Tourist Scams in India

Varanasi, India
Varanasi, India

India is undoubtedly one of the world's most incredible places to visit, but behind the glorious riot of colors, smells, and sounds, there lies a dark underbelly of tourist scams that put money or valuables at risk. While you're not guaranteed to experience one of these schemes, it's best to come prepared. Below, take a look at our list of seven common scams in India -- and how to avoid them. 

Hotels in this story

1. The Broken Taxi Meter

Mumbai Taxis

Mumbai Taxis

You need to have your wits about you when taking a cab in India, as they are the source of various well-known scams. Non-metered taxis are illegal in India, so don’t get in one that clearly doesn’t have one. Drivers will often tell you the meter is broken and offer a flat fare, which then mysteriously goes up by a huge amount once you reach your destination. Sometimes, the driver will simply refuse to put the meter on, or set the tariff so high that the meter price goes up very quickly. In these cases, it’s best to immediately (and politely) ask the driver to stop, get out, and find another cab.

2. The Fake SIM Card

To save on cell phone costs when traveling, it’s a good idea to buy a local SIM card. In India, doing this through official channels can sometimes be a bit of a chore, as it requires paperwork, passports, and photos. That being said, it is always best to take the time to purchase an official SIM card. Skipping these steps, and purchasing a cheap SIM card from an unofficial vendor usually means that you will have paid for a SIM card that doesn’t work and that you’ll have to start all over again. In these cases, you may be asked to pre-load your SIM card with a large amount, meaning you will be left out of pocket as well as without a working phone. 

3. The Non-Existent Hotel

Indian Taxi/Leon Beckenham

Indian Taxi/Leon Beckenham

Another often-used taxi scam occurs when a driver claims your hotel doesn’t exist, has closed down, or that the roads leading to it are closed. They will then offer to take you to another property for a fee (usually his family’s place). This is particularly common when using the pre-paid taxi booths at airports, meaning you will have already paid your fare when they start demanding more money to bring you to a different hotel. To avoid this scam, it’s best to arrange transport directly through your hotel. 

4. The Counterfeit Currency Swap

It can often be confusing to deal with an unfamiliar currency in a new country — and there are people who may take advantage of this situation. Counterfeit currency is common in India, and scammers (perhaps a taxi driver or street vendor) might claim a note you have given them is fake. While returning the bill to you, they’ll use sleight of hand, swapping your genuine note for a forged one. Avoid this by fully familiarizing yourself with the local money, and keep a close eye on large notes when using them to pay for something. 

5. The Dodgy Train Ticket

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Railway Station, Mumbai; Arian Zwegers/Flickr

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Railway Station, Mumbai; Arian Zwegers/Flickr

Traveling by train in India is a must, but buying a ticket in advance can be a headache, especially for first-timers. Given this, it may be tempting to accept a ticket from someone approaching you at the station — particularly if they are wearing a supposedly official ID. However, you can pretty much guarantee that what they’re selling you is either a fake ticket, or priced well above its worth. Always purchase train tickets from official offices, or get a reputable travel agent to do the booking for you.

6. The Baby Milk Begging Scam

Being approached by beggars is an inevitable part of the travel experience in India. And while the majority are in genuine need, many — often children — will be working for a criminal gang to whom they will be forced to hand over the donations. A more sophisticated begging technique involves a mother with a baby asking you to buy milk in a nearby shop. You can expect a hugely inflated price and the difference to be split with the shopkeeper at a later time. It’s also not uncommon for these babies to be rented for the day and sedated.

7. The Costly Blessing

Kumbeshwara Temple; Arian Zwegers/Flickr

Kumbeshwara Temple; Arian Zwegers/Flickr

If you travel to India without visiting some of its incredible temples or religious sites, you would be missing out. However, even these sacred spots are not immune to unscrupulous scammers — often in the guise of holy men. You may be approached and asked if you want a blessing. This will usually come in the form of a thread bracelet and a demand for a large sum of money. Conmen pretending to be temple officials might also ask for donations. Simply refuse, politely. 

You’ll Also Like: