Backpacking India is for many travelers, a life-changing, epiphanic rite of passage.
It’s a sprawling sub-continent jam-packed with ancient ruins, crumbling palaces and mystical temples that inspire awe. It boasts an unmatched bio-diversity including snow-packed mountains, steaming jungles, and idyllic beaches. It is a place where travelers come to explore their innermost selves and where magical things just seem to happen (even if you don’t believe in magic). It’s also amongst the cheapest damned countries in the world to travel.
Sounds perfect right? Well not quite…
There is a flip side to all of this. Backpacking in India is not exactly easy. There is the constant smell of garbage to choke on, the omnipresent threat of food poisoning and the mindless bureaucracy. Worst of all though is definitely the endless roulette of scams which unscrupulous locals will try to run on unsuspecting tourists.
Forewarned is forearmed. So read on and protect your money with our quick rundown on top Indian scams!
Here are the 9 Most Common Scams in India
1.Burned Down Hotel
The burned down hotel scam is listed at number 1 because it’s quite possibly going to be the very first one run on you (maybe in conjunction with Number 9). It goes something like this…
You get into a cab from outside the airport, the driver knows that you’re new to India and that you’re probably tired out from your journey. He tell’s you that regrettably, the hotel you booked burned down the previous day and therefore that you won’t be able to stay there. They may even offer to call the hotel and let you speak to them to confirm this… Helpfully though, they know of another hotel and will take you there instead.
Of course, in reality, your hostel never burned down and the guy they called was their partner in crime. They simply want to take you to the hotel of their associate who will charge a jacked up price which will then be split with the cabbie. If they try this one, simply insist they take you to where you want to go because you enjoy sleeping in burned-out ruins and do it all the time back home.
You can further lessen the chance of this one happening by browsing for hotels on – the professional hotels on offer will often be able to send somebody to meet you at the airport. For reputable hotels, use a respected booking platform such as Wego where you can search for the cheapest hotel room prices.
2. Soap in Your Ear
This one is so moronic that it’s comical. Basically, some guy walks up to you and says “Excuse me Sir, you have something in your ear”. They will offer to either wipe it off with a cloth or even draw it out with an ear cleaning device which they conveniently happen to be carrying with them. They will then demand a ridiculous amount of money for the “service” they have done for you.
One time a guy tried to pull this on me on Arambol Beach in Goa. I simply told him to “F*** off” and I suggest you do exactly the same.
3. Expired Sim Cards
Buying a sim card in India is a pain at the best of times because you need a load of paperwork, 2 passport photographs, a referee and then to wait several days for the company to activate it. As if that wasn’t all bad enough, there is then the chance that the sim they eventually sell you has already been sold to somebody else and therefore won’t work.
Now, you may think that the best way around this is to only buy a sim directly from the official Vodafone/Airtel/Ncell outlet right? Wrong. It even happens in there. The only way you can deal with this is to hang about in town for a few days so that, if the card still doesn’t work after the 2 – 5 day activation period, you can go back and raise hell.
4. Holy Men
India has a reputation for being a spiritual place and there is a lot of truth in this. Consequently, you will find “Holy Men” of all shapes and sizes either wandering the streets or hanging around temples. They may offer to hand you garlands, bless you and your family or even show you around the temple. If you accept any of these services they will ask for a ridiculous amount of money in payment. If you agree on a fee up front, they still demand more when the time comes to pay. My advice is, therefore, to simply stay away from them.
You should also keep an eye out for Saddhu’s – these are Holy Men with long beards and orange clothes traveling from town to town begging. Some of these guys are genuine pilgrims whilst many are simply junkies. There is little way to tell who is who so simply give or don’t give depending on how you feel on that particular day.
5. Beggars Milk
Beggars are a constant reality throughout India and as a foreigner, you will come in for extra special attention which can sometimes get a bit intense. Firstly, many of the child beggars you see are not really begging for themselves and their families but for organized gangs who take their daily earnings from them. If you do decide to give to any beggar remember that 10 others will somehow appear from somewhere as if chasing the scent of kindness!
Aside from this, there is a well known, more sophisticated scam where a women carrying a child will ask you not for money, but simply to go into a nearby store to buy milk powder for her baby. If you do, the milk powder will be sold to you at an inflated price and then promptly be returned to the store by the women as soon as you leave. The money you paid will, of course, be split between her and the shopkeeper.
Monkeys are pretty much everywhere in India and have positively thrived in the civilization centers where Hindu tradition protects and feeds them. Whilst they are kind of cute and amusing, they are also highly problematic. Monkeys regularly steal clothes from washing lines, food from tables and even phones from hands.
You may argue that this is not technically a “scam” as animals lack the capacity for forward-thinking and collusion. Well, wait until the day when one monkey pops up to distract you whilst another sneaks up behind you and steals your bottle of water…
7. Uber Scams!
Unfortunately, not even Uber can guarantee an honest cab ride in India. Common scams are to “forget” to end the journey when you get out of the car so you continue being charged 5, 10 and even 60 minutes after leaving the cab. Another one is for the driver to say that your digital payment hasn’t gone through and therefore that they need cash. In both cases, you can contact Uber support when you will receive a swift refund and the driver will be dismissed.
8. Train Tickets
Only buy train tickets from the platform of the train station and even then, check that the fair on the ticket matches what you paid. If anybody approaches you in the station offering to sell you a ticket, (even if they are wearing ID) they will either sell you a fake ticket or will sell you a genuine ticket for twice its actual cost. Alternatively, you can buy tickets from reputable travel agents if you are happy with the amount of commission they will levy.
9. Taxi Meters
I think its fair to say that Taxi Drivers the world over can be pretty unscrupulous hence their featuring on this list multiple times. This scam isn’t unique to India but is certainly prominent there. There are two variations on this, they will either say that their meter doesn’t work or alternatively, they will set the meter to a higher starting rate.
The first one can be combated by refusing to ride in cabs without a working meter. The best protection of all though is to find out what the approximate fare to your destination should be and not pay anything more than this – if they “get lost” en route sending the meter spiraling, then they did it on purpose.
Did We Scare You?
Sometimes, when we run these kinds of articles a few of our readers comment that they have now been put off from visiting x destination because of it! Please, please, please don’t be. India is a truly unique and unforgettable experience and is very much worth the challenges it presents. Even if you do get scammed once or twice, hopefully, it will only add up to a few dollars here and there. There are regular flights to India from all over the world and you may be surprised how affordable they are. Check Wego.in for more information.
Besides that, if you’ve paid enough attention to our guide then you shouldn’t get scammed at all…
Freeborn Aiden. Senior Editor, resident travel insurance expert and 2nd longest-serving member of team Broke Backpacker. Can’t resist a colourful shirt, ideally one with no buttons. Rampant Psytrance addict and seriel cat fancier. Aiden recently realised that his entire reality is little more than a badly written 90’s sitcom.