For the last three years my wife and I have been travelling the world full time, and unfortunately, we have met our fair share of scam artists during this time. The place that stands out as the absolute worst for being scammed was India. There are a lot of different scams in Delhi. For us, we encountered our first scam as soon as we walked out of the airport doors!
In India, we found the touts and scammers to be a lot more aggressive and forceful than they are in other countries. The best defence that you can have is to be aware of what the scams are, so you can be prepared for them, if and when, they happen. Just remember, that the scams in Delhi will happen, everyone we have spoken to has witnessed at least one.
Luckily for us, we never lost any money due to them, and hopefully with the information you find here, you will know what to look out for too.
The very first of the scams in Delhi that we got hit with, was straight outside the airport doors at New Delhi airport: the Taxi Scam. If you know anything about me, you know I am not a fan of taxis straight out of international airports, as most usually overcharge, but I wouldn’t be calling this a scam this if it was a simple case of overcharging.
The Taxi Scam here consists of touts approaching you asking if you need a taxi, and then directing you to vehicles away from the main taxi rank. Then, at some point during your taxi ride, the driver will become lost, ‘call’ your hotel for directions and, co-incidentally, find out that your hotel has had to close/has been burned down/is no good, or that there is a festival and you cannot access the hotel so your booking has been cancelled. Of course, they then kindly help you find new accommodation, of which, they receive a huge commission from (much more than the value of the taxi ride). This accommodation, especially in New Delhi is usually extremely poor and will take every opportunity to extract more money from you.
Being aware of the scam they run, we ignored the touts and went straight to the taxi counter, and asked for a taxi to our accommodation. Awesome, we thought that we had dodged the bullet. It didn’t occur to us that ALL of the taxi drivers, even the ones from the official counter would be in on the scam!
We realised this, when, once we got into Delhi, we happened to do a
He drove around a little further and then came up with up with a brainwave idea. He knew of a ‘tourist information’ centre nearby, and he would take us there to find out directions to the hotel! I knew that we were in the middle of one big scam, but not exactly knowing where we were, I wanted to play it out a bit longer till we could get to a landmark that we recognised to get out. So, into the pretty convincing looking Tourist Information Centre I went.
The taxi driver ‘kindly’ explained the situation to the guy behind the desk and walked back out to his taxi. The man in the centre asked for my name and hotel so they could call them up for me to find out directions. I couldn’t help myself, I gave a false name, Tom Jones (I wish I could sing that well), and a false hotel name (one that we had previously looked at but decided not to book). The guy behind the desk called them up (pretty sure it was the guy in the next room that he was speaking with), and very convincingly, his face dropped and…. quickly said to me that there was a problem with my booking (cue my bad acting and shocked face). There was a festival outside the hotel and that all bookings were cancelled, I asked if I could speak to the hotel and he passed over the phone. They guy on the other end repeated all of this and said that my money will be all refunded, I asked if he could check whether it would be put back on my visa ending 8787 (completely fake numbers, couldn’t help myself at this point), and he replied with a resounding yes.
So, just to recap: I gave a fake name, random hotel, and fake credit card numbers (just the last four digits) and had all of this confirmed back to me. They believed that they had us hook, line and sinker.
Now came the offer that they would book a new hotel for us, I politely declined and walked straight out to the driver. He asked what new hotel we needed taking too (cheeky eh?), and I said that it was okay, everything was okay and our hotel was fine and that they would meet us at Connaught Place (which was near out hotel). He seemed really confused but went along with it when he saw I was not going to take another option. When we eventually got to Connaught Place he even had the gall to ask for a tip as he had “driven extra around the city and taken us to the tourist information centre.”
We did eventually get to our hotel, and were not shocked to find that there was no festival outside and our booking was still confirmed. It was just another one of the scams in Delhi.
Connaught Place holds a lot European and American owned and frequented hotels and restaurants, but because of the Western draw, it also brings a lot of unwanted attention. As you walk around the Square, you will randomly start to meet some of India’s friendliest people, all of them wanting to speak to you. After about 30 seconds the conversation usually comes around to “Where you are staying?” and some story about how that hotel isn’t safe, or it has burned down and they will help you to a new hotel (in a similar vein to the taxi scam mentioned above).
From the experience that we had around here, these guys were reasonably harmless although extremely persistent. Make sure that you do not give them any real details of who you are or where you are staying and just carry on with your journey. We found saying our greetings in German, and explaining that we couldn’t speak English (in German), usually made them walk away from us, as we didn’t meet anyone who could speak the language – although we did have one man try to convince us to pay him to teach us English!
The Red Fort is usually on everyone’s itinerary list for New Delhi (although we believe the other forts around Rajasthan were much nicer). Just outside of the ticket office there is normally a group of people who will pin a badge on you as soon as you pay for your ticket. It gives you the impression that it is the ticket that you have just bought, but it is not. They are beggars who will then start hassling you for payment for the badges.
I cannot recommend giving them money as it does perpetuate the scam for other tourists in the future. Ideally, do not let people close enough to put a badge on you.
The touts and scammers here were the most aggressive and physical I have ever encountered in any country. Unfortunately, we had to encounter them twice: once when we went into the train station to buy tickets and then again a few days later when we went to board our train.
The scam here is that they will try to get you to go to an office down the street to buy your tickets, as apparently you cannot enter the gates outside of the train station without them (similar to the rules for entering an airport in India). This,
If you do happen to have tickets already, the guys at the gates will tell you that they need validating or stamping – for a fee. Again, an absolutely bogus action. The first time we went to the station, they kept telling us that we couldn’t enter without tickets and that you had to go to an office down the street to buy them. We said we had tickets and we were fine, and then came the line about paying to have the tickets stamped.
On the second occasion, we completely ignored them and went to walk straight past them. At this point I had one of the touts physically start shoving me in my chest to try and stop me going into the train station and, I will admit, that it took a lot of resolve to not react adversely in this situation, I told him to take his hand off of my chest and to never touch me again. I will say, never resort to violence in these situations as it will never solve your problem, it will just cause more of an issue. Their intention was to intimidate my wife and me, but I gently pushed him to the side and carried on walking into the train station. It is worth noting that the police were only a few steps away, they did not intervene or even look our way, and it would be fair to say that they were actively ignoring us.
In terms of the scams in Delhi that we experienced, I thought this was the worst purely because of the physical element and the persistancy.
Hold your nerve and politely say no thank you to the touts outside of the train station gates and carry on into the station. Make sure you keep some personal space at all times, even if it means backing away. I can promise you that you can buy your tickets inside; you do not need to go down the street to buy your tickets. You do not need tickets to enter the train station, and you do not need to pay to have your tickets checked, stamped or validated. And you never need to show your passport to anyone outside the station.
Moving on to Agra (where we were headed once we finally got onto the train with those train tickets) and the first place we headed was to the Taj Mahal. I know, this isn’t technically one of the scams in Delhi, but if you are in Delhi you are probably going to Agra, and the Taj Mahal. And to be completely fair, the scam here is less scam and more annoyance.
You may think it’s the entry fee, which is about 10 times more for ‘foreigners’ than locals (which to be fair still isn’t that much), but it isn’t. It’s the people inside the Taj Mahal buildings who light up the stones and gems in the wall to show you how translucent/pure/perfect they are and then immediately charge you money for doing so. They don’t ask you beforehand, they just tap your shoulder and show you and they definitely do not mention a cost for them showing you until you have already seen it.
This is organised with the guards at the gate as the will remove any torches or batteries that you happen to have on your person or in your bags. Our advice here is to say no thank you and walk away as soon as someone whips a torch out, once we walked away from people and made it clear we were not interested, they did not try to follow or pester us again.
Don’t let these scams in Delhi put you off from visiting India, like all places there is a mixture of good and bad. The best defence you can have against the scammers is to make yourself aware of the current scams in Delhi and running in the surrounding area, stay calm and remove yourself from the situation as safely as possible. Make sure not to engage with conversation with them, most will even say, that they want to practice English or be your friend. Just no, a big fat no.
If you have any other questions about Asia, maybe our Asia specific posts can help.
Have you encountered any of these scams in Delhi, or any others, on your trip to India?