Scams targetting tourists in India happen in all the major tourist cities, especially New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur where most tourist go.
I met so many foreigners who had come back from India with bad experiences from scammers that I decided to start exposing their scams on YouTube. I myself had been scammed multiple times, and all of these scams come from my personal experiences.
The purpose of the scam videos is to help foreigners avoid scams and really enjoy their time in India. I’ve met countless tourists who’ve met me at airports on the streets and thanked me for them. Likewise, Indians thank me too because every single tourist is a target, even domestic.
When you travel in India, you’re going to learn to say the most important word in the English language a lot: “No.” Or just ignore and keep walking. If you can speak a foreign language, using that sends them away because they think you can’t speak English.
1. Beggar scams
Beggars are common in India. They focus their efforts on tourist attractions and areas like around the Taj Mahal, Chandni Chowk, or Colaba.
They will approach you asking, in broken English, for money for food. Sometimes carrying a baby with them.
If you’re seated or standing somewhere, they will stand there asking the same question on repeat to try to pressure you into paying.
They may also start to touch your thigh or arm continuously to pressure you.
It can be unnerving. Say to them sternly “No. Go away.” These are three words they will understand in English.
If they ignore your words then walk away from them, they’ll follow for a few metres then give up.
If you’re seated somewhere like an outdoor restaurant make the waiter aware, he’ll send them away for you.
Giving to them creates a bigger problem for you because, despite logical thinking, they will actually keep harassing you for even more money and not simply walk away happy! Other beggars will see and beeline for you too.
Likewise, if you buy them some high priced food item – they ask for big bags of rice of clarified butter – they will return it to the store for a refund or resell it.
It’s hard to know who is genuinely in need and hasn’t just travelled from their village in the surrounding states for tourist season.
If you want to give to beggars, a better way to help is to donate to a charity in India.
2. Touts, street hustlers & commission agents
These scams come in the form of a friendly man on the street asking “Are you from England?” or some other generic opening line to get you chatting.
After a short conversation, he will attempt to help you find a sari, scarf, or offer to help you book travel. He’ll start telling you he knows where the Official Government Travel Agent or Tourist Office is. “Follow me,” he says.
He’s so sweet; he’s just trying to help right? Wrong. He wants to take you to some dodgy store set up to rip off foreigners. He gets a fee for getting you in the door and then commission if you buy something.
Once you’re inside, the store owners will use high-pressure sales tactics on you.
When you tell them you’re leaving they’ll try to intimidate you by raising their voice and saying “You’re wasting my time! You have to buy something!” Your heart will be racing at this point. Leave as quickly as you can.
To avoid this don’t go places with friendly strangers. Find the location of real Government stores and more foreigner-friendly markets such as Dilli Haat in Delhi. Always bargain unless prices are labelled on items indicating it’s a fixed price store.
Also, avoid using travel agents off the streets in India. They’ll charge you massive commissions up to 2 or 3 times the real cost of the trip.
Use travel websites such as MakeMyTrip and ClearTrip to price check and book trains, buses, flights, and accommodation.
3. Overcharging with extra items or wrong price on the bill
Always check your bill thoroughly before paying, sometimes they add on additional items you didn’t order, or the price differs from the menu.
4. Sextortion scams
You meet a cute girl somewhere and she seems very interested in taking you back to a hotel.
Once there she spikes your drink and you wake up with all your possessions gone.
Or you get intimate and she immediately tells you she’ll file a rape complaint if you don’t pay a ransom. The last place you want to be is in an Indian jail cell, that’s for sure.
This one is easy to avoid: Indian women do not get intimate with strangers easily. If it seems too easy, there may be a good reason why.
I’ve been approached by a woman once to come back to her house only once and it was in Islamabad, Pakistan. I don’t drink or go to bars, which is where this scam usually takes place. Needless to say, I told her, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
If you do meet a girl who’s interested in you, then take her number and get to know her first. Verify her identity and log all communications with her. A girl trying to scam you won’t have the patience for this.
5. Religious scams
You’re in Pushkar, Rajasthan admiring one of the only Brahma Temples in the world when a guy hands you some flower petals and round white sugar balls. He tells you to take them down to the nearby lake and say a prayer.
You arrive at the lake and a priest there sees what you’re carrying. He knows the drill.
He tells you to sit by the lake for what you assume is a free prayer ceremony.
After running through a prayer, he asks you some personal questions and then uses them against you by saying “Now take this receipt to the charity booth. You need to donate ₹1000 to find a wife, ₹1000 to help heal your sick relative, and ₹1000 in the name of your deceased parents.” $45 later you’ve been scammed by a priest.
The minute you enter some temples and mosques they will usher you into a side room full of other tourists, not locals, and ask you “how much are you going to donate?”
You assume it’s an entry fee and pay something. If a sight or temple has an entrance fee, it’ll be clearly labelled outside the venue with a cashier. Do not be pressured to pay “mandatory donations.”
6. Shopping & transport overpricing
Taxi and rickshaw drivers and shop keepers are notorious for overpricing.
If the driver won’t use his metre or the store is not a fixed-price store, you must always bargain the price down. My bargaining post covers this thoroughly.
Always make sure you’ve been given the correct change. You’ll be surprised to find many shops and drivers are shortchanging you.
Also, taxi and rickshaw drivers are famous for “not having any change” when you go to pay them.
They’re lying to try and keep your change. They always carry change, and it’s kept in their top shirt pocket. Don’t leave the vehicle and insist that he must give you change, or go to the nearest store and ask them for change and then pay the driver.
Finally, if your driver invites you to his house to meet his family, be wary. He could be leading you into a trap. At a minimum, they’re selling you an Indian family experience.
Meet the family, eat homemade food, anything you comment on in their home they will try to give you, and then at the end, you’re expected to respond generously with cash. If you would like this kind of experience, it’s much safer to stay at an Airbnb with a genuine Indian family.
7. Unrequested guides
At tourist sights, anyone assisting you in any way expects money in return.
If some friendly guy starts chatting with you then taking you somewhere to show you something, he’s turned into an uncover guide that you didn’t request and he does expect payment.
8. Tampered water bottles and counterfeit products
Check the seal on bottled water to make sure it’s intact. Unfortunately, there’s also counterfeit water in India too. Buy water from reputable stores only.
Also, beware of counterfeit products and make sure you know to identify real cashmere wool and saffron – or any souvenir you want to take home.
9. Credit card & Western Union beggar scams
Whenever you meet a friendly young person who starts telling you a story about how his family member overseas is trying to send them money to pay their rent, say goodbye right away.
Or sometimes they give you fake cash asking you to purchase an item on their credit card for them.
Whenever strangers start talking you to about money or Western Union, just get out of there. There’s only 1 reason they’ve approached you.
10. Fake SIM & SD card scam
Don’t believe anyone telling you that you can buy a SIM without the proper paperwork.
Only buy from officially branded telco stores – Airtel, Jio, or Vi.
It’s the same for cheap SD cards people will offer you on the street. If the price is too good to be true, it is.
Getting out of these scams
You simply say “No thank you” and walk away from a tout or out of a shop. Don’t be afraid to get angry at them and make a scene if you need to.
If you ever feel threatened call for Police assistance on 100.
India Survival Guide Table of contents
- Travel Essentials: Before You Travel to India
- Arriving in India: Getting to Your Hotel & Airport Amenities
- Tourist Scams to Avoid in India
- Avoiding Fake Money & Ripped Notes in India
- Avoiding Bad Accommodation
- How to Bargain, Get Refunds, and How Much Rickshaws Cost
- Avoiding Counterfeit Souvenirs in India
- How to Be Street Smart in India
- Buses and Trains in India Explained
- Food and Drink Safety for Travellers
- What to Do If You Get Sick in India
- How to Deal with Air Pollution in India
One reply on “The Most Common Tourist Scams in India”
Hey Karl, thank you for helping us foreigners wise up to some of their scamming tactics. I’ve had a friend who has been scammed for thousands of dollars at a hospital in Coimbatore, and what’s worse, he left the place sicker than how he entered. It’s heartbreaking and he wrote about it extensively: https://trueayurveda.wordpress.com/2020/02/11/how-i-was-misdiagnosed-mistreated-at-the-arya-vidya-chikitsalayam-avp-hospital-in-coimbatore-this-is-ayurveda-today-beware/
It’s nice to see how you show how they prey on naive foreigners, not shying away by (ab)using religion or asking for donations for orphans etc. Either way, I’m looking forward to going there, now that I’m prepared.