How we got scammed in Delhi

First I’ll start by explaining a bit about us. We are a family of 2 adults and 2 children and are 6 months into a round the world adventure. My husband and I have backpacked (pre-kids) travelled to numerous countries and been to India before.  We never believed we could get scammed in Delhi…

We knew before arriving in India that there are lots of scams. We heard of rickshaws taking you to their brothers shop or offers of cheap rides with diversions. This on top of quoting you ridiculously high prices for rides. Everyone gets to be a charmer in India, which is fine, until it goes too far!

We thought we didn’t need to worry as we’re experienced travellers and wouldn’t get duped!… But we did!

At the moment I’m a mix of emotions. I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m upset, I’m ashamed but above all of this I want to share our story to prevent it happening to anyone else.

Before I continue, I want to reiterate that India is a wonderful place. It has some warm and kind hearted people, we were unfortunate to meet these manipulative people, and could in fact happen anywhere in the world. Don’t be put off coming to India – knowledge is the key. So here is our story….

Our story

We arrived in new Delhi late one evening in mid October 2018. It was only a short flight from Nepal and everyone was in high spirits. As always, we needed to get local currency in the airport. Unfortunately, none of the ATMs were working with our card. So we had to resort to foreign exchange counter and got stung with unnecessary fees – arghh. This delayed us and slightly irritated us.

But we were on our way and had opted to take the metro into new Delhi station. 1) it’s the quickest option and 2) it was very close to our accommodation. This in my opinion was our first mistake & I would recommend that you arrange a transfer with your hotel/hostel directly.

As we exited the station we were greeted with the usual taxi touts and we negotiated to get a rickshaw to Pahar Ganj. All seemed fine, until we arrived at a gate. We knew we were in the right location as had been tracking our location on osandm offline maps, as we didn’t have a SIM. This was our second mistake. Try to get online as soon as possible. If not I recommend you ask to be taken to a police station and ask directly. Have the address and phone numbers in your phone.

At the gate a gentleman dressed smartly asked to see our documentation. Why? Because there is a demonstration in new Delhi area and it’s not safe and you have children, was his response. He was very polite, asked if it was our first time. Asked where we were from? Smiled a lot and generally non aggressive. He even showed us a pass saying he worked for the government with the tourist police. We never felt threatened, this scam is all about an act and not giving you time to think. It’s very well played!

He then asked if we had a tourist pass? A what?! He then said ‘Did they not give you one, as you need one for this area to show at police cordons and show you are a tourist’. Something didn’t add up. So we said we’d risk it and carry on but he wouldn’t let us pass and the rickshaw driver wasn’t moving. The guy said we couldn’t pass through the gate without a pass.

Our reply was that we’d walk instead and requested the driver take us to Delhi station, which he did. I was already concerned as it was dark and we had tired kids and all our luggage. We entered the station and were trying to find the route across the railway lines when another pleasant man directed us to the overhead walkway that we needed.

He then told us to be careful, especially with the kids, and that there were demonstrations in the area. Keep your bags close and watch the kids, it’s dangerous!! What!? That’s the second person. He also told us we needed to go to the tourism office to get a tourist pass in order to get to our hotel. Again he was pleasant, showed us a pass – told us he wasn’t trying to frighten us, blah, blah, blah! By now the talk of danger to the kids had me on high alert. I was stressed now! Third mistake. I know it’s difficult but take a breath. Talk to your partner, check the story so far. It’s times like this that you start arguing with each other as having conflicting views.

The guy said he would ‘help us’ and get us a cheap rickshaw to take us to the tourist office. When we arrived I told Keith to go in and get the passes and I’d stay with the rickshaw and bags. Something still didn’t add up. The tourist office was in a side street and was a small room in a building. But I assumed as it was so late at night this was just their ticket office only – fourth mistake. NEVER go to a tourist office, instead go to a police station.

Keith came out about 20 minutes later saying that they had phoned our hostel and due to the demonstrations had cancelled our booking. (Note: I had an email from the hostel the day before saying they were expecting us). So now I was stressed and fuming – fifth mistake.

The men at the ‘tourist office’ kept suggesting to go to Agra for a few days to let the trouble settle down. It was only 2 hours drive. But Keith and I agreed we just needed a night in a Delhi hotel and we’d sort things out tomorrow. So we spent another 20 minutes ringing hotels, some 4 and 5 star hotels and all we fill. But it was them that dialled the number. I even asked them to take me directly to a hotel and I’d ask a reception. But that seemed impossible now. They had an answer for everything. Sixth mistake.  I recommend you always question anything, I know it’s tiring but it could save you so much!  Listen to your instincts…

We finally agreed that maybe it would be best to just spend 3 days in Agra.  The boys were tired and getting upset.

So we booked everything but we’re never given any paperwork, he just kept saying I’ve given it all to your driver – Seventh mistake I recommend before payment you get confirmations, details and full information.  

Also, driving at night is a no-no!  A lot of trucks and cars drive without lights on and unfortunately our car (which we didn’t really check beforehand) had smoke pouring out of it during our trip!

The time we spent in Agra was fine, it wasn’t what we planned but we enjoyed the most out of what we had. I was too annoyed to contact the hostel but when we got back to Delhi I put together my email and sent another one to the booking agent advising them.

This is when the penny dropped! By now we were preparing to leave Delhi and head to the mountains. But we will be back in Delhi shortly. I have made contact and received advice from the UK embassy and have been in touch with the police commissioner. I’m not sure what will come of it, but if preventing these scumbags from doing this to anyone else then I will be pleased!

Lessons we learnt :

Don’t trust anyone. It’s a harsh thing to say, but question everything and if it doesn’t sound right then it probably isn’t. Look around you, does anyone else look concerned?

When ringing somewhere to check information, ask them to hand you the phone and you dial the number. Alternatively, watch them key the number in and check it.

Don’t show stress, if you can help out, they feed off this. Take a minute to yourself and talk through the scenario. Keith and I had different pieces of information. If we’d joined them together we would have got a different picture.

If you are arriving in Delhi at night then get your hotel or hostel to arrange your pick up. The metro is great, but you still need to negotiate the last leg of your journey. The hostel won’t allow this scam to happen as they want tourists and want their business.

Other scams:

A taxi driver will sometimes approach a policeman and then tell you he said there were riots and to get out of the city. In this instance I would recommend asking to be taken to the police station.

Along a similar thread you may be asked to show your ticket at the train station or bus station and be told you have the wrong kind. That you need to cancel these tickets, get a refund and buy the correct ones. A guy will again site a pass but ignore it. There is an international office at Delhi train station, go there – it’s open 24/7. Although they’ll tell you it’s closed!

They also tried this on us!!!

There are plenty more scams when we started looking into it. I quite liked the article written here

I’m not suggesting you don’t come to India but if you are going to travel independently then read up. Make sure you are aware and always check your surroundings. Things unfortunately aren’t sheets as they seem. But question everything. It makes it tiring when you do this, but it’s better than being fooled, like us!

I’m not going to apologise for the decisions we made as it was the right one at the time and we felt vulnerable.

Again… India is an incredible place, it has some of the best cultural sights and we’ve met some really lovely people. Don’t let the few shameless and unscrupulous ones taint your opinion. I know we won’t!

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