Where there’s tourists and money to be made there will be scams and India is no exception. The well-trodden places that attract tourists year in year out also attract people trying to earn a quick buck or two. Unfortunately the world is like this, there will always be honest and dishonest people out there. We’ve come across a few scams and annoyances in India so far and have listed them below.
The Jewellery / Gems scam
The most popular scam that seems to come up time and time again is the ‘jewellery / gems scam’ where tourists’ credit cards are maxed out to thousands of pounds in a dodgy exchange of either fake gems or gems that never existed (this is also prolific in popular tourist areas of Nepal and Thailand). Some people have also reported that other Westerners are involved in the scam with the sole purpose of gaining your trust and to make the scam more ‘believable’. We weren’t greedy enough to fall for such a scam! But sadly there are plenty of people who do.
It can come in many forms and guises but the very first thing scammers do is try and build a rapport with the you. It first involves the approach of a single or group of Indians who promise they only want to talk to you and not sell you anything or want anything from you, only to make friends and ‘hang out’. After gaining your trust, contact with them then increases (they may invite you to dinner, help you in some way like take you to find an ATM, take you to a nice tourist attraction, invite you to a party etc). At some point a mention of a jewellery shop and precious stones like diamonds come into conversation. Then they make some kind of offer that you can make thousands of pounds. Sadly this scam occurs in almost EVERY INDIAN CITY OR TOWN where tourists visit – the Lonely Planet guide is rather out of date claiming it only happens in Jaipur or Agra, this is not true. You could be on a beach in Goa , in Pushkar, in Mumbai, in Fort Cochin! It has now even spread to the holy town of Rishikesh. There is a very detailed account of a young Australian tourist who lost 11,000 Aus dollars to dodgy dealers in Rishikesh only a few months ago!
I was the perfect victim. A young and single female traveller who was too trusting and with ‘an honest face’, like they told me. I was greedy, gullible and living in the moment which ultimately affected my judgment and ability to look at the bigger picture.
Please read her story here
There are many other accounts of the gem scam on the internet, this one is reported to have taken place in Palolem beach in Goa, please read here.
We were actually approached by a scam artists in Varkala beach trying to accost us into their jewellery shop (it was the very first jewellery shop as you walk along the cliff from the car park – can’t remember his name but he said he was from Rajasthan, had a ponytail and his mannerisms just made him seem really seedy and shifty). After about 10 minutes of random conversation outside his shop, he invited Neil and I inside to meet his friends who were eating and invited us to try some food with them (it was 10:30pm and we were on our way back to our guesthouse and weren’t hungry after only just finishing dinner ourselves). I personally didn’t want to, I really didn’t like the shifty guy but Neil insisted it would be fine. There was another English-speaking Indian guy who also claimed he was from Rajasthan and was called ‘Ali’ (no doubt a false name) and was very friendly. There was also an Indian guy who apparently didn’t speak any English. Shift guy and Ali kept bombarding us with lots of questions about our background and family life and when we started talking about our interest in Indian cooking they immediately invited us over for dinner at their place the following night (which I thought was weird) – not only a very eager invitation but also brought to mind a lot of questions like “why would they invite strangers to dinner?” or “what do they want in return?” We politely declined and only out of curiosity researched into scams and realised what they were trying to do. You must think, why would random jewellery shop owners invite you into their home? After that we just smiled at them as we walked past their shop everyday and said a quick ‘hello’, but when Neil wasn’t with me and I walked past them on my own they would all deliberately blank me. Nasty pieces of work! When Neil was with me they pretended to be all ‘buddy buddy’.
When we reached Palolem and Patnem beaches in South Goa we were again approached by an overly smiley Indian man who wanted to get into some sort of conversation. He was with another Indian man who apparently didn’t speak any English (there seems to be a theme there). He wanted to have chai with us at a nearby cafe, we declined as we were on our way to dinner but also his approach was the same – we knew he was another of those gem scammers. He was very, very friendly and had a great sense of humour so it would be easy for any tourist to fall into conversation with him. However, like all the other tourist areas in India, this man’s intention was not to get to know us as friends, he only had ulterior motives. If you watch out for people like this they are far too eager for your attention and their intentions soon become really obvious.
Fake suntan lotion
A very unfortunate firsthand experience by Neil who bought some factor 50 Banana Boat suntan lotion from one of the many local shops along Varkala beach. DO NOT BUY BANANA BOAT BRAND IN INDIA! IT IS FAKE AND CONTAINS ZERO SPF!
Smothered in what Neil thought was factor 50 we hit the beach to soak in some rays for three hours. During that time Neil had reapplied this fake suntan lotion thinking he was protecting his skin. A couple of hours after leaving the beach, Neil came up in a severe sunburn. We suspected the suntan lotion was to blame and Googled accordingly.
The well known suntan brands Nivea and Banana Boat are fakes. We now only buy Care Plus an Indian brand which we know does contain SPF and is safe to use. It was sickening to think of all the families with young children who come to Indian beaches for their holidays and unknowingly buy fake suntan lotion with zero sun protection and they wonder why their poor kids roast to a crisp. Bring your own suncream or buy Care Plus from a reputable source like a Pharmacist. Annoyingly a lot of the shops in Varkala did stock Care Plus but they scratched off the printed price and labelled an extortionate price on top (usually almost double) so watch out for that! I paid the correct price for my bottle of SPF 12 Care Plus at 350 rupees.
The term ‘Ayurveda’ is totally abused in India – specifically in the tourist areas. During our two months, we never found a real Ayurvedic doctor or had a real Ayurvedic massage or treatment. I made the mistake of trusting a couple of reviews I had read on Tripadvisor and VirtualTourist forums regarding an Ayurvedic doctor in Pushkar called Deepak Sen who apparently gave amazing massages. I had killer neck and back pain after sleeping on so many dodgy, hard mattresses in India I really needed a good massage to knead away all the knots. We found his massage parlour underneath the Honey and Spice Cafe in the main market place area. Deepak seemed ok, but a total hard sell, but I was desperate and he had good reviews so I thought it was ok. Neil actually stayed in the massage room with me – I had read about a woman who was sexually molested by her male masseuse who drugged her Ayurvedic tea so was no way going to take any chances! Sadly the massage which was meant to be a mix of Ayurvedic, Rajasthani and Reflexology techniques was absolutely rubbish! He was clumsy and had roaming hands! It wasn’t until we left the massage parlour that I saw huge bottles of COOKING OIL! Yes, his so-called special Ayurvedic massage oil was made of cheap cooking oil! Urgh! Disgusting! It explained why I smelt like a roasting pig afterwards!
After my experience I read up more about bad massages – seems like in every tourist spot they are pretty abundant.
Other people mention bad massages in Goa here. Just be careful and ask around – mainly other travellers or locals who know a real specialist. Don’t take any chances – especially if you are a solo female traveller.
Pushkar ‘Holy Passport’ / blessing scam
This involves fake holy men who sit around the holy lake of Pushkar waiting to perform a fake Puja ceremony and then ask for a ridiculous amount of money afterwards. Something along the lines of they want to make blessings to your family members, will ask how many family members you have and ask for 1000 rupees for each member and for yourself. It has been mentioned plenty of times in Lonely Planet and various forums. Different accounts from different tourists are mentioned on Tripadvisor here and Virtualtourist here.
Don’t let these scams and annoyances ruin your trip! Just be aware and enjoy yourself!