It's the rare taxi ride in India where I don't have to fend off at least one scam. Here are 6 India Taxi Scams I've encountered, along with my sometimes against-better-judgement "sweet revenge".
1. "Tourist Police Currency Switch" -- Delhi Airport
You might think you'd be safe buying a pre-paid ticket (see "Tips" below) from the tourist police. But not at Delhi Airport!
After the vendor at the airport's tourist police kiosk quoted me 120 Indian Rupees (IR's) I placed a 500 Rupee bill on the counter. The man took the bill and with Copperfield-like fast-handedness -- involving a book strategically located on his desktop -- quickly made a 100 Rupee bill appear on the counter, stating I still owed 20 Rupees (i.e. implying I had given a 100IR bill, not the 500 I'd tendered).
I had just been scammed out of 400 rupees! I literally muttered aloud: "Welcome to India!"
Sweet Revenge: Infuriated, a few minutes later I returned to another police tourist and explained what happened. As if I were explaining a routine performance, this second vendor promptly refunded my 400 IR's!!
2. "The 'Pre-Paid' Hustler" -- Mumbai (Bombay) Airport
Exiting the terminal, guard down due to my supposedly trusty pre-paid ticket waving in hand, a white-shirted young man hustled over, inviting me to go with him. "This way sir", he directed me to the right. I naively began to follow him. However, two dark-suited official looking men quickly and assuredly guided me away from this scamster and his private taxi, toward the actual pre-paid taxi area (slightly left of straight out the terminal).
Sweet Revenge: Enraged by both the scam and the lack of punitive action from the officials, I discarded better sense and verbally assaulted the scamster, inviting him to do some things he might not find particularly pleasant.
3. "The Name Change" -- Delhi Airport
A couple of minutes into this brief transport from the airport to my nearby hotel, the taxi driver "informed" me that the name of my hotel had changed. Fortunately, thanks to my familiarity of the area, I recognized that the hotel name he gave me was that of another hotel just down the street from mine. No doubt, the scamster was working for a commission. The hotel sign of my intended destination soon became visible and I directed my driver to it, not as though he really needed my assistance!
Sweet Revenge: In addition to avoiding the scam, I advised the driver "See, you wrong. Hotel name not change!"
4. "The Deserter" -- Mahipalpur (near Delhi Airport)
OK, see if you can guess my mistake in this scam: I paid in full in advance for a taxi to provide me transport to a local market, wait an hour while I shopped, then transport me back to the origin.
Figure it out? Yes, of course...the "paid in full in advance" part. I'll bet you can also guess what happened when I finished shopping...My taxi driver was nowhere to be found.
Sweet Revenge: I just let this one go. It was one of my first taxi rides in India and I had not yet been sufficiently jaded. (Adding to the scamming, for my return the auto-rickshaw driver quoted me one price, then upon delivery demanded additional money for a "special road" he had to take to circumvent the airport.)
5. The "Bait and Switch Tout" -- Agra, India
This arrangement seemed too good to be true...a taxi driver speaking near-perfect English, very friendly and re-assuring, and quite knowledgeable quoted me a great price for my several-hour itinerary, adding that a tip would also be expected. I agreed to the terms.
Briefly into the itinerary, the too-good-to-be-true part manifested: the outstanding "driver" actually turned out to be a tout, asked me for the tip, and quickly handed me off to another driver who apparently spoke virtually no English. This driver and I rode almost entirely in silence for the remaining, long 4 hour and 45 minutes. At the end of the journey I discovered perhaps the extent of the driver's English when he demanded: "Tip, Sir". This request was not a surprise despite my anticipatory, pre-emptive attempt; I had had the foresight before departing to ask that the tout explain to the driver that I had already tipped, although this proved futile. (Not knowing Hindi, I have no idea what the tout told the driver.)
Sweet Revenge: I knew I had committed to a tip in this arrangement. So at the beginning I mentally noted the amount of the planned tip, and then relinquished only a portion to the tout, saving the small balance for the inevitable expectation at the end of the trip.
6. The "Quote Reviser" -- Agonda Beach, India
A travel agency/Internet cafe quoted me 900IR's for a roughly 90-minute ride. No problem. I inspected the car and, after asking if it had A/C, was told it did. I confirmed the price the next morning (when returning to use the Internet), and again that afternoon. Then much to my surprise, upon my visit the night before the taxi ride the agent suddenly informed me "Sir, if you want air conditioning the cost will be 1000IR's." Now I understand that 100IR's A/C surcharges are not uncommon in southern India. But this deal rose to scam status when the representative avoided multiple opportunities to inform me of the extra charge and waited until the night before departure.
Sweet Revenge: Knowing that taxi service was a commodity in this village, I told the agent I felt deceived. I cancelled my reservation, walked a few blocks down the street, and hired another taxi who, by the way, immediately quoted me the A/C price.
India not Alone in Scamming
Of course, India has no monopoly on taxi scams. Here are two more scams I've encountered from other countries in the fray.
7. "The 'I Know a Better Place' " -- Dubai, UAE
Akin to the "Name Change" scam, a very polite driver informed me that the mall I wanted to visit was, peculiarly, closed this early afternoon. Fortunately, though, the seemingly benevolent driver knew of another equally magnificent mall that was open at this hour, although it was a bit farther away (i.e., would cost me more).
Sweet Revenge: The potential of a scam didn't really strike me until after the drop-off. I asked at my hotel where the staff indeed confirmed that I was scammed!
8. 'The Super-Charged Meter" -- Beijing Airport, China
Upon leaving the terminal a cordial but assertive man greeted and rushed me to his taxi. Despite my apprehension upon seeing his car in a public parking lot rather than a taxi area, I noticed the supposedly legitimizing mounted taxi flag and naively climbed aboard.
Once inside, the speed at which the meter ticked up my cost would've made Mario Andretti jealous. Having done my research on the estimated duration of the trip, and expected cost, I realized that I was on pace to pay about 4-5 times the normal charge!
Sweet Revenge: Sometimes when you've had enough, you snap and take irrational and dangerous actions. My snapping point? Beijing, China!
While en-route I emphatically stated to the driver my dissatisfaction, and demanded he stop. At first he refused as he sped along the highway at night. But when I started opening the door at 100km/hour, he pulled over. I extracted my backpacks and exited the car leaving, two door opens to help dissuade the driver from fleeing. I then kneeled next to the front of the car and began writing down the vehicle's license number. This seemed sufficiently threatening to the scamster who met me on the road where we quickly agreed upon an almost reasonable fixed price.
Once back in the car I longed to understand if the driver's emotional, subsequent, foreign-language phone call included phrases like "back alley", "deliver foreigner" and "Chinese Mafia". But fortunately I soon arrived safely at my hotel, although the driver curiously refused to pull onto the hotel's property, and just deposited me onto the street.
Six Tips Toward Avoiding Taxi Scams
Although precautions cannot guarantee smooth taxiing, the following six tips can help you avoid taxi scams abroad.
1. Obtain an Advance Quote Estimate -- Before your trip, try to get an estimate on the taxi charge. For example, the hotel should know the approximate cost transport from the airport.
2. Pre-Pay -- Pay for a trip at an official "Pre-Paid" booth when possible. Many airports offer this option. (Just beware of the still-lingering variety of scams.)
3. Use Metered Vehicles -- Typically, fixed-price taxis are more expensive than metered taxis. The difference in Bangkok, for example, was 400 vs 211 Thai Baht, the fixed price being nearly double!
4. Clarify the Price -- If you can't get a metered vehicle or pre-paid taxi and thus have to negotiate a price, write down the agreed upon price. Before closing the door have the driver confirm the figure. This will, of course, require you to have easy access to something to write with and onto.
5. Carry Small Denomination Money -- It's not unusual for taxi drivers to at least claim they don't have change. So avoid the hassle and have small denomination currency/coins available to render the exact amount.
6. Remember: The Taxi Driver is NOT Your Friend -- As engaging and polite as the taxi driver might present himself, remember that he may well be "scouting" you to detect your vulnerability to various scams. For example, a common question I hear is..."Is this your first trip to India, Sir?". In tenuous situations act self-assured and be direct rather than trying to make a buddy.
Last edited by AAJetMan; Dec 17, 09 at 10:57 am.
Reason: 17 Dec: typo corrections
I've had my fair share of such scam artists - two things you can do.
1. Pre-pay at the airport taxi counter
2. Pick one of several car hire / radio cab agencies that are reliable (meru cabs / easy cabs in several indian cities, fast track call taxi in MAA and some ohter southern cities etc)
3. If you see a meter it'll mostly be doctored
4. Expect scenic routes - so find a route map or ask a local first, for approximate fares and routes (and you can more or less easily find what route you're taking by noting street names on shop signs and such)
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Another scam, at the prepaid queue, a coolie (porter) or several appears and accompanies you to your taxi (I don't do checked luggage, and therefore I carry my own luggage, but this does not dissuade them). He touches the luggage after it has been put in the boot (either by the passenger or the driver) then aggressively demands a tip as the "taxi loader." I have witnessed these characters even getting into the back seat to berate unsuspecting travelers for tip money.
Resolution: get your driver to load the luggage and to lock the boot. Then lock all doors and instruct the driver to go.
No guarantee, as mentioned by OP. A better bet, but must still beware.
Follow the clearly posted signs .. at least in India, a guy from the prepaid counter usually takes the receipt + copy from the clerk, follows you with your luggage, escorts you to the cab that's allocated to you from the rank. Keep an eye on him .. and feel free to tip him. The clerk will also tell you / the escort guy the license tag number of the cab you've been allocated - and chances are, you'll find that number printed on your receipt.
If that isnt the case - well, follow the signs - at least in some of the newer airports (BOM/DEL etc) they're pretty clearly posted.
And for some of the ranks there's usually a desk somewhere outside the rank with a dispatcher who will take your receipt and point you to a driver.
Some random driver comes up before you ask for the number, and somewhere "out of the blue", like just when you exit the terminal .. feel free to tell him to get lost.
2. "The 'Pre-Paid' Hustler" -- Mumbai (Bombay) Airport
Exiting the terminal, guard down due to my supposedly trusty pre-paid ticket waving in hand, a white-shirted young man hustled over, inviting me to go with him. "This way sir", directing me to the right. I naively began to follow him. However, two dark-suited official looking men quickly and assuredly guided me away from this scamster and his private taxi, toward the actual pre-paid taxi area (slightly left of straight out the terminal).
Sweet Revenge: Enraged by both the scam and the lack of punitive action from the officials, I discarded better sense and verbally assaulted the scamster,inviting him to do some things he might not find particularly pleasant.
This message is very timely as I literally just fell for this one at BOM. Except that in my case, the hustler came running up to me and literally grabbed the prepaid voucher right out of my hand and started walking very quickly, urging me to follow him, and a ride to Juhu that was Rs. 200 became Rs. 1600 (the 200 was supposedly the "airport service charge"...they even had a laminated sheet that said so and showed the Rs. 1600 price!). So my question is...was I just screwed at that point since I no longer had the voucher? I was carrying some heavy stuff so there was no way I could try to run him down. Would the security guard have let me back in the airport to get another voucher?
Anyway, moral of the story is to put the piece of paper in a safe place until you are in the taxi assigned by the security guard.
Got hit by a taxi scam at BOM--what should I have done differently?
I just got taken by a ride by a taxi scam and need to let it out. The taxi from the hotel to BOM cost Rs. 200, excluding tip. That was arranged through the hotel and was just fine. So after a couple of days in Delhi, I get back to BOM at 10:30 PM and go to the prepaid taxi counter, where I pay Rs. 200, they give me a voucher and I head outside. Mistake #1--I held that voucher in my hand as I start to look for the prepaid stand. Next thing I know, two guys literally come running up to me and literally grab the voucher out of my hand and tell me to follow them to a taxi. I ask them if it's a prepaid taxi, and they say yes. Now at this point I was sniffing something was wrong but didn't know what to do about it, so I start frantically looking for a security guard, and seeing none, follow them (mistake #2.) They bring me inside a cab with barely working lights and hand me a laminated sheet, claiming that the Rs. 200 I paid inside the airport was merely an "airport service charge" and that the real fare was Rs. 1600. They even had a laminated sheet that said so. I started to argue, but my stuff was in the trunk and they had me. Mistake #3--I paid the Rs. 1600 instead of getting out while I was still on airport property. At that point, they first tell me the bills I gave were slightly torn and not acceptable, so I fish for others--in reality, they wanted me to pay in US $, but I was having none of that. And of course the dim light made it impossible for me to see what I--or they--were doing, so it's entirely possible I accidentally paid Rs. 2100 (or probably a lot more; for example, at one point, I think I paid Rs. 1600 as 3 Rs. 500 bills and 1 Rs. 100 bill, but they claimed I only paid Rs. 400--I think they switched the 3 Rs. 500 bills to 3 Rs. 100 bills but I couldn't see the switch since it was dark inside the cab). They then transfer me to taxi #2 with different drivers (probably so they could go back to the airport to get the next guy); that goes for about a kilometer, to a taxi stand where I get into taxi #3. Now I think the driver of taxi #3 had no clue about what was going on--he was just getting a passenger who already paid and was happy about it. I was definitely nervous at this point, but he did take me straight to the hotel, and I did tip him since I didn't believe he knew what was happening. When I got to the hotel, I stopped at the front desk, and they confirmed the whole thing was a scam.
So my question is...what should I have done differently? In particular, once the guy ripped the voucher from my hand, what were my options? I knew something was wrong, but had no idea what I could do without the voucher. Would they have let me back inside to get another one? Or could I have gone to the security stand and explained what happened?
Wow, that stinks. In my 12 years of traveling in India, I've never had this sort of thing happen, but that may be because I am a naturally suspicious person and tend to reflexively refuse anyone in an airport that comes up to me asking if I want a taxi. (The same goes for Moscow, Cairo, JFK, etc.) I always assume they are up to no good. Except when being picked up by uniformed hotel drivers, I never let go of my suitcase--there are always a million guys swarming around Indian airports offering to carry it for you--and I always just shake my head "no" when someone says "Taxi?"
Once at the Delhi train station, when I needed a taxi to the airport, I had some guy try to lead me all the way out of the station parking lot to a car parked on the street. About halfway through the walk, I just said no and turned around and walked back to the station (made possible by the fact that I was the one pulling the suitcase). He was yelling and trying to convince me to follow him, the cab was "right outside," but the whole thing just felt very sketchy. Maybe it would have been fine, maybe not, but I didn't feel like chancing it.
All I can suggest is to be more suspicious and keep your guard up. But I know from long experience that it can be tough to do this when you are tired and confused (as Indian traveling can make you).
The other thread (that AAJetMan linked to) definitely has lots more scams.
THe main thing is to not give that receipt to anyone. If you dont know where the taxi stand is, ask the security guards to take you to the prepaid taxi stand.
Some of the security wear plainclothes, some wear police outfits.
This seems to be reported more in BOM and DEL.
In MAA, an escort comes with you right from the minute you get your receipt.
Sorry you had this trouble. I always take pride in telling people that India is pretty safe to travel for foreigners....and then I hear these scams. Such a shame.
Location: Watchlisted by the prejudiced, en route to purgatory
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India is still a very safe country for visiting foreigners in terms of the incidence of "random" violent crime on the streets. But scams for money continue to be something for which people need to watch out way more than they may be used to in their home countries.
Originally Posted by travelmad478
Wow, that stinks. In my 12 years of traveling in India, I've never had this sort of thing happen, but that may be because I am a naturally suspicious person and tend to reflexively refuse anyone in an airport that comes up to me asking if I want a taxi.
At BOM on my late night arrivals from abroad, I've twice been marked as a target for something very much like the kind of scam mentioned by the OP. The con-artists failed because I got creative.
Like TSA, DL SkyMiles management treats airline customers as if they are the enemy or sheep to be fleeced and it shows.
Thanks for sharing - You may save someone else from falling into this trap. It sounds like you were feeling physically intimidated by the time they had your luggage. And it seems that the airport security staff were nowhere to be seen. (Who knows - Perhaps they were paid to turn a blind eye to these scammers).
Don't beat yourself up over this. Next time you will be more careful not to relinquish your luggage to someone when things don't seem right. If they hadn't taken your lugggage, you'd have felt more able to cut your losses (a 200Rs ticket) rather than falling deeper into the trap.
I went around the world. It was alright for a holiday but I wouldn't want to live there - Michael Redmond