Monday, June 27, 2011
(PICTURE: Us at the Victoria Monument. This was scheme #3.)
Going along with yesterday's blog, my biggest complaint in India was that you couldn't go ten feet without someone trying to scam you. You know, entrepreneurs. Here's the first ten scams that come to mind:
1. Fare Scheme. We would often take tuk-tuk's around different places in the cities we were in. Before getting in a tuk-tuk we would agree to a price with a driver. For example in Agra, we wanted to go to two different sites and then back to the hotel. We told the driver exactly where we wanted to go and then came up with a number which was a little higher then how much our guide book said it would be. However, when we eventually came back to the hotel, the driver tried to charge us double because he said he had to wait at the sites. The ironic part about this was I had given the guy a tip and thought I was doing a nice thing...and then he wanted double.
2. I collect money scheme. This one is not unique to India as I've seen it in Vietnam a couple of times. However, it just kept occuring over and over in India. When we were staying in Agra (the scam capital of the world), there was a devoutly dressed Muslim man who worked/owned the hotel we were at. At some point he came up to me with a smile and said, "Hello, I collect money from around the world. Can I show you my collection?". As soon as he said this I knew it was a scam since I'd seen/heard this before. However, I had to wait at the front desk for something which allowed time for the guy to grab his money album. He proceeded to show me some pages and then said, "I don't have any US dollars. Do you have one you can give me for my collection?" Now first off, every traveler has US dollars. Secondly, the hotel has a money exchange for US Dollars. Thirdly, fuck him. I said to the guy, "Yeah, I have US Dollars. The bank exchange rate is 45 Rubies (the hotel was offering 42). I'll tell you what, you give me 45 Rubies and I'll give you a dollar for your collection." Shockingly he didn't go for this deal. I told Huyen about this guy's scam and of course he tried it on her too. She told him that she was from Vietnam and he said, "I have Vietnamese money. Do you have dollars?". She asked to see the Vietnamese money but he didn't show any to her. He then said he'd take Vietnamese Dong but first asked what the exchange rate was from Dong to Dollar.
3. My Daughters Collect Money Scam. This is very similar to #2. While Huyen and I were at the Victoria Monument in Kolkata, a man came up to us and offered to take our picture together. After taking the picture he made small talk which quickly turned into, "I have three daughters. They collect money. Do you have any you can give them?". Nice try.
4. The Freelance Photographer Scam. Sometimes you'll just be taking a picture (similar to #3) and a seemingly nice, well dressed, citizen will come up to you and offer to take your picture and all of a sudden turn into Ansel Adams. For example, in -- yes you guessed it -- Agra, a man offered to take a picture of us. The guy came out of the blue and seemed like a tourist so I thought he was just a nice guy. As soon as the camera was in his hands he started giving us directions: "stand this way", "raise your hand", "show that you love the camera", etc. After he reeled off 100 pictures in 30 seconds, I took back my camera and thanked him. Instead of saying, "You're welcome" he extended his hand and said, "Something for me?".
5. Kidnapping Scam. Okay, we didn't really get kidnapped...only sort of. At the end of our trip, I had a heat rash in a sensitive spot and didn't want to walk very far. Huyen and I wanted to check out a famous shopping area to buy souvenirs for people and started to walk to where we knew it was. However, as we were walking we got bombarded with cyclos and tuk-tuks trying to drive us down the road. I knew that the place was a ten minute walk MAX, but finally succumbed to a tuk-tuk driver (and his tag-a-long-friend) who seemed to be going in that direction and offered to drive us for a quarter. A quarter was worth not irritating my groin. Well, as soon as we got in the tuk-tuk (which he basically shoved me into) the guy pulled a u-turn and went in totally the wrong direction. After a few minutes, I tapped the guy on the arm and said "Where are you going?!" He said, "First we go to the gold market." He then tried to ignore me as I said "no" until I lightly gave him a dead-arm and said stop. The driver stopped and we hopped out. The great news was that we were safe from being kidnapped (and I've read that often people get bullied and strong armed at the gold market). The bad news was that we were now a 45 minute walk from where we wanted to go.
6. The Market Is Closed Scam. This one was written about in Lonely Planet so I was prepared for it. It actually happened right after #5. As we were walking to the market we wanted to go to, a seemingly nice citizen came up to us and asked where we were going. At this point we were pretty close to the shopping area again so it was clear we were walking there. We told the guy where we wanted to go and he said, "Oh, that's impossible. They're doing construction on that bazaar now." I looked at the guy and said, "Really?". He said, "Yeah, it's closed for a few months. But there's a great market right around the corner. Want me to show it to you?". Clearly being scammed, I said that we would just go to the bazaar and see for ourselves. This guy immediately got annoyed and started repeating, "It's closed! Go to the other market. Trust me!". Yeah....
7. Ticket Office Scam. When you get into a tuk-tuk you tell the driver where you want to go. Well if you're going to the train station then sometimes they ask you a follow-up question like, "Are you going to buy tickets?". When you answer, "Yes" they say, "Oh, you should buy tickets at the tourist office, not the station. It's much better." Uh, no. This is a huge scam in Delhi where people try to take you to a shop where they charge commission.
8. I Work Here Scam. This one happened to us at -- you guessed it -- Agra. We woke up early and went to the Taj Mahal and there was nobody in line. A well dressed guy with a badge on came up to us as we went to the ticket window. He gave us some instructions and seemed to be working for the Taj Mahal office. In fact, he was chatting with the ticket seller behind the counter. AND the ticket seller gave him our tickets when I bought them. The guy then told us we were entitled to a free bottle of water and shoe covers. He then began to lead us into the Taj Mahal where he handed our tickets to the guards and went right in for free. Huyen was on to this scam before I was but the guy was so smooth so it was quite deceptive. As soon as we walked into the Taj I said straight up to the guy, "Do you work here?". The guy said, "Yes, I'm a tour guide." I said, "We don't want a tour guide" which the guy replied, "It is no problem, just give me whatever you like at the end." We declined the offer and watched him go back to the ticket office to try and get another paying customer.
9. The Fruit Scam. Shockingly, no fruit sellers have Shoprite quality digital scales. Everyone uses scales in which they balance the fruit with weights. Well, not every fruit seller is honest and lets just say that we had vastly different amounts of fruit weighting 1kg.
10. The Hotel Scam. After dealing with people trying to scam you all day long on the streets and at sights, all you want is a safe refugee when you get back to your hotel. However, even there you often deal with people trying to scam you. For example, on our last night in India, we booked a nice hotel on Agoda for a very cheap price. We booked the place because we wanted a comfortable place to stay before flying and because the hotel said it had free wifi and an airport transfer. Well, when I asked for the wifi password they said it cost 200 Rubies. I said that our room booking said it was free. They disagreed. I agreed to pay for the password and then logged right onto the website where we booked the room. I showed the page to the front desk worker where it said, "Complimentary Wifi." The guy couldn't look me in they eye as he nodded and said they wouldn't charge us. Worse, the manager of the hotel told us that the "airport transfer" was only for pick-ups. I told him that the site said "one way" and didn't say which way. The manager told us he would see what he could do and would get back to us the next day with a "special package." Whatever the fuck that meant. I went back to Agoda and read some reviews of the hotel and was very amused when I saw that one British guy had commented that he was told the "pick up wasn't included." Clearly the hotel tries to shove it to their guests on both ends. In the end, we got the free ride.
These are only 11 of the typical scams we dealt with. There were A LOT more, some of which I'll be including in funny anecdotes in other blogs.