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home > hints and tips > scams part 1

Scams; helping you part with your money- part 1

The art of scamming

Scams in India, as in many countries that are travellers favourites, are many and various. Some seem to be regional or local specialities while some seem universal throughout the country. The people who scam for a living full time are usually very good at what they do and are invariably adept at spotting travellers who appear to be "fresh off the boat". Once you've been here a while and acquired that kind of grimy semi burned patina that seems to be a hallmark of travellers to the subcontinent, you will probably find that attempts to scam you drop off, or at least the perseverance becomes less intense. You also develop a nose for when someone is trying to put one over on you; if you think someone’s trying to shaft you, they probably are.

Its worth remembering that not only foreign tourists are targeted for scams; Indians suffer just as badly, especially in large cities or well known tourist areas. Some scams are specifically foreigner targeted and many only aimed at Indians, but by and large we're all in the same boat.

Foreigner tax - overcharging

At the simplest level, scamming simply consists of overcharging you for goods or services. This is definitely one that travellers and Indians share. It covers all areas of commercial activity, from buying matches, taking a rickshaw ride and getting a room for the night.

You know that the price of a rickshaw from A-B is X amount, because it says so in the guidebook, but the guy asks for at least double, usually more. You know that the cigarettes you buy should be 12 rupees, but the guy wants 14. Sometimes the hotel room is advertised on the board at 150 rs, but the guy will not budge below 200. All of these are a part of Indian life; articles and letters to the National English language papers in Delhi often complain about rickshaw fares which are supposed to be fixed by meter, but never are. A recent rickshaw drivers strike over meters and fares in Delhi attracted zero public sympathy because of the daily abuses peoples wallets suffer at the hands of the drivers. Foreigners are obviously especially likely to be overcharged as they have less idea of what the real price is, although this applies equally to Indians coming to the "big city" from rural areas; the drivers can spot naiive country types at 300 metres in the dark.

The other version of overcharging is where it IS based entirely on the fact you are foreign, and therefore rich so its only REASONABLE that you pay more. In these cases you can often see an Indian handover a 10 rupee note for an orange juice, but when yours comes its 20. Even if you ask in advance, the guy will often not back down, he just sees it as almost a law of nature that you should pay more than an Indian.

Don't get wound up

How you approach being overcharged really depends as much as anything on your personality. Some people have the attitude that they are better off and are happy to pay more, while other take the view they should be charged the same and spend hours arguing over 2 rupee discrepancies every time they get their wallets out. Like most, I am somewhere in between and I will ague the toss if I'm in the mood for it, but sometimes just let it go. The times I will argue are usually where the rip-off is outrageous, or if the guy smirks cos he's getting one over on me, then it becomes a matter of honour, and under no circumstances will I capitulate, frankly fuck him. This kind of childish, pedantic behaviour has led me on some lengthy and unnecessary walks around Delhi after refusing the extra 10 rupees on the rickshaw. The satisfaction of non capitulation wears off quickly in 40 degree Delhi summer.

Many pre packed goods have the retail price (MRP) marked, including taxes, and its worth checking this before paying. If you are asked for too much money, just point out the retail price and the guy will give in 8 times out of 10.

For loose items where the price is not marked, always, ALWAYS ask before you say yes. The obvious example is a rickshaw or taxi; the guy might quote you double if you ask in advance (bargain him down), but its 99 percent certain he will charge you 4 times the price if you only ask at the destination. The same goes for buying handicrafts or the like ask the price before expressing any real interest in the goods, the more interested you are the higher you will be quoted.

Talk local

Learning a few words of Hindi (in the north and parts of the south) can help a lot. The assumption that you are an old hand may well bring prices down at the outset. In markets when negotiations have stalled and the price is still too rich for you, just walking away will often bring about a price drop when you've gone a couple of steps. If you really feel the guy is taking the piss, simply leave and preferably buy whatever it is at the shop opposite so the first guy can reflect on his loss. This is more satisfying in proportion to the amount of money involved.

If you do enter into the bargaining phase for goods, be fairly sure you want to buy the thing as its a bit more difficult morally to say no after it appears you've agreed a price, and the vendor will put you on the rack to make that point.

On the brighter side, in areas that see few visitors, you may never be overcharged due to lack of experience. Coastal Karnataka struck us as especially honest as is much of Himachal Pradesh and Orissa.

It is worth noting that their are circumstances where apparent overcharging is legitimate (by Indian retail standards), even when the marked price is lower. Bottled water in India is now usually charged at less than the MRP. Before the annual budget, cigarette manufacturers often hold back stock to wait for any tax increases, and as supply becomes lower, wholesalers will overcharge the retailers, then you will pay a premium. It usually easy to find out if this is the case as all the shopkeepers will be charging the same.

Like it or not, overcharging is an apparetly natural phenomenon in India and one way or another you have to live with it or you will end up very hungry. The extent to which you challenge it is up to you.

Woody Apr 03 Part 2 - commission
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 India Stats
 national country name: Bharat (Hindi)
 capital: New Delhi
 population: 1.06 billion
 area: 3,166,414 sq km (appr. equiv to Western Europe)
 population density: 310 persons per sq km
 urban: 26.8%
 rural: 73.2%
 GNI (GNP): USD 470 per capita per year
 highest point: 8598m (Kanchenjunga)
 languages: 22 official + 1600 minor languages and dialects (dec2003)
 national language: Hindi
 major languages: 40.2% Hindi; 8.3% Bengali; 7.9% Telugu (1991)
 number of states: 28 + 7 union territories
 money: Indian rupee
 time: GMT + 5,5 hours
 electricity: 240V, 50Hz
 government form: constitutional democracy
 government: Congress party led UPA coalition
 Prime Minister: Manmohan Singh
 President: Pratibha Patil
 religion: 80.5% Hindu, 13.4% Muslim, 2.3% Christian, 1.9% Sikh, 0.8% Buddhist, 0.4% Jain, 0.01% Zoroastrian, 1.3% other (2001)
 literacy rate: 64.8% (male 75.3; fem 53.7%) (2001)
 gender ratio: 933 fem to 1000 male (2001)
 child (0-6 yrs) gender ratio: 927 fem to 1000 male (2001)
 life expectancy: 61.5yr male; 62.7yr fem
 daily calories intake: 2,388 per capita
 see full stats page
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