Welcome to India: My First Scam

Every guide book for India spends several opening pages detailing the scams that unscrupulous hucksters use to trick gullible tourists. The books make special note of taxi scams, shopping scams, money changing scams, and “tour guide” scams. Merideth tells the story of a taxi driver who was scamming her for cash when she was here at the age of 19 getting beat up by some cops who saw Merideth go through the same checkpoint twice and realized the driver was a scam artist. So, I was careful. I bought the pre-paid taxi (to avoid the taxi scam), I changed my money at the official airport bank. I did not shopping in tourist rich Delhi and I declined all offers to be shown around the city.

And I still got scammed. Half way scammed, as I realized quickly what was going on, and laughed at the scammers until the went away.

I laughed at them. I think this makes me manly.

So, here is the story.

I was slightly scammed by the pre-paid taxi guy. Only slightly. I paid to be taken to the New Delhi Railway Station, and he took me down all of these weird back roads. I was not worried about a scam then, because the goal of a pre-paid taxi driver is speed. Since they have already made their money, they need to get you there ASAP to get another fare.

The slight scam came when he went as far down a back road as he could go, then stopped and pointed at a bright blue roof about 500 yards in the distance. “Train,” said the man. The alley way was obviously a dead end, but I could see a huge flow of traffic between the taxi and the station. “Train,” the driver said, more insistently. Now I am not so lazy that 500 yards is usually anything to gripe about, but I had not slept for 24 hours and I was carrying 100 pounds of baggage.

But as I tried to argue that I really needed to get closer, he started moving my bags to the curb saying, “train, train.” So, I had little choice. I hauled my bags onto my back and started shlepping.

Then the real scam began.

As I neared the station, a nice guy came up and started asking me about America. I answered his questions. He laughed. He said he did not want to keep me as I was obviously carrying a lot of bags, so he pointed at the train station and said good bye.

Except, he did not point at the entrance to the train station. There are no signs around the train station and the main entrance is obscured by cars and craziness. And the “nice man” pointed to what seemed to be the most likely entrance, a staircase on one side of the building with people streaming out if it and and few people climbing up. I said, “Thanks,” and headed for the staircase.

This was not the entrance to the station. Actually, it was. But it was not the main entrance to the station. As I approached the stairs, a man stopped me. “Ticket, sir,” in a stern and commanding voice. Here the alarm bells went off. The guy was looking and sounding official, but was dressed like a 1970’s undercover cop with the darkest tint of sunglasses allowable while still seeing through them. The man did not look right, especially because I had already seen that the Indian people love their uniforms.

“Why?” I asked.

“Ticket, to verify your train.”

“Are you with the station?”

“Security. Ticket!” growing increasingly irate.

I showed him my ticket, but refused to hand it to him. I kept a hold of it so he could look at it.

“Your train is canceled. Follow me, I will find you a new train.”

So, I got pushed by the “nice man” towards the “Security” man so that they could sell me a ticket to a train for which I already had a ticket.

“No, thanks.”

“Train is canceled.” He yelled.

This is where I laughed, mainly because a few locales were enjoying the scam artist lose a round. “I am okay.” And I walked myself up the staircase. I felt manly, having defeated the scammers and mocked them for their efforts.

This was my mistake. Unknown to me, the main entrance was about 100 feet to my left, though in my defense sign-less and obscured. So, I hauled my 100 pound bags up the staircase, which led me to a labyrinthine maze of platforms, tunnels, and food stands. What should have been a 100 foot walk turned into a 30 minute tour of the New Delhi station with luggage in tow.

An amount of luggage that caused giggles and stunned looks from the rest of the travelers.

But still, I had my dignity and my $10 (the cost of a new ticket on the train), so I won. Painfully so.

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About the Author

I moved to India. I mean, why the hell not, right?