India is a great country, no doubt. But it’s no lie that it’s a very challenging country — be it for locals or foreigners making their first visit here. One thing that can be very annoying is people trying to rip you off (*cough* auto drivers *cough*). Scam artists are aplenty in India. So if there’s one thing I have grown accustomed to is not becoming easy prey for such scammers. Religious worker knocking on my door seeking donation for his “charity” in a state so far away? Yeah, not going to fall for that. Caller telling me I have won a big prize but I have to pay a “delivery fee” to get my prize. No thanks, you can keep it.
I’m not saying I learned the hard way and paid a big price, but who hasn’t donated a little money to someone only to never see that person again and hear from others that you got scammed. Falling for such gimmicks or reading the papers about the many frauds that run rampant in our cities, you become accustomed to being more careful about everything in India. Not just personal safety, but also when it comes to money going out of your wallet.
This knack for not easily falling for scammers helps me on my travels. India isn’t the only country where tourists get scammed. Sadly, it’s commonplace across the world. For example, I remember when I was in Phuket, Thailand and I was interested in hiring a jetski. This was my first time in Thailand and just like in Goa, water sports are a popular activity at Patong beach. As I approached the jetski guys, I was greeted with welcoming faces. They quoted 1000 baht, which I thought was too much. So the other famous Indian trait came into play — bargaining! I eventually haggled and got it down to 500 baht for around 15 minutes of jetski hire, which was all I needed to satisfy my thrills.
But just as I was about to pay up, the vendor warned me by stating that if there are any damages to the jetski, I would have to pay for it. I took one good look at the jetski and noticed it already had a few scratches on it. So this Indian who didn’t want to get scammed upon returning the jetski decided to take a few photos of the jetski. This way I had proof of the pre-existing scratches. But just as I whipped my phone out to take a photo… the Thai vendor said “No!”. He was against me taking photos of the jetski. I asked him why so? I insisted I was only doing it as a precautionary measure. But then his other jetski friends joined him in resisting saying there was no need for photos.
I grew suspicious and instead of arguing any further in broken English, I decided to walk away and said I wouldn’t hire the jetski. They hurled abuses in Thai (I assume they were abuses) — because this was similar to what happens when I refuse to pay an extortionary fare demanded by an autowala who refuses to ply the meter. In hindsight, it turned out to be a good thing. Back at the hotel, I Googled “jetski scam Phuket” and came across countless instances of tourists getting badly ripped off by rogue jetski vendors for damages they claim the tourist caused. The amounts tourists had to cough up were in the thousands of baht.
Unlike autos in India, there is no Uber or Ola alternative for hiring jetskis anywhere, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. I now make it a habit to take photos from all angles of any vehicle I hire. This once again proved to be handy on another trip abroad. When I was in Langkawi (Malaysia) with two other friends, we all hired scooters to head to the Sky Bridge.
On our way back, we decided to give back the bikes early as we wouldn’t be able to do so next morning. Upon returning and seeking our deposit, a lady at the store we rented the bikes from pointed to a scratch on the bike and asked us “What’s that?”. I said we didn’t do that. And just as she was about to call a guy from the store, I told her we have photos of the bikes from before we set off on our road trip. Immediately she said “fine,” went in and came back with our deposit! We gave her the look but she avoided eye contact.
So we just walked away and chose not to ruin our night.
I wish it weren’t like this but world is full of people out to get you, unfortunately. So you need to be prepared before you set out to deal with the cheats out there. In many ways, being a well-trained Indian helps when you travel. I’m not saying the trait for being cautious is exclusive to Indians but we have enough reasons to be so. Believe me when I say it’s “More Indian Than You Think”.
Which just happens to be the tag line for Lufthansa‘s Indian ad campaign. Think and do like Indians when the need arises. Watch the ad here: