Despite doing everything right when I landed in Delhi I still fell victim to the most elaborate scam I’ve ever encountered; the worst part being that I knew I was being scammed, but couldn’t do a damn thing about it. After finally escaping from the two day ordeal, I met or read about others who had fallen victim to the same scam or a similar variation. So, here’s what happened…
Prior to flying into Delhi, I had made sure to screenshot the name, address and phone number of my hotel to make sure I wouldn’t have any issues getting there and when I landed I made sure to use one of the expensive pre-paid taxis inside the airport to ensure I would get there safely given New Delhi’s dangerous reputation. After driving for about 20 minutes my driver again asked for name of the hotel as he wasn’t sure exactly where it was (at this point I wasn’t worried as this has happened to me in almost every city) and then after a few more minutes he asked if I had a contact number for the hotel. I gave him the number and after trying it a few times he announced that the number didn’t work and took me to an information centre to use the internet to find out exactly where my hotel was. It was at this point that alarm bells started to ring; why couldn’t he use the internet on his phone that he had been playing with only moments earlier? The information centre googled the name of my hotel and then called then called them for directions, putting me on the phone to them a few minutes later, where my hotel announced that due to the upcoming elections the road was blocked and I needed to call back in half an hour and they would let me know what they could do for me. At this point the taxi driver announced that he couldn’t wait that long and the information centre said they would drop me free of charge (more alarm bells – nothing is for free). After half an hour, we called my hotel again who told me the road was still blocked and that they were sending me to a different hotel for the same price for the night. I knew something was off, but by this point it was 7pm and dark and the information centre I had been taken to was in a bad neighbourhood, so being a solo female in a dangerous part of town after dark I went to the hotel thinking I would jump on the wifi there and sort it out then.When I arrived at the new hotel and was all checked in they announced that the wifi was broken and that I wouldn’t be able to use it until the morning. It had been a long and stressful day and so I decided to just get some dinner, go to bed and sort it out in the morning.
When I woke up the next day and went downstairs to enquire about the wifi I was again told that it was broken, but only after they asked me what room I was staying in, which set off more alarm bells. Why would they ask my room before telling me it was broken? Why wouldn’t they just say it’s broken? So I asked where I could get a local SIM and they told me I had to go back to the information centre. I contemplated just going for a walk to look for shop that sold SIM cards but there was nothing around the hotel, and I had no idea where I was so I agreed to go back the information centre, where I was again taken for free. The information centre did arrange a SIM card for me but I was told that it wouldn’t be active until 7pm that night (as far as I’m aware this bit was legitimate, as I was required to provide a copy of my passport and a photo; something other travellers had told me you need to do to get a SIM in India) so this again left me without a way to contact the outside world. I asked if the road was open now and if I could change to my original hotel so the information centre called them for me and put me on the phone where I was again told that the road was still closed and that I needed to stay at the alternative hotel I had been set up in. The information centre then proceeded to plan my entire trip in India for me, despite me telling them that I didn’t want this, but after being stuck sitting there for four hours I agreed to let them organise the first four days of my trip for 28000 rupees. I knew I was being scammed but I just wanted to get out of Delhi and didn’t know how else to go about doing this given I was only allowed to go from the hotel to the information centre and couldn’t access internet anywhere. I could have flagged down a random taxi on the street but was afraid if I did this I would find myself in a worse situation; the entire reason I had gotten a pre-paid taxi in the first place!
I told them I didn’t have any cash on me and by some crazy stroke of luck their EFTPOS machine was broken so I paid them a 2000 rupee deposit and they said that I could pay the rest before I left the next morning. They didn’t want to give me a receipt, but after refusing to leave without one I finally got one and was then driven around Delhi to look at all the sights. At 10pm that night my SIM finally started working and I decided to try the number I had for my original hotel that I had been told didn’t work and unsurprisingly it did work. The road had never been blocked and the hotel had been waiting for me and thought I just didn’t show up; whoever I had spoken to on the phone on the two occasions were obviously part of the information centre. My original hotel was amazing and agreed to come and collect me and take me away from the scam hotel, so I packed my bags and stormed out. When I checked out the hotel tried to charge me 8000 rupees for my stay but I refused and announced that I was calling the police. This did the trick and despite the hotel insisting they weren’t in on the scam they said if I had a receipt for the money I had paid the information centre that they would honour the price of my original booking and that they would take the money from the information centre and handed me 800 rupees back (my original hotel was 1200 for the two nights).
Thanks to them not being able to charge my card the joke ended up being on them. For 1200 rupees I got a night in a fancy hotel that cost 4500 a night, several free taxis back and forth between the information centre and the hotel, a taxi around Delhi, two packets of cigarettes, a lighter, a bottle of water and a cup of coffee. I got out of this scam lightly and didn’t lose anything, but I’m all too aware of how much worse this could have been and how much more money I could have lost. Once I finally escaped I met an Israeli man who had been scammed out of 64000 rupees. He had made it to his hotel without incident, but was then taken to an information centre by a man off the streets of Delhi, where he was given Whisky and hash and then charged a fortune for it. My information centre had also constantly tried to get me to drink alcohol and smoke has but I had flat out refused from the get go, which thankfully also saved me money as I have no doubt had I accepted I also would have been presented with a bill afterwards.
I’ve written this post in the hopes that it will help others to avoid this scam in the future, but I honestly don’t know what advice I can give you to avoid falling victim to it except maybe arrange for your hotel to pick you up if they offer this service and try not to arrive in Delhi after dark. I landed at 3:30pm but after taking an hour and a half to get through immigration, locating my bag given it had taken me an hour and a half to get through immigration, changing money and getting stuck in traffic it was dark the time I was taken to the information centre. Also regardless of how tired you are get the SIM at the airport; even though it won’t be active until the next day at least you know that if you get stuck you will have a working phone soon, and won’t have to rely on the scam artists to get you one if you do happen to get stuck in this scam.