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  • Writer's pictureKapil Pund

The Great Indian Scammers

Before we start, looking at the title if you think this about our politicians then you are wrong. Indians aren’t alien to scams. Raavan kidnapping Maa Seeta must be the first false impersonation scam ever pulled off successfully in India and boy, he paid a price for it! Point being we’ve been privy to scams since inception. Whether it’s the Autorickshaw driver deliberately taking a longer route, the shopkeepers feeding us candies because they “don’t have change” or Badshah’s songs breaking the internet, scams in India just keep getting more innovative day by day. But today, let’s just focus on the scams that happen mostly with tourists! Make no mistake you do not have to be a foreigner on your search of eternal light in India to experience these scams. Ordinary Indians like me and you may as well face these. I am not talking about people charging you more for the goods or services they are offering, that is simply business, that is how it works. Here is one of my most favorite and kind of innovative scams, let’s go!

I was in Ernakulam, Kerala. I had just reached there and I was figuring out where to stay for the night, it must be around 7-730ish in the evening. I did not have a hotel booked for my stay yet and as usual I was going to find a rikshaw guy and ask him to drop me to a hotel nearby. While I was waiting, a man walked up to me, he must be 30-35 years old. Before he started talking, a woman also arrived at the scene and stood next to him, she also had a baby with her. So, I assumed they want me to give them some money. I was not going to give them a penny honestly, but then they started talking to me in Marathi. Now, if you are an Indian whose mother tongue is not Hindi, you do not really expect others to speak your language, especially if you are in their region. Here I had a Marathi speaking couple seeking help, in a region where people do not really entertain anyone speaking anything but the local language, it automatically makes you believe them. Imagine two French people meeting in Siberia. They will do their voulez-vous thing, right?

So, initially when they asked me if I could give them some money, I simply said no. They still kept talking. The lady said they hadn’t eaten in days. Since they were speaking Marathi, I asked them what they were doing in Kerala, to which they told me they were from Amravati, Maharashtra. At this point I started believing them because no local scammer would really know Amravati. Even most Marathi people haven’t been to Amravati themselves, so I thought, what they are saying has to be true. Further, they told me that they were in Kerala for work and the person who'd brought them there was now refusing to pay for the work they did so far, snatched their phones as well and they did not even have money to go back to their home. Without any further ado, I gave them 500 Rupees. That was way more than what I could afford at the time, in fact the guest house I stayed at for next two days charged Rs300/night only! I really felt proud of what I did, helped a family in need with whatever I could do.

After Ernakulam, I was in Chennai for a week. I used to have my breakfast at the Bagirathi restaurant just near the Chennai Central railway station. One day, just after daily dose of idlis and was on my way to work, another couple, this time with two babies walked to me and started speaking in Tamil (or Telugu or Malayalam, I don’t really know. I did not understand a word). When I shaked my head and said, “No Tamil”, they suddenly switched to Hindi and told me the same old story I was had heard in Ernakulam. This was the moment I knew I lost my precious 500 rupees to well thought-out scam. I still spoke to them, so when I asked them if they spoke Marathi, they nodded and actually spoke really fluent Marathi. Since I already knew I am scammed once, I did not give them any more money and walked away. This, in my opinion has to be one of the most intelligent scams in India. This is what IT professionals call “Social Engineering” frauds. Works with Indians as well as foreigners. Look at it this way. They speak multiple languages, got to give them credit for this. They put up a show that very much believable and their acting is definitely better than Arjun and Janhvi’s. With foreigners, it works even better, because they’ll often give more than what I gave them. Two years ago, In Chandni Chowk, Pune the same thing happened. This time, I pre-empted their attempt to scam by telling them the story they were about to tell me. I also asked them whether I was right! Pretty sure they never walked so faster in their entire lives the way they did while walking away. Felt better! I was astonished to find that the same scam is still going on and I am sure many are still falling for it. To add to it, we now have “Lost job due to Covid” story. It’s physically harmless but it may affect those who genuinely need help or who are genuinely stranded somewhere. I am not saying you should not help others, but if anyone comes to you telling the story you read above, you know what to do! Offer them to buy tickets to their hometown if you really want to believe them, but do not offer your money. I sometimes wonder what these scammers are doing now-a-days since we have all moved to digital payments and nobody really carries cash, international tourists in India are not here in large numbers like they usually used to be before covid and most Indians are smarter than I was. Whatever they are doing, I am sure they will come up with some more innovative ways until then tell me what’s that one scam you experienced and will never forget?

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