Gem scams Part 4 - India

This is a sequel to a series of articles about gem scams, which we published in 2008.

In part 1 we reported about the comparatively crude Indian method of taxi drivers towing tourists to gem shops or jewellers where they are promised fantastic profits and where gems of inferior quality are foisted upon them at inflated prices.

There are, however, much more subtle and, as is to be feared, more lucrative forms of gem scams. Strongholds of these psychologically ingenious scams are the cities of New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Mumbai (Bombay).

The ways in which the scam is presented to tourists may vary but some ingredients stay the same.

The scammers obtain the victim's trust and friendship. This usually takes a few days.

The victim is asked to help conduct a business transaction. In return for his help the victim is promised a substantial reward.

The transaction goes wrong for some reason or other. The victim is threatened with a lawsuit, jail and/or a very hefty fine and it requires a substantial amount of money to get out of this awkward situation.

The following case, which essentially happened as described below, may act as an example.

A very friendly local guy accosts a tourist under some harmless pretext. The tourist is pleasantly surprised to finally meet a nice guy who does not want to sell anything, does not hit him for money or otherwise try to get to his wallet.

The Indian guy is endlessly helpful and a fountain of tips and tricks which make life easier for a stressed out traveller. To cut a long story short, they become friends. The victim is treated to dinner, gets to know his new friend's friends and is glad to finally get an insight into the real India.

After some time the new friends talk business. One of them is a gem dealer who needs to send some stones to a European customer. To avoid sales tax the victim is asked to send the stones under his name. The whole affair is legal, risk-free, merely takes an hour and on top of it there is a nice reward of several hundred or thousand rupees.

Surprisingly many, mostly young travellers on a tight budget, fall for this. The gems are packed before the victim's eyes and he is accompanied to the post office. Shipping the parcel is plain sailing and the Indian friends declare the whole business as successfully accomplished. Easy money.

At least the tourist thinks so but when he comes to pick up his reward the next day he is confronted with some very bad news. Unfortunately the parcel was confiscated by the customs authorities. They say the real value of the gems is many times the value which was declared on the customs declaration at the post office. This constitutes an act of tax fraud and the tourist is threatened with a lengthy lawsuit, confiscation of his passport and finally a jail sentence.

Thank God, the scammers, who infinitely regret the turn things have taken, know the way out. This, of course, requires the payment of a substantial baksheesh, usually several thousand Euros or Dollars, which they, of course, cannot afford.

If the victim refuses to pay up, more pressure is applied, ranging from telephone calls to (fake) customs officials, to the sudden appearance of (fake) customs agents and/or (fake) plain clothes police, all the way to physical violence, until the victim consents to being accompanied to a bank…

Being hardened travellers – we travel the sub-continent since 1984 and, all of our trips added up, we spent years in India - we can only give one advice: if a tourist is accosted by a local guy, particularly in the northern part of India, it is almost always about money.

If the local gets to the point quickly, the amounts involved are a few rupees only.

The longer the guy takes to prepare his strike, the more expensive it gets…