How I Avoided a Scam (a Robbery) at the Mumbai Airport

Mumbai Airport

There are a lot of scams at the Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Some unscrupulous taxi drivers will take you to an unreputable travel agent and pressure you to pay an inflated price for a weekly driver or something. There are many reports to this effect on the internet, and I know they are true. It almost happened to me.

I should have known better. Everyone knows the rickshaw drivers or black market “taxi” drivers who congregate around the exit to the airport are scammers. They’re looking for easy prey—naive Westerners with no experience in the country, who don’t know what the natural prices are, who don’t know exactly where they’re going, and who have a relatively fat wallet (being that they have the means to travel internationally). But I was tired, it was raining, and I wanted to get to my hostel quickly and didn’t know how, so I threw caution into the wind. I got out relatively unscathed, like a fish biting the hook fighting itself loose before it can be reeled in. I lost 50 Rupees (US$0.78), rather than a few hundred or thousand it might have been if the theft was completed.

The driver didn’t speak good English, but he told me he could get me to where I was going. He mentioned something about a bus, but I ignored that. Maybe he was referring to his rickshaw as a “bus.” He quoted a price of 100R. That sounded cheap, but I knew it must be expensive, so I asked 50R, and he readily accepted. I got in the back of the rickety cab, and he got in the front with a friend, and they started driving. It was kind of charming driving through the slums in an open-backed rickshaw.

But I knew there was something fishy when I saw the fare meter started at 140R. I asked the driver, and he seemed to confirm the price was 50R, as we agreed. Why would he charge me such a discount from the official fare?

I would soon find out. He stopped in the slum next to some one-story high buildings that were falling apart. The driver’s friend got out to talk to some people. I looked out to see what was happening. The driver assured me everything was fine (for him). Soon he got out and motioned for me to get out and come with some guys who would get me on a bus. I had hoped he could get me all the way downtown.

The “travel agent” guys wanted me to go with them into their little rooms, but I didn’t even have my luggage. I knew what would probably happen in there. There were three or four of them—big guys—and just one of me. Once I would have walked in, one of them would get behind me in front of the door. The “travel agent” would have me buy an expensive bus or rail ticket. It would have been a kidnapping disguised as a ticket transaction. The real thing you’re buying is a ticket out the door. I can only assume, because I didn’t go in. I backtracked and went back to the rickshaw and got my luggage.

The guys came out around me and asked, “What’s the problem?” One person said I should try his “agency.” He could get me bus tickets, plane tickets. I didn’t even need plane tickets. I just needed to get downtown. I’m sure he could have gotten me them, though, or at least something resembling plane tickets and either way for a good deal more expensive than plane tickets cost on the market. So they kept asking me what the problem was. I kept denying and trying to tell them to go. On the road were a lot of other rickshaw cabs, which I didn’t really want to try, but it was just my luck that an auto cab was coming down the street—more reliable, I assumed, than a rickshaw. I pulled out my wallet and paid the rickshaw driver 50R then I got in the taxi cab and threw my luggage in the backseat. One of the presumed scammers came over and was yelling at me as I got in. He kept yelling until I closed the door and the cab drove off.

A simpler solution would have been to avoid the rickshaws in the first place, but it wouldn’t have been as fun.

Like this article? Subscribe to receive articles and updates by email!