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With any luck, the small bag of colourful, semi-precious gems I brought home are the real thing. (Harley Rustad)
With any luck, the small bag of colourful, semi-precious gems I brought home are the real thing. (Harley Rustad)

I nearly got suckered by a sweet-talking gem scammer in India Add to ...

Sometimes things don’t go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.

The gems glittered under the bright light from a solitary bulb dangling from the ceiling: rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds – or so they appeared.

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A man named Abdul had led me into the back room of his souvenir emporium in New Delhi’s colonnaded, circular shopping hub, Connaught Place. I had barely finished inquiring whether he sold loose gems before he ushered me away from the other foreigners perusing his wares and down a dimly lit hallway and into a back room.

Guidebooks for India state a frank warning: DO NOT BUY GEMS IN INDIA. The scams are rampant, layered and can lead to thousands of dollars lost.

But my mother wanted to have some jewellery made back home, so she asked me to go poke around and see what I could find. “But don’t get scammed!” she said.

It didn’t take long before I was being sweet-talked into gem running across international borders.

The walls of the cramped back room were covered floor to ceiling in shelves of clear, plastic boxes of gems and jewellery. Abdul gave me a stool and hollered for chai. He produced bags and bags of gems – tiny facets reflecting the light in pink, green, blue, red, yellow and clear – and poured them in sparkling piles onto the table between us.

Some may have been genuine, but I sure couldn’t tell the difference.

Many gems available in India are mined in the eastern state of Orissa and because of cheap labour and a relative short distance between source and market, gems in India cost much less than they do in other countries.

Here lay my opportunity, said Abdul.

First, I would purchase a significant quantity gems from him using my credit card as well as a flight ticket back to Vancouver. On arrival, I would hand the gems over to his contact who would deposit in my home bank account more than double what I paid, plus hand over a return ticket back to India. According to Abdul, I stood to earn between $5,000 and $10,000 for just a few days on planes and airports around the world.

I knew this particular ruse – guidebooks mention it, travellers talk about it – but continued to feign modest interest.

Sensing my hesitation, Abdul pulled out a five centimetre-thick binder bulging with photocopies of passport identity and visa pages. Australia. U.S. South Africa. Sweden. U.K. Germany. South Korea. France. Japan. Canada. They were all satisfied customers, he said, who had successfully earned thousands of dollars acting as middlemen.

I know three travellers who’ve been conned – all lost thousands of dollars in variations of India’s gem scam.

Abdul looked disappointed when I said I would “think about it” and quickly scurried from his emporium.

But my mother’s request still loomed. After a tip from a trusted friend, I scored a small bag of colourful, semi-precious gems from what appeared to be a reputable dealer in one of Delhi’s more upscale jewellery markets.

Are they genuine?

I’m too scared to find out.

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