The counterfeit money surveillance scam is a scam that is found in different parts of the world, but seems to be reported much more in Barcelona. The scam works like this.
First off the thieves look for obvious, unsuspecting tourists that are walking in an area that does not have a lot of foot traffic. When they see a couple of tourists walking down the street they walk up to them and represent themselves to the tourists as Barcelona police, claiming they are searching for counterfeit money. Many times these fake cops will not show any police ID or if they do, they show it quickly as it is phony. They typically ask to see the tourist’s money and/ or passports.
Here is a story reported from a traveler who came across this scam while they were on a cruise and visited Barcelona for the day:
“We were walking a few blocks from the Hotel Barcelo Sants on Tarragona (near the Xerox building) when we were approached by a well groomed gentleman wearing a necktie in broad daylight around 7 PM. On the pretext of asking for direction for a certain street, he engaged us in conversation in English to determine that we were tourists from the U.S. Shortly thereafter, two other men appeared flashing a badge and claiming to be plain clothes Barcelona police. These two asked to see our passports, and alleged that because we were talking to a stranger we might be trying to exchange foreign currency for Euros. Supposedly because of the influx of foreign counterfeit money into the country, they needed to inspect our money to see if we were bringing in counterfeit dollars. I initially showed them only the few dollars that I had in a money clip. They kept asking if I had any more money, and I said no. They then spotted that I had a pouch on my body, and demanded to see its contents. I had $400 in the pouch. They quickly thumbed through each bill, and said “good, good, not counterfeit”.
Then they handed the money back to me with both hands and said “put it back in”. They also went through the pocket cash that my wife was carrying, and told her to put her money back into her wallet. Because this happened so quickly in front of our eyes and the sleight of hand was so good that we did not realize until much later that they had taken $300 in $20’s and $10’s from me and about three $20’s from my wife. Because of the ruse used by these con artists, we did not suspect that they were not real police and became easy victims..
We reported this to the police. The police knew immediately what had happened well before we finished recounting our story. I asked if the police generally ask to see the passports of tourists. They do not, unless a person matches a profile of a suspected criminal. I also asked if the police was conducting counterfeit surveillance, and they replied no. They said that we were fortunate in losing only a few hundred dollars, as other victims sometimes lose thousands of dollars. We knew we were fortunate in not losing more of our money, and we did not expect to recover our $360. It was an expensive lesson. When we reported this to the Cruise assistant purser, so that other passengers to Barcelona would not be duped by this scam. The assistant took the information and said that it would be forwarded to Fort Lauderdale. In telling other passengers on our cruise ship about this scam, they all said that they most likely would have been similarly victimized but now that they have heard about this common scam they would be prepared to resist it. We were given general warnings about being careful as travelers to be on guard against pick pockets and muggings. It would have been helpful if this common scam had been disclosed to us. Don’t fall for this scam like I did.”