When traveling abroad, skilled thieves have used the "fake police scam" for years. The Fake Policeman Travel Scam is one of the most successful travel scams. Fake policeman can operate in counterfeit uniforms or plain clothes and prey on a traveler's fear of imprisonment or their desire to trust an authority figure in a foreign land. Follow these tips to spot a fake policeman and protect yourself from one. Know that these types of scams have numerious varations, but they all follow the same genre. Fake police and uniform scams are rife in some countries and are generally quite effective due to the tendency for people to place a lot of faith/believability in official-looking uniforms.
What happens with these types of scam is that the scammers will be disguised as something official (for example, the police) and ask to see some ID or search you, running off with your valuables or otherwise robbing you outright. Or maybe you will be travelling with someone whom you have just met, they seems like a nice guy and very friendly, but also an accomplice to the inbound scammers.
The "police" then turn up and search you and your friend, finding some sort of contraband such as drugs on them. You are then forced into paying a fine or risking jail time, according to the fake police and are thereby scammed out of money. Or maybe your "friend" will have planted contraband on your person, so when the fake police find it, you will be scared and confused, most likely paying up with little resistance for fear of something worse happening.
In more drastic cases, people have been known to be escorted to a "police station" whereby they are then tied up and held prisoner for days as their bank accounts are emptied. Some unfortunate detainees have even been killed as a result of being kidnapped by the "police".
It’s harder to avoid this because of the authoritative nature of the "police", one might be intimidated without particularly wanting to be and therefore act irrationally. However, the best measures to take are to avoid people you don’t trust and to never accept any item which might be considered contraband from them.
As for the police, ask to see official badges or ID (sometimes even these may be faked, however), but if you’re still in doubt, the best thing to do is to cooperate, but ask to be taken to the police station to have anything sorted out there, in the company of other (actual) police officers.
Here are a few recent reported Fake Police Scams reported around the world
In Vienna, three Romanian pickpockets were arrested after telling tourists they were plain-clothed drug investigators. The pickpocket trio would target obvious tourists and told them they were part of an undercover anti-drugs operation. The fake police asked the tourists to open their bags so they could be check for illegal substances and fake money. During the search, valuables were removed while the tourists were distracted.
In parts of northern Europe, some fake police station themselves around ATM and specifically try to target senior or unexperienced travelers who may look like they are having difficulty utilizing foreign ATM machines. While they are assisting the traveler, they obtain your PIN number, steal your card, and you are forced to deal with the aftermath.
Here are a few tips to consider if you think you are being targeted by the "Fake Police Travel Scam"
Take a supposed policeman to a very well-lit and crowded area if he approaches you--especially at night. Fake policemen don't like to move to areas where they can be easily identified and restrained if they're up to no good.
Demand that people who seem to be authority figures provide identification. Fake policemen will likely not want to provide you fake identification that you can inspect closely.
Watch out for fake policemen that demand to see identification, passports and other information contained in a wallet. Fake policeman will grab your wallet and the documents and run once you pull them out and show it to them. A common way that fake policeman encourage you to show documents and a wallet is a charge of using counterfeit money.
Know that fake policeman may hang out at airports to try to make you do things that you wouldn't do normally. Fake policeman have been reported to usher travelers to scam hotels after fake bomb scares, steal personal documents and extort money from travelers.
Note apparent accomplices. Fake policeman often have accomplices in plain clothes. Some of these accomplices act like tourists and strike up conversations with you. A typical scenario is that a fake policeman will request a passport and a wallet from the other tourist to check for counterfeit money. When you hand over your passport and wallet, they run.
Realize that fake policeman can also be on the road. They may try to stop your vehicle and search your car for items that they can steal.
Additional Tips to Avoid the Fake Police Scam
Familiarize yourself with your destination's law enforcement uniforms, cars and typical practices regarding tourists. Many tourists trust scammers who pretend to be authority figures even if they are a little bit skeptical. Terrorist activity and the confusion of being in a different country makes tourists want to comply with authority figures and makes them vulnerable to scammers.
Take down police identification numbers and names. Call local police stations to identify the person as a part of law enforcement if you have doubts.
Don't ever leave a site with only one officer. Wait until you can somehow confirm that the officer is legit.
Real policeman usually don't have a reason to ask to see your jewelry and credit card information.
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