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I have read so many internet articles about safety in Spain, and the fake police scam is one of the most mentioned problems. Most of those reported cases are that the victims are surrounded by group of undercover 'police', accusing you of having drugs and wants to check your ID and wallet.

How can we avoid that or handle it in case it does happen?

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    Take a fake police warrant card with you and arrest them all...Obviously don't do this...:) – Liam Oct 3 '14 at 8:39
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    There have been some cases, not many, but I don't think this is common at all. While it is good to know what to do in such situation, it is also good to know that it is very unlikely to happen. – fedorqui Oct 3 '14 at 9:49
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    and it's far from specific to Spain. It happens in most any country where it's possible to get something resembling a police uniform that's close enough to confuse a foreigner... – jwenting Oct 3 '14 at 11:18
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    @fedorqui: It's not that uncommon. I've had it pulled on me at least five times, twice in Spain, twice in Colombia, and once here in Perú. At least one of the times it was tried in Spain, the fake cop had a Colombian accent -- the first time, my ear was sufficiently tuned to recognize regional accents -- so it may well be more prevalent in SA than in Spain. But the evidence I have is far too anecdotal to make generalizations. – rici Oct 4 '14 at 0:52
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    If this is an acknowledged problem by Spanish authorities and they have published an official "what to do if this happens to you", that would be a highly regarded reference. – hippietrail Oct 8 '14 at 23:29
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Follow the steps:

  1. Remain calm. Ask for identification before going anywhere with them or giving them anything.
  2. Don't sign anything without a lawyer present. If they start accusing you of anything, state that you require they then contact your embassy to help you with a lawyer. Generally if they're scamming, they don't want documentation or third parties involved.
  3. If they want to search your bags, ask if you're under arrest or have done anything wrong. If you're not under arrest (as you'd hope) then ask why you can't just walk away right now. If they want your ID, agree to do so at the station with a lawyer or embassy member present.

Basically, your goal is to throw documentation, process and evidence at them - all of them being something scammers will want to avoid.

Much of this is learned from dealing with (real) police who were corrupt and doing basically the same thing. In theory, fake police should be easier to deal with. Good luck, and hope it doesn't happen to you! Spain is a great, friendly country in general.

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    The problem with asking for identification is that you have no way of knowing if the identification provided is real. – Taemyr Oct 3 '14 at 7:48
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    @Taemyr yes, although 1) if they can't provide it then you've caught them out and 2) if they flash them it's probably because they're not very well made. It at least reduces the odds of being scammed. – Mark Mayo Oct 3 '14 at 8:04
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    Also be aware (not specifically in Spain, anywhere in the world) that questioning the police's characterisation of a situation is an effective way to provoke violence. Asking them for ID is likely to be fine, but refusing to do what they tell you until they provide ID has a non-negligible chance of getting you roughed up. Ironically, scam artists are probably less likely than police to be ready and willing to use mild force, since police legally can "restrain" you face-first into the floor whereas the scam artist is escalating his crime. – Steve Jessop Oct 3 '14 at 10:13
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    @SteveJessop might be local, but I've found the Spanish police (both policia local and guardia civil) I've encountered while there to always be courteous and professional. Of course you don't want to appear threatening or uncooperative, but they're not going to beat you up for not allowing them to strip search you before they establish their credentials. – jwenting Oct 3 '14 at 11:15
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    In Italy, and I believe this is true in all the EU, the Police can NOT use force on you, mild or not, except when you are in the process of committing a crime (and even so, it has to be proportionate) – Lorenzo Dematté Oct 3 '14 at 12:55
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Oh, I found a good suggestion in the Barcelona tourist guide

"I'd like to warn your users about an all too common scam which is unfortunately being used on the streets of Barcelona. This happened to me on 18 May, and I think you'll be doing your users a great favour by alerting them to this attempt to steal goods and possessions. It works like this: A young man comes up to you and asks for directions to a popular landmark - e.g. the Gaudí Museum or the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. As you're explaining or just saying you don't know, 2 or 3 men come up to you both and say they are police, and flash an ID card at you that looks like a police ID. They ask if you know the person that asked you for directions. They then explain that they have been trailing this man under suspicion of drug smuggling and that you are now also a material witness. They ask for your ID. When you take your wallet out of your pocket or bag they assault you and run off with the bag, passport, or whatever they can get their hands on. My advice is don't ever stop and discuss anything with anyone you don't know - if this happens to you, you just say 'sorry I don't know' and walk off very quickly and don't stop - like I did! "

9

I have been in similar situations with people trying to pretend that they have a legitimate reason to pressure you to do things that might be taken advantage of.

What I do is that I immediately pick up my phone and start dialling the police. When they ask me what I am doing I am honest and tell them that I am phoning the police, and say that they might be well within their right, but I am contacting the police to get instruction on how to proceed.

So far my only response to this is that they try to defuse the situation, or simply run away. So far I haven't been able to dial the complete number.

In any case, it is a very good idea to get to know the phone numbers to the local authorities. That might help you in many more difficult situations.

  • +1 for it is a very good idea to get to know the phone numbers to the local authorities – Mike Harris Mar 8 '18 at 14:09

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