Fake Police ID

When approached by individuals stating they are the police and you suspect their IDs are fake what rights does a traveler have and any suggestions on how to handle a situation like this? One reader suggested to scream for the police; that is a good idea except if the individuals are actually the police.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

How many times, exactly, in your whole life to date, have you been randomly approached by plain-clothes fuzz and been questioned? Can you draw a inclusion from your answer to the preceding question? Do you think your conclusion would be logical? What would the penalty be if you yelled 'police!' To the police?

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10889 posts

Ask to go to the station. Ask to see the ID so that you can study it. You probably could not tell a fake one but they might not know that either. The undercover currency fake police is a current scam. They should be carrying a police radio. Just say no and push it. You may be able to judge from their reaction as to how real they are. Show passport if you have to but no money. Or offer to go back to the hotel to get your passport even if you have your passport. This one you have to play as it goes along. There is no pat answer.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7829 posts

In over thirty years of travel I have never been approached by a fake policeman, or any at all . You can simply play dumb.. don't take out your wallet for goodness sake,, your passport fine, ( thieves are not after it no matter what you Americans all think about it being solid gold, lol ) as you required to show id, but no cash. If cash is requested I would just continue to act dumb "no compredez" until they either give up or take you to a police station. You don't mention where you fear this happening, but I should tell you that in France the metro ticket inspectors can fine you on the spot for not having a valid ticket, some people get freaked out by the getting fined on the spot thing, but its valid. Its about 30 euros , but as I said that's if you don't have a valid ticket, if you do then no big deal. They usually work in groups of two or three so if a solo approaches you be more paranoid, also they do wear uniforms.. google for photos of them.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2395 posts

With the exception of ticket conductors that fine on the spot if you don't have a valid ticket, there is almost no circumstance in western Europe where you would be randomly stopped by plain-clothes police and questioned. So in that case, I'd be highly suspicious and ask for more info or to go to the station. I would expect something like that would be a scam. On busses or subways, plain-clothes officers do make random checks and fine on the spot. How do you know if it's legit? They will have not only ID but also a fine ledger and will have been checking everyone's ticket in the car.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3209 posts

Douglas, are there really plain-clothes police in the Metro checking tickets? What Pat described happened to us. But as Pat said, they were wearing uniforms. There were 4 or 5 of them as we came around a corner in the Metro after getting off a train and they asked us in French to see our tickets. We know to hold onto them so we had them, showed them and after they studied them carefully, they thanked us and we went on our way. I was really glad we knew to keep them.

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
341 posts

European policing does no involve much plain clothes or undercover operations, so the chances of the average Joe ever encountering an out of uniform officer is almost nil. This means scammers don't do it either as they'd stand out like a sore thumb!

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6841 posts

European policing does no involve much plain clothes or undercover operations Two years ago across the street from Lausanne train station I witnessed two plain clothes policemen beating the crap out out of an African gentlemen in broad daylight. A few moments later some uniformed officers arrived and joined in on it. Not sure what it was all about. I can also also share some experiences I have had with plain-clothed officers in Amsterdam, Paris, Numermburg and Lyon.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3209 posts

Michael, that sounds awful. What was the experience you had in Paris? I'm sincerely interested.

Posted by David
Bellevue, WA, USA
740 posts

the only time I have ever seen this is on a bus from prague to munich. the bus will make a regular bathroom break at the rest area so police can check papers. i can't believe a police would stop a tourist to check paper on the street though(unless some kind of profiling), but if it ever happens to me, i'd say i need somebody to help me understand what's going on, and ask to either go to the police station nearby or a store/shop/bank and the locals will scare away fake cops.

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
341 posts

i can't believe a police would stop a tourist to check paper on the street though(unless some kind of profiling)... Within the Schengen area they do random checks from time to time as they are allowed under the Schengen agreement. I've encountered them in Basel and on the train between Bern and Geneva on another occasion. BTW, the Swiss don't see anything wrong with profiling - since most non Europeans require work/resident permits it makes sense to target them....

Posted by Angela
Chicago/Rural WI
809 posts

"What complexion do the locals have in Paris that tourists don't also have.. it seems to me that there are people of all complexions on the metro or buses in Paris. Are all American tourists of the same complexion.. ?? Funny I have met American tourists who seemed to have various complexions.. I think its presumptuous to assume all tourists are same colour." The story James gave (above) was regarding Krakow, and in Poland, well, the vast majority have the same complexion. The exception to that, by and large, are some tourists and expats.

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
341 posts

Well by contrast I've lived here all my life and had have never encountered plain clothes police!

Posted by Jeff
Taunusstein, Germany
235 posts

There are plain clothes and uniformed cops in Europe and also....running water, paved roads, flush toilets, clean drinking water, internet access, crime, incredibly nice people, grouchy people, bad neighborhoods, good neighborhoods, beautiful scenery, ugly scenery. What does America have I wonder? Much the same thing I'll bet. What on earth s this kind of perspective from people about the world beyond their view?

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6841 posts

Michael, that sounds awful. What was the experience you had in Paris? I'm sincerely interested. The one is Paris was simply plain clothes transit police inspecting tickets/passes in a corridor of the Pigalle Metro Station. Last year in Barcelona I saw a similar incident with uniformed police beating an African purse seller inside the Catalunya Metro station late at night...very disturbing of course. The most interesting encounter was during the Confederation's Cup in Lyon back in 2003; US v Brazil. After the match a lot of the US fans were walking together in the city center on our way to meet up in a Pub. This was during the lead up to the Iraq War, and the locals along the way were giving us a lot of abuse about US Foreign Policy since we were dressed up in red, white and blue. Unbeknownst to us we were being trailed a couple plain clothes police officers, and the became so concerned for out safety they identified themselves and told us to wait for "backup". A few minutes later a van full of riot police showed up and a helicopter started circling overhead. They escorted us to the pub and guarded the entrance until we all went out separate ways. A bit of overkill IMO, but it was nice to know they cared!

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

A few years ago, two men in blue suits boarded the Metro train I was on in Paris and checked tickets. I had a one-week pass, but not the little folder it was supposed to come in. I told the man I was not given the folder when I bought the ticket. He gave me a folder and moved on to other passengers. A couple of times I have observed Metro police checking passengers in the Metro station. It's not unusual to see young men hop over the barriers at the Metro entrances. Maybe some of them get caught. I've never been approached anywhere by "fake police."

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1970 posts

I got caught by plain clothes metro cops back in the 1970s. Long story short: paid the fine and have always had a valid ticket since

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2395 posts

"They will have not only ID but also a fine ledger and will have been checking everyone's ticket in the car." It's hardly everybody - they profile people who look out of place. Ex. tourists who don't share the same complexion as the locals" While I'm not so naïve to think profiling doesn't occur in Europe - I've seen it happen - every time I've seen officers come through a metro or bus checking tickets, they check everybody. And I've seen it a lot. The suggestion that officers are targeting only tourists seems out of line. I can't recall exactly how often it is uniformed officers checking tickets or plain-clothes, but I'd say more often than not it is plain-clothes officers. I have seen uniformed officers stationed at Paris Metro exits checking tickets on occasion.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7829 posts

What complexion do the locals have in Paris that tourists don't also have.. it seems to me that there are people of all complexions on the metro or buses in Paris.
Are all American tourists of the same complexion.. ?? Funny I have met American tourists who seemed to have various complexions.. I think its presumptuous to assume all tourists are same colour.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

Was the OP asking about transit fuzz or street cops? Yelling for police seems to imply a street situation. All of the affirmative responses involve transit police which are fairly common if not ubiquitous.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7829 posts

Angela, really in Krakow they are different complexions then tourists,, I guess I was assuming many tourists ( but certainly not all!!!) are Caucasian and I also assume most natives of Poland are also Caucasian.. I guess I am getting more confused. In Paris there are many people who are not Caucasians, but are in fact native French going back 2 or 3 generations now.. there are also tourists who are not Caucasians.. I think the police in Paris do profile a bit, but I thought it was mostly the Roma being targeted as that is who I see being stopped by police randomly, even when they do not seem to be engaged in an "activity" but just to show id. not sure why since I don't think they can be illegal immigrants if from Hungary or Romania where I believe many originate ( more recently ) from. Its all confusing..

Posted by Angela
Chicago/Rural WI
809 posts

Oops - didn't mean to confuse the issue, pat! What I was trying to say is that the story James gave was about Krakow, not Paris, and in Poland the vast majority of the native residents are white. Therefore, if you have a darker complexion you are more likely to be a tourist or expat in Poland. So when James said, "It's hardly everybody - they profile people who look out of place. Ex. tourists who don't share the same complexion as the locals", I think he was still referring to Krakow and saying they profile you if you aren't white. But I dunno, maybe he wasn't. I've seen this particular issue pop up on the TripAdvisor Krakow forums more than once.

Posted by Sharon R.
Lincoln, Nebraska, USA
49 posts

Good morning all! I'd be willing to bet we've all met up with plain clothes cops we just didn't know it. They were either uniformed officers out of uniform because of vacation, day or hours off, or on a temporary assignment that didn't require the uniform.Or they could have been under cover and except for returning your greeting didn't mention what they were. Or they could have been trailing somebody and except again for greeting you didn't have time for anything else. Or something else that I haven't thought of because that's not really my field of expertise. I have seen cops in uniform several times that I thought I saw out of uniform at a later time but just greeted because of any of the above. The only one I might mention by name if as I greeted him would be the captain of the branch station near where I live who is also a member of the church I belong to. But I would only call him "Captain First Name" (There are captains in other places besides the police.) so that if he were in such a situation he would still not be pointed out as police. If he motioned me not to say anything I would not. Just thought I'd bring in something else to this interesting thread.