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Italain Police

I read in Rick Steve's' book, that one of the common scams in Italy is for someone that appears to be a police officer and ask to see a passport or look into you money belt.. Well How I am suppose to protect myself from that?? I have no idea of what is legal for a policemen to ask in Italy.. and I am a guest in their country.. I would not know if they had a fake police ID.. I would not want to end up in a Italian jail by refusing to co-operate with law enforcement.. The more I read the more scared I get.. Seems that they are looking to steal from you at every turn.. I do not want to be an "ugly American" either.. How do you protect yourself and still mingle with the people like I wish to. It sounds like anyone that is friendly to you is someone I should fear.. Michelle Campbell Valrico FL

Posted by
4457 posts

I read in Rick Steve's' book, that one of the common scams in Italy is for someone that appears to be a police officer and ask to see a passport or look into you money belt.. Is this really written in a Rick Steves book? In 25 years of travel including 3 years living in Europe, no one has ever asked to see my passport except at an immigration checkpoint. I'm not saying this never happens but it certainly is not "common".

Posted by
124 posts

Yes It was in his book.. They call themselves tourist police.. I would guess it not legal for a real policemen to ask such a thing here.. But I do not know the law in Italy

Posted by
778 posts

Though this--or anything else remotely close--as never happened to me, I did find the following in RS Rome, 2013, page 28:
"Don't give your wallet to self-proclaimed "police" who stop you on the street, warn you about counterfeit (or drug) money, and ask to see your cash." Michelle, though there are warnings a-plenty in RS--as well as other--guidebooks, if you do some simple things--amongst others, use a money belt, learn how to say "no" forcefully to those who want to help you buy a metro or train ticket, keep an eye on your luggage in a train station--you can relax and enjoy all that is wonderful about Italy, which includes interacting with Italians. It's a great place!

Posted by
8906 posts

Michelle I'm truly sorry about some of the above comments directed to you....you've asked a legitimate question. Con-men dressed as police officers was more common back in the 90s. There haven't been any reports of this happening in the last 10 years or so. Since 2001 law-enforcement doesn't take kindly of people impersonating them so they have cracked to the extent that it doesn't really happen anymore. Just keep your excess cash/passport/cards in a hotel room safe or money belt, and you'll be good to go, and you'll have an enjoyable trip.

Posted by
6251 posts

I can't believe Rick posts this stuff...embarassing...yes, there are pickpockets and taxi drivers that will rip you off sometime in your life, but there is no need to feel fearful ahead of any mishap, because they are literally not everywhere and they do not prey on everyone and chances are nothing bad will happen to you if you use some basic street smarts. Look, if something seems "off" to you, just walk away and keep walking. Learn a few phrases in Italian - that never hurts and can get you out of uncomfortable situations.

Posted by
7329 posts

George, good job finding that article... Rick's whole point is not to scare people into not traveling but to educate you so you don't fall for scams. Per Rick: "I don't mean to paint Europe as a dangerous place. In fact, it's safer than America. Muggings in Europe are uncommon. Thieves want to separate you from your money painlessly. Scams are easy to avoid if you recognize them." Michelle, read the whole article... I think there's far more danger lurking around the corner in Florida than there ever is in Italy...

Posted by
124 posts

Thank you Michael Schneider I can tell you have heard of the scam to. It is talked about in Ricks book.. It is not insulting to ask. In America I can tell what a policeman from a com artist.. For one in America it would be illegal for a police to ask to see inside your wallet.. Even when you are pulled over for a traffic stop they ask to see your license and tell you to take it out of your wallet.. I do not know the laws in Italy.. and I would not want to insult a policeman.. So it is a legitimate question.. All I really want to know if how can you tell if a policeman is really a cop in Italy.. and what kinds of questions or procedures is legal for the police to do in Italy?? Michelle

Posted by
922 posts

Michelle, it's correct that there are no stupid questions. If you rent a car and have an accident or violate traffic laws, you would be asked to show your Passport as ID, just as you are required to show your Drivers License in the U.S. If you board an Italian train without a properly validated ticket and are caught, you will probably be asked to show your Passport as ID, and you would likely be fined on the spot. This is common.

Posted by
922 posts

... If you don't rent a car, then that eliminates 50% of the probability. If you travel on the trains, you need to learn about how to buy train tickets and validate them when it's required.

Posted by
7329 posts

I am not saying your question is stupid, but I hate that phrase, because I do think there are stupid questions. If someone comes up to you, whether they look like a cop or not, and asks to see your wallet or your money, or your money belt, you will know it is a scam. Ignore them and walk away with attitude. I suggested you read Rick's article that George kindly took the time to find b/c Rick says nothing about someone asking to look into your money belt. You say the more you read, the more scared you get, but you have to read correctly what is written and maybe you won't get so scared. Rick is just trying to tell you about scams so you can recognize them and ignore them. A legit cop is never going to randomly come up to you and ask to see your passport, it would have to be only as Rose described.

Posted by
9454 posts

Michelle,
You would find Italian police to be very polite, but not very likely to approach you at all, unless you look like you need help, and then not very likely unless you ask. So if one approaches you, be polite, but wary. Keep a paper copy of your passport in your purse or backpack so you don't have to go into your moneybelt. If they want the real passport, tell them it is at your hotel. They are unlikely to push further if they are fake police. The current scam I hate is people asking you to "sign against drugs" and then asking for a donation. They even say "Are you against drugs?" and of course you cannot say "no" it sounds stupid! Just don't say anything, don't stop, be a little rude and know they are scamming even if it looks like a legitimate information table and cause. Be aware but not afraid. Keep €50-100 in your purse or a safe pocket easy to access, never access your moneybelt in public (go to t restroom, back to your hotel when you need to access it). I've lived here over a year and never remotely felt like someone was trying to pick my pocket, open my purse, etc. I am careful as I would be in the States, but I do not concern myself with these worries any longer. Have fun, relax, enjoy. It's Italy!!

Posted by
922 posts

When I say 'there are no stupid questions' I mean that no one asks a question with the deliberate intent to be seen as being stupid. People ask questions because they want some kind of reasonable answers. Those who are more experienced have, IMO, an obligation to treat those with less experience with the same respect they sought when they were newbie European travelers and were full of all sorts of questions. I blush when I think back to some of the things I asked my friends and worried about before I had my first European trip done and dusted.

Posted by
7798 posts

Michelle, one thing that you may find interesting when you get to Rome is the number of real police in police cars stationed around the major tourist sites. For instance, I know you plan to see the Vatican and St Peters. There was an Italian sized police car parked at the far end of St Peter's Square when I was there. I assume that is common. Same at Piazza Navona. Same at Trevi Fountain. There were police and ambulances parked beside the Duomo in Florence. There was nothing particular going on, they just appeared to be stationed there and were milling around talking to each other. No one was on any kind of alert. Everywhere you looked you could often see someone you could easily identify as a legitimate law enforcement person. If something worries you, head for them and that will give you time to collect yourself.

Posted by
124 posts

Thank you Pam I am glad to know they are around. Michelle

Posted by
124 posts

Thank you Laurel A constructive and helpful reply Yes it is Italy and meeting the people I am sure is the nicest part.. even more than all the artwork. I live in a tourist area and love meeting people from other places.. I just wanted to know how to protect myself from the few bad apples. Just like we have here. we love tourist in this area to, and I do not like bad things to happen to them. We want them to keep coming. Yes Rose I know you are trying to be nice to me. Thank you to..

Posted by
158 posts

I do know one thing for sure after numerous trips to Italy, and that is that I feel much safer there than here and if I was an Italian, I would be very hesitant to come here!

Posted by
3308 posts

I have found Italy to be a very welcoming place, even in the big cities. The police have been nothing but professional and kind, even walking us a fair distance to put us back on the right track once when we got lost in Rome. The only scams that have been tried on us was once when we got into an unmetered cab and promptly leapt out the opposite door when we saw there was not meter, and another time when a woman pretended to love the of my wallet and asked to look at it...DUH! How dumb did she think I was??? Those two were the ONLY two times, in a cumulative total of 16 months of travel in Europe, I have ever experienced. Don't even worry about Anyway, just behave towards strangers approaching you as you would in any big American city. The same kind of people exist everywhere and most of them are wonderful. It's the very few that you most likely won't encounter that give travel a bad name.
Enjoy your trip and don't overthink it! The more you travel, the more your faith in humanity will improve!

Posted by
635 posts

Hi, I cleaned out a few posts here. Not all of it was bad, but some of it no longer pertained to this discussion after I removed a few posts. Thanks to all of you for remembering that inexperienced travelers will frequently ask questions about info that we take for granted ourselves. It's important to remain cordial. Dissenting opinions are always acceptable, but you have to keep a respectful tone for it to be deemed helpful and not rude. Thanks,
RS Webmaster

Posted by
31076 posts

Michelle, I've read several of your posts, and there seems to be a common thread of "worry" in them. The others have made some good points (including those with a somewhat facetious tone), and I have a few comments to add. It's not likely you'll be approached by any "tourist police", but as I recall that's covered somewhere in Rick's books. If you are approached by "plain clothes" individuals who claim to be "tourist police", insist on going to a police station or to a uniformed officer to verify their credentials. They'll disappear immediately. In my experience, ALL of the Police you'll encounter in Italy are uniformed, and will be packing a sidearm. The uniforms are different between the Carabinieri, Polizia di Stato, Polizia Municipale, Guardia di Finanza, etc. but they will all "look" like Police and will be driving "marked" cars. I doubt that you'll even be approached by them, and I've found that only a few can speak English. You oould be approached by Guardia di Finanza asking to see the receipt for the Gelato you just bought, and that's legitimate. If the shop keeper didn't provide a printed receipt, he's in trouble! Italy is a different world compared to North America, but you'll probably find that your worries evaporate once you arrive there. Be flexible but try not to obsess over what "could" happen. Happy travels!

Posted by
2762 posts

The question is not about real police but about crooks posing as police to get a look at your money. I too have read warnings about that, and not in RS books but on Tripadvisor. But the incidents I read about were in Spain (one in Madrid and one in Barcelona). So it does happen. And a friend of mine had her wallet stolen by a man posing as a train official. He didn't question her but he was partially blocking the aisle as we boarded the train, so you had to kind of push past hi. She unfortunately was carrying her wallet in a waist pack and he must have just unzipped it. The police took her report but acted like it was not all that uncommon. And as Ken said you could be approached by the Finanzia or tax police. They will see you coming out of a shor or restaurant and ask to see receipts for your purchases. Apparently they could fine you if you don't have one but I read somewhere they don't do that any more, they just go after the shopkeeper. But I've been to Italy a couple of times and have never seen these guys in operation. Do watch out for the clipboard kids. They want you to sign a petition against drugs or whatever. Just shake your head and keep walking.

Posted by
118 posts

In response to say that no one ever asks for your passport on the street, I can tell you that is not true. I was visiting Rome in 2002 with my boyfriend. I had left my passport in the hotel safe but my boyfriend had his. We were photographing some statue or other and the police demanded our passports. Well, really, my boyfriend's. I am going to assume that it was because he was dark skinned (half black/half Mexican-Blaxican in his words). They took his passport and demanded that we follow them to the police station. They wouldn't give us ANY information. Eventually, they gave it back and we left but it colored the trip for us. So to those that say that passports are NEVER asked for, remember the old adage of not using never or always when speaking. For us, the sad thing was that we ended it up chalking it up to racism and not something Italian-specific. After all, that kind of stuff happened to us all the time here in the States.

Posted by
782 posts

Karen, you shouldn't be so quick to pull the race card. I got stopped by police and asked for my passport one one trip back in 05 and I'm as white as death eating a cracker. I'd left my passport in my hotel room so I got escorted to their van (mobile police station) and surrounded by about a half dozen of them questioning me until I showed them my military ID and told them I was stationed in Vicenza.

Posted by
7737 posts

Karen, your experience was in 2002 and you'll probably never know for certain if racial profiling was involved, but let's remember what happened in September the previous year. Police in all western countries were still on high alert. Perhaps you were photographing a statue in front of an embassy or potential high value target. Maybe you were wearing something that made them suspicious. Or perhaps it truly was the color of your boyfriend's skin. It wouldn't be the first time that happened or the last, sadly. The question for the OP has to do with circumstances today. And I agree that Michelle is worrying too much.

Posted by
2822 posts

Policeman are entitled to ask for your passport on European countries that have general ID-carrying requirements. Might sound strange, but some countries do have general laws requiring everyone to carry valid ID documents when on public places, and for foreigners that is their passport. They don't need probably cause to ask for ID either. But that never extends to "show me your wallet".

Posted by
124 posts

Thank you all for the positive and informative replies.. Just to let you all know.. I am NOT worried like you think i am.. I am seeking information.. It is only smart to do.. I will be a guest in their country Yes those kinds of things can happen and that is why I asked.. I don't the law or procedures or what is expected in Italy at all.. They have their own laws and there own expectations... That is why I asked. NOT that I am a basket case over it.. The United States Constitution does not travel with you.. And Even in this country injustices happen all the time. Yes being the wrong color or speaking the wrong language, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time can put one in a bad situation as Karen described.. I have lived in the deep south for many years and although I am white I do know this.. Thank you all for the information and thank you Michael for your concern.. I will be fine.. Michelle