Fake police, aka Pseudo-Cops

cop or pseudo-cop?

In Bangkok, seemingly corrupt police are extorting large sums from foreign visitors. In South Africa, pseudo-cops are stopping drivers and pedestrians, requesting wallets in order to see identification or “search for contraband,” then absconding. In Stockholm, thieves impersonating police lured seniors into give up their PINs at ATMs in the name of “controlling withdrawals.”

This strategy seems to have exploded recently, or at least is being recognized for what it is, or at least making it into the news.

In my book, Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams, I categorize thieves as either opportunists or strategists. Fake police are a specific type of strategist. They’re operating in small U.S. towns and cities as well as abroad. And it’s easier than ever to gear up for the job with fake badges and uniforms.


The strategist elite are those who make participants of their victims. Like the Palma claveleras, they’re in your face with a story. Their only goal is to walk away with your wallet. Consummate con artists, they’re the slipperiest, wiliest, and most difficult to detect. Garbed in a counterfeit persona designed to gain your confidence, they lay bait and entrap their prey: usually the unsuspecting traveler.

Pseudo Cops

These strategists concoct ingenious schemes. Who could avoid falling for what happened to Glinda and Greg? They were walking in a foreign park in—well, it could have been anywhere, this is so common—when a gentleman approached them with a camera. He asked if one of them would mind taking his picture, and the three huddled while he showed them how to zoom and where to press. Suddenly two other men arrived and flashed badges. The man with the camera slipped away while the two “officials” demanded to know if the couple had “made any transaction” with him. Had they changed money with him illegally? They would have to search Glinda’s bag; and they did so, without waiting for permission.

A real badge?

“It all happened so fast,” Glinda told me a few days later, “I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t have time to think.” The “officials” absconded with Glinda’s wallet, having taken it right under her nose. In variations on this theme, the pseudo cops take only cash saying it must be examined, and they may even offer a receipt. Needless to say, they never return and the receipt is bogus.

On first impression, the pseudo cops’ scam is believable; their trick requires surprise, efficiency and confusion: they don’t allow time for second thoughts. Theirs is a cheap trick, really. They depend on a fake police shield to gain trust; they can’t be bothered to build confidence with an act. Authority is blinding, and that’s enough if they’re fast. It’s a thin swindle, but it works.

Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Seven: Scams—By the Devious Strategist

© Copyright 2008-2009 Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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I hunt thieves. I film them, interview them, write about them, and teach how to avoid them.


  • [...] the difference, anyway, between a pseudo cop—an impostor—and a legitimate but corrupt official? Both rely on their perceived authority, both [...]

  • July 31, 2009


    Mindboggling. I can imagine how one feels after such an experience. I wonder how bad street crime is in Turkey now.

  • [...] around the same time. a community newspaper warned of “false policemen” also targeting seniors at ATMs. The thieves convinced the seniors that they needed their [...]

  • [...] into a woman’s purse for hers. …¢It’s demanded “for examination” by a pseudo-cop. …¢They take only cash from a wallet. …¢A watch is ripped off your wrist. …¢A phone is lifted [...]

  • [...] perp. The interrupting third party always seems to be an uninvolved stranger, or a pseudo cop as in this example. But he’s always part of the game. Note also the con man’s intentional establishment of [...]

  • [...] the real world, thieves take advantage of our engrained respect for authority when they play pseudo-cop. With nothing more than a fake badge and a flimsy story, they make demands similar to our [...]

  • October 22, 2012


    Happened to me a few years ago while walking in Heraklion Crete. I was heading into town on a large unpopulated road when a guy came up to me to find out where I was from and (USA) then he starts to gush over America and talk about the American money he had, he wanted to know if it was real. I wanted no part in whatever scam this was but he was already in his pocket. The hair on the back of my neck went up as he pulled out a couple of 20′s. Just as he produced the money two pusedo-police (in ‘unifom’) pull up in an unmarked car. They say they are tourist police and we both are suspected of being con artists so they need to (get this…) scan my credit cards. Of course the guy that orignally approached me complied giving his credit cards which were scanned into a handheld device. When it came to me I refused and demanded to be walked to the nearest Police station or have a police car pick me up. I would cooperate at the station only. I was scared but I was FIRM. They quickly let me walk away. I had never heard of this scam before.

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