In the summer months, the English press in Spain is full of cautionary tales of various con men, including fake police officers who stop motorists, usually on the way from the airport or ferry port to their accommodation. They target rental cars and foreign registered vehicles, hoping they will not inquire too deeply into the reason for being stopped.
Under the pretext of looking for drugs, they will then search the car and make off with money, passports, jewellery and any other valuables they can find. They may say that they are ‘fining’ the occupants of the car for some misdemeanour or other, or if they’re not so subtle, they’ll just take off with your belongings, and may even take your ignition key and phone so they can make good their escape and prevent you from summoning help quickly.
The thing to remember is this goes on all year round, not just in the summer months, so you need to be vigilant, especially when driving a rental car or foreign registered vehicle. And if your car is a top of the range model, you’re even more of a target, as a friend of ours found out recently when he was stopped near Madrid by a black Audi with three occupants.
As our friend and his wife were returning to the UK after spending a couple of months on the Costa Blanca, they were rather suspicious when just one of the occupants of the Audi approached the car, waving what looked like a police ID badge. As they couldn’t actually see the details, they locked the doors. When the ‘policeman’ asked for their identification, they held their passports against the windows and refused to unlock the doors.
What aroused their suspicions was the fact that although they had not previously been stopped by police in Spain – real or bogus – they had witnessed roadside police checks and, just as in the UK, the police hunt in pairs, both for safety and to act as witnesses for each other. Also, our friend found it strange that there were two other people in the Audi, again because two is the norm, unless they have a suspect in the car, in which case a real policeman would not put a colleague at risk of attack by leaving him alone in the vehicle.
Our ultra-cautious friend had also locked most of his surplus holiday money in the boot, and had just a few Euros in his pocket for emergencies, so when the ‘policeman’ asked to see if there were any drugs in his man bag, he opened the window just enough to pass it out. The guy made a performance of sniffing the bag before he opened it to check inside, but by now he must have realised that he wasn’t going to get very far unless he used force, and that could have attracted unwanted attention.
With breathtaking irony, he handed back the man bag and said our friends could continue on their way, but they should be careful, as there were lots of fake policemen around, preying on unsuspecting tourists! When our friend said he was going to ring the emergency number to check that the guy who had stopped him was a genuine policeman, just to be sure, he ran back to the Audi and they sped away. This convinced our friend that he’d had a very lucky escape – particularly as the man spoke English with an eastern European accent, and did not look at all Spanish.
Our friends continued to their overnight stop in Burgos, shaken by the incident but otherwise unscathed. There have been other reports of similar incidents on the routes to and from the airports and ferry ports, and it happens all year round, as Spain is a year round holiday destination. It’s not just a summer thing.
If you are stopped by what appears to be an unmarked police car, don’t assume that it is a genuine roadside check. Ask to examine the officer’s ID closely, through a slightly open window. Keep the doors locked, and if in any doubt whatsoever, call 112. That’s the Spanish emergency number, and if it’s a genuine operation, the officer will be happy to wait while you check his credentials. If your Spanish is not so good, you can talk to an English speaker on this number.
If you feel at all uneasy, drive on to a busy, well lit area, or better still, a police station. If it’s a bogus operation, they will not follow you, and if it’s genuine, you can explain your concerns when you’re in a place of safety.
Spain is a great country to drive in – the roads are first class and they are generally much quieter than the roads in the UK. However, you need to be aware of possible dangers, so be vigilant and stay safe to enjoy your time in Spain.