Friday, April 3, 2009

Travel Security Alert!

So, we actually had a group of “evil doers” (Libby's phase for them, seemingly having been turned into George W. Bush momentarily) attempt to accost us today while walking from Syntagma Square to the New Acropolis Museum. They tried the “we're undercover police, (insert reason), show us your passports” scam, which is an oldie but a goodie. Here's how it went down:

I was stopped by this “lost” guy from one of the former Yugoslavia states asking for directions. Having an honest face and pleasing countenance, I frequently have this sort of thing happen: could you help with directions, take our photo, explain how the metro works, etc. And, being an amiable fellow, I usually render assistance. It's my nature. Anyway, so while I'm helping out the “lost” guy, two plain clothes “policemen” approached us from opposite directions. Libby saw them coming and knew that something was up... she became as skittish as a cat tossed into a shower. They noticed her anxiety and one produced a “badge.”

“It's ok, we're police.”

“This man (my lost Yugoslavian) is a criminal.”

“Show us your passports.”

#$%!) me!

The badge looked like it had been purchased at a novelty shop. He might as well have shown us a Blockbuster Video card!

We just looked at them and walked calmly away.

As I never trust anyone on the street, if I stop walking my hand goes into my pocket and onto my wallet. But, I doubt they were going to try to pickpocket us anyway. That would be an inelegant way of accomplishing that objective, as the “distract and bump” is much better. Likewise, I did not suspect that they were going to rob us in a violent manner (as this was broad daylight in a fairly well traveled area) and they could have just done that (or attempted to do so... the three of them came up to about my chest and combined I probably outweighed.

No, I suspect they were going to attempt to either 1) “fine” us for something, or 2) claim that we “committed a crime” and attempt to extract a bribe in exchange for our “release.” This is a pretty common ploy. Had they persisted we would have taken more evasive action or engaged the proper authorities (the Greek police are available on your mobile phone at “100”; the tourist police are available on “171”).

In any case, I don't write this to scare you. Libby was a little shaken up by the experience, which upset me. Otherwise, I would have actually found the whole incident rather comical. But, it's actually not funny because innocent people are taken advantage of each day.
To be clear, I don't blame this on Athens. This sort of thing—or other schemes designed to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists—are always a threat. We've been fortunate over the years, but we've invariably had someone try to fleece us (large or small) on most of our nearly 20 trips to Europe (and in countless others in the States too). Indeed, last year it was taxi driver in Southampton, England with a ridiculous story about trains being unavailable for tourists for umpteen hours so we'd have to pay for a cab ride into London!

The moral of this story is 1) stay alert, 2) be prepared, and 3) be knowledgeable.

Violent crime in Europe is almost non-existent. So, if you're careful, you'll be fine!


  1. Wow, sorry to hear that story. At least all ended well, except for Libby's blood pressure. I am use to the Gypsy kids and breast feeding mother in Rome and Florence, but not fake police.

    This is the first chance to catch up on the travels, heck of a way for me to start reading.

    Best wishes for a safe journey

  2. Wow! I'm sorry this happened to you, but thank you for posting the warning. I'm on the 4/20 sailing with one of my friends, both in our mid-20s. We've both traveled to various countries before, but usually in a larger group or with family. I tend to be cynical with strangers and always assume the worst, my friend is the opposite and perhaps a little "too trusting," but this incident scares me, as they were supposed "police officers" Wow. Hope the rest of your trip is wonderful & incident free :)


  3. When out and about in some ports, I rarely carry my wallet. I have one of those "money belts" you wear aound your neck and drop down the front of your shirt. Just enough room for passport, credit card, cash and SeaPass.

    4/20/2009 group - bikn4fn