Step 1: A man approached us asking for directions to the “Colosseo”. I didn’t speak Italian and told him so.
Step 2: A second man (well-dressed in a suit) appears about a minute later and shows us his POLICE ID, and asks for our passports. (What he doesn’t know is that we’d been warned about this modus operandi…)
Step 3: He’s jabbering away in Italian to someone else who just turns out to be the first man who’d asked us for directions (thereby confirming we were tourists). Then we are interrogated as follows, “U speak English? Good! Do you know this man? You were talking to him… was he trying to sell u drugs? This area is where deals take place, so I have to check your documents and money”… More jabbering in Italian, and the first guy shows the plain-clothed “cop” his documents and money, which are promptly checked and returned to him.
Step 4: The “cop” asks us for our documents and money so he can CHECK them!!! (When it’s happening, it’s so smooth and so fast, that my brother was actually going to hand over his things to the guy. I actually yelled at him not to and told the “cop”, “We don;t have our passports with us, but we just shopped at the UPIM store (a large department store), so if you wish we will come there with you and you can check the cash we paid there.”
What freaked me out was how fast the guy’s intimidating tone changed. He said it was ok and actually SHOOK HANDS WITH US before the two of them disappeared. We were left stunned and thanking our stars we’d bbeen warned that this could happen.
In retrospect, it seems so easy to figure out that it’s a con-game, but at that moment, u tend to think “Drugs? No way!! Here, take and check my papers, money etc. It’s all in order…” No prizes for guessing that the money wouldn’t be returned…
The sheer brazenness of these people scared me, esp. since it was in broad daylight with so many people around. Luckily for me, it was really my first day and I was 10 times as careful afterwards…