Location specific police corruption

Included in this article are detailed descriptions of police corruption that is specific to a certain location.  If you have encountered a specific scam that is not included here, please contribute that information, leave the information as a comment, or contact us so we can include it for you.

Specific Location Police Information

Federales on the road from San Miguel Allende to Tepoztlan

Recent notes from Miin and Niel, dated August 8, 2010:

Last week we drove from San Miguel Allende to Tepoztlan and we wanted to avoid Mexico City, so we drove through Toluca to near Cuernavaca via the Lagunas de Zempoala road, which is absolutely beautiful and forested. However, near the exit from Toluca, which has terrible signage and is difficult to get through, we were stopped by three cops in all black with the label Estado on them. They flagged us down gleefully and then proceeded to pull out a sheet of paper in English stating the days one could drive in Mexico state according to Hoy No Circula. We were not in the wrong as our plate could drive that day at that time, but then they said we needed to put our plate on the front of the car rather than behind the windscreen, which we knew was rubbish. They then said we had to have our car smog tested by them and would have to confiscate it for two days. We feigned innocence as well as stupidity, pretending our English was bad, saying take us to the comandancia, but every time Niel tried to turn on the ignition, the capitan hissed at us to turn it off. They then tried to accuse us of transporting alcohol but it was a bottle of carlo rossi with water in it. Then they pulled out other bits of laminated paper in English with several variations of what they wanted to fine us with. They asked for passports and visas, we showed them copies and said the originals were in Morelia waiting for visas for Cuba, he gave us a paper saying without our passports they could put us in jail for 2 days and take us to court. We asked what the fine was, he wrote USD1000, and we said we had no money, showed them our wallets, but he insisted and kept shouting for us to exit the vehicle and that he would take us to the consulada and have us kicked out of the country. We remained calm throughout and offered him 100, nope, then 500, nope, he was starting to get agitated, even though the other officers with him told him to let us go. A Mexican couple walked past and he shushed us and said nothing while they walked away, obviously didn{t want to be caught asking for mordida. We then gave him another 500 pesos and he let us go. It is a lot of money for us but we really felt threatened and that he would tear our van to pieces just to make a show of it.

Apparently, that road is very prone to these federales trying to get a bite out of tourists. They are obviously very organised now! It is a beautiful road but if you can avoid it, please do!!

Tourist police in Acapulco, Mexico

While the tourist police in Acapulco have 'tourists pay no fines' written on their rear windshields, that doesn't stop them from trying to extract a bribe. Typically, they pull up alongside or in front of your car, and indicate that you should pull over. They then state that you have run a red light (or two or three) and ask for your license. Do not give them any original documents, or give them a document that you are willing to part with. If they insist on seeing originals, state that you will drive with them to the police station and exchange originals there. They will likely argue with you about this, but stand your ground and be firm. They may pull out a pad of papers showing amounts for fines, pretend to start writing a ticket, or call their 'supervisor' in the hopes that you will relent. They also may threaten to impound your car or have you arrested, at which point ask for their name and badge number. Usually if you stand your ground, they will eventually back off.

Border Crossing between Belize and Guatemala

There is a revival of an old border scam now going on in Guatemala. If, as I do, you travel between Belize and Guatemala often, and there is a time left on your sticker, they are now saying you cannot re-register your car for 90 more days. The time left on your sticker gives you time to get wherever you are going at which point, you are expected to get Guatemalan plates. A border official values your car at or above blue book for a car in perfect condition. The person who does the registration takes a fee that is equal to the value of the car. The car is than registered at the lowest book value and the person at the Belize border, the border official and the person who does the registration split the fee and the difference in value assigned. To avoid this scam, make sure they remove the sticker from your car before exiting Guatemala. The name of the person at the Gutamalan/Belize border who acted as the spotter for my car was Lorrenzo Zetro when I crossed back into Guatemala on April 21, 2011. I did not register my car, due to the cost, and confirmed that it was a scam with the US Embassy.

Police in Nicaragua and Honduras

Both in Honduras and Nicaragua, a favorite scam seems to be the 'fire extinguisher and orange-safety triangle' trick. While it is likely a good idea to carry both of these in your car in case of an emergency, it is unclear if there is actually a law stating that you are legally required to carry these items in your car. Variations on this scheme include pulling you over for passing in a no-passing zone (a ridiculous statement, since people spend more time passing than driving on the right side of the road down here) or speeding (also ridiculous, since speed limits, while posted, are never obeyed and often the posted limit is ridiculously slow). The police will ask for your license, vehicle import permit, and proof of insurance. While you can try to hand over photocopies, they will likely insist on the originals. You can try to argue this point here, but we have successfully retrieved our original documents every time (so far). They hold on to your license, state that somehow you have broken the law, and that you will have to pay a fine. The police officer will keep your license, and state that the only way to retrieve your license will be to drive to some remote location the next day in order to pay the fine. However, to avoid that inconvenience, you can pay him on the spot and continue on your way. Stating that you can pay the fine next day and retrieve your license will usually confuse the officer, and he will ask you if you understand what he is saying. State that you do, and that you would be happy to drive out of your way the next day to pay the fine and retrieve your license. He may then pull out a pad of paper as if to write a ticket, or hand your license to another officer. If you keep your cool and smile, they will hand over your license (sometimes with a smile) and let you continue on your way.

Police in Peru

There are quite a few police stops along the Pan-American Highway in Peru. If the police wave at you to pull over, they will likely ask to see your travel documents, such as your drivers license, car import permit, and proof of insurance. There seem to be two tactics used by the police during the interaction. First, if you don't have a front license plate, they may try to tell you some story about how everyone in Peru needs a front license plate. Second, they may also try to tell you that you need SOAT, insurance sold in Peru.

As for the license plate, we had heard about this scam before we entered Peru, so took defensive action. We took a good, high quality photograph of our license plate and had a 'bumper sticker' of the license printed out at a print shop. We stuck it on our front bumper, and we successfully argued with the police that we had indeed followed the law.

As for SOAT, it seems unclear if SOAT is needed for out-of-country cars. We have insurance and it covers everything SOAT would cover in Peru (and much more). We stopped by a SOAT office in Peru, and they claimed we should buy SOAT, but the price is determined by the Peruvian license plate, so we think they were just trying to get money out of us. So, we printed out a very nice looking copy of our insurance and have so far not had to argue too much that we don't need SOAT when the police have asked for it.

Police in Northern Argentina heading to/from Iguazu Falls

While this may not exactly be 'corruption', it's close. If you are driving in northern Argentina within 12 hours of Iguazu falls, be prepared with your orange safety triangle, fire extinguisher, tow chain, and white sheet. These cops are hard-core in this area getting people on technicalities like not having the proper safety equipment, especially if you are driving a car with plates from any other South American country.

Wed, 12/28/2011 - 07:07

Police in Nicaragua

I used to live and work in Nicaragua. Part of my responsibilities for the company I worked for was managing the motorpool of several heavy trucks, Land Cruisers and farm equipment so I got experience with keeping vehicles legal on the road.

I learned that the law states that vehicles must have:

  1. two (2) road triangles
  2. a fire extinguisher
  3. reflective tape on the vehicle bumpers/body (red in rear, white in front)
  4. ownership document (like a US title)
  5. vehicle insurance (Insurance is sold through the banks, and it is inexpensive. It was about $25 USD/year for my Land Cruiser.)
  6. road worthiness/safety inspection certificate

Not all the company's vehicles had all the required items when I first started working there. Because it was harvest season, the police had checkpoints on the highway to inspect vehicles and their cargo. My Nicaraguan drivers told me that when they were stopped, the police had threatened to give them a fine if they did not obtain the proper equipment soon (the same officers worked the same checkpoints every day and knew the drivers). This made me think that the "triangles and extinguisher check" is not just a scam for travelers, although the law is enforced at the discretion of the officer. They probably only give tickets to drivers that they think can pay, such as the company that owned my trucks... and of course a foreign traveler is certainly able to pay the $5 USD fine for not having the proper equipment (this was what the drivers told me the find was to be.)  Also, items 1-5 were required for a vehicle to pass the safety inspection at private inspections stations. My point is that there really is a law that they are enforcing when they ask you to show them your triangles or extinguisher. And if you don't have them then you are technically breaking the law. It's something to remember if ever faced with the situation... or something to remember when preping for a trip and purchasing equipment :-D

I must add that in my experience talking to Nica police, they were always friendly and professional and I never had any problems. As I described, they often let my drivers go for several days without having the required equipment. The police have a lot of discretion as to how to handle an incident, it's advisable to be friendly and apologetic for ignorance of the law and ask to be allowed to go on your way promising that you'll do XXXXX in the next town/store (buy triangle, put on reflective tape, etc)

One thing to be wary of is that automobile accidents in which someone is at fault are considered to be crime, therefore accidents in which there is a personal injury are a pretty big deal. I was told by a reliable source that accidents with a death are tried in court the same as a murder. I suspect that this accident=crime system is part of the reason that insurance is so cheap... no one ever reports miner accidents to police nor do they file a claim with the insurance company. It's better that the two parties settle there at the scene and part ways than involve the police if possible.

As always, be wary on the roads, especially at night. Common in Nicaragua are dark roads due to broken streetlights, lots of loose farm animals, lots of pedestrians (some of which are very intoxicated), poor road conditions, children playing, broken down vehicles, vehicles or motorcycles without any lights driving at night, and they are all hazards to your trip.

Lastly, you'll notice pretty quickly that people use their horns a LOT. Every time a car is passing a pedestrian, bicyclist, approaching a parked or crossing car, etc, etc, etc they honk to ensure that the other car knows they are coming. It is also used to assert right of way and tell the other party that they are passing/crossing/etc.  Don't be shy about giving a tap to the horn to ensure someone knows you are there.

Drive defensively. Cheers. 

Mon, 09/17/2012 - 21:24


Making the blitz across Acapulco (Jan 2012) – hearing of the security issues we had no interest in staying for a visit - we got stopped not once but TWICE within seconds of each event.

The first event went standard – shake hands, how are you? Nice nice very good, well, you ran a RED LIGHT. They were kind enough to show me the fine for a red light was 5137 pesos (we know it is more like 4?? pesos)! They became belligerent when faced with the photocopy of my driver’s licence demanding the original and later instead the front license plate (still riveted onto the bumper). They tried to get me to step out for a ‘quiet discussion’ which was refused. More serious belligerency followed my demand to accompany them to the police station; as you guess closed at 1530hrs in the afternoon! (NOTE these cops had NO identification tags or badges on their uniform and NO license plate on the car but they DID still have the CAR ID number on the bumper. SIDELINE: We had heard that a month or so earlier that the Mayor of Acapulco received a complaint from a tourist that was shaken down to which the result was a massive termination of coppers and a revamp of the police system due to the ongoing bad rep of Acapulco vis a vis the importance of tourism for the city) With this in mind, I then took out my notebook and pen and started demanding their identification; name and badge number. Meanwhile Fanny openly called the ‘Tourist HOTLINE (066) and started speaking SPANISH into the telephone. The first cop – Mr Belligerent – was clearly shaken by this and fled to his car while the other cop started shining apples.

Not two minutes later I spotted the second cop making a u-turn to follow us. He followed us for a km or so at a distance with no indication of immediate or imminent action. I figured to outwit him by pulling over and letting him pass. Do you believe he parked behind me with his lights on??!! Watching him approached I pulled out the roadmap and got ready to misdirect him with 'how to get to...?' questions. He approached the car talking to (he said) his Jeffe on his phone and then started... RED LIGHT.... (NOTE this time the cops had no ID or nameplate, no BADGE and their car had no plates AND the Car ID on the bumper had been scratched off) I told him flat out ‘bullshit’ and followed that cherry with the fact that we had been stopped just 2 minutes ago by other cops. INTERESTINGLY his hearing of being hit by other cops was an immediate ‘get out of jail’ pass. He waved us on.

Moral of the story? There are two: rivet your plates on your car and tell all cops that you just got shaken down just a couple of minutes ago!

Wonder about the possibility of phoney cops posing too...

Mon, 04/01/2013 - 13:06

ARGENTINA -Ruta 14 Concordia

On the Buenos Aires-Iguazu route; Highway 14 under the overpass intersection of Highway 22 at CONCORDIA

S31*23,701 W58*06,048

This hidden checkpoint (trailer under overpass) gets lots of action - particularly from tourists (and probably mostly tourists just arriving in Argentina). It is shocking to us since we have spent months in Argentina and the cops everywere were so nice to us and suddenly

we were back in Honduras.

I failed to restrain myself falling into the Central American mode when I should have been more respectful. This country is generally more advanced and respectful of police than all of Central America....

Tue, 03/01/2016 - 18:36

Confirmed: fined for having a out of date fire extinguisher

We did have the fire extinguisher, but it was not recently checked and thus did not have a valid check sticker. We got fined 20 euro or so. Think it was legit (seperate officer in a little container office), so made no problem and paid it, but who knows. It was indeed in this area from Santa Fe to Uruguay.

Tue, 03/01/2016 - 18:43

Confirmed: fined for having a out of date fire extinguisher

We did have the fire extinguisher, but it was not recently checked and thus did not have a valid check sticker. We got fined 20 euro or so. Think it was legit (seperate officer in a little container office), so made no problem and paid it, but who knows. It was indeed in this area from Santa Fe to Uruguay.

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 10:30

Location specific police corruption

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