When Ravikumar Prajapati, 48, from Karnataka was suddenly accosted by three authoritative sounding 'plainclothed' policemen in March this year and asked to accompany them to the nearest police station for carrying Rs. 3 million in cash, he did not question their genuineness.
Returning home after conducting a business transaction in Goa, Prajapati thought that he would be let off after establishing the source of the money. But he ended up being thrown out of the 'police' car, with his money robbed.
Police now believe Prajapati is just one of the dozens of victims of a 'fake police' gang, which essentially comprises conmen from Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa who habitually poach on tourists and women.
"They target women who wear gold ornaments and tourists. Invariably they pose as policemen showing fake identity cards and rob their victims," Deputy Inspector General of Police Ravinder Yadav told IANS.
While Prajapati was robbed and outsmarted by three conmen, in November last year, a local resident Ratnabai Polyekar from Sangolda, 10 km from here, was cheated by a smoothly executed old school 'sleight of the hand' trick.
"I was standing outside my house in the morning when two young people came to me and said there were robbers about and I should not be wearing gold on me. They gave me a piece of paper in which I was told to keep the gold," Ratnabai said in her police statement.
When she unwrapped the same piece of paper on reaching home, she found a few pebbles and glass bangles instead of her gold chain and gold bangles.
Yadav said the gang, none of whose members has been caught yet, operates in Goa as well as neighbouring Maharashtra and Karnataka, where cases with a similar modus operandi have been reported.
While nearly a dozen cases have been reported to police in Goa over the last two years, officials fear there may be several instances where victims may have not come forward to register the offence.
Drunk tourists in Goa are some of the most sought after targets for this gang, which is fast being called the 'Iranian gang' because of the presence of a few Pathans and long naturalised Baluchi tribesmen, in addition to the more indigenous comrades.
In 2009, four drunk, unsuspecting tourists from Maharashtra were robbed off their cards, Rs.40,000 in cash by the fake police, indicating that the gang may have been at work even four years ago.
Police have now issued an advisory.
"They should not interact with any person who poses as police personnel, specially, if the said person is in civil clothes. There are no directives issued by police regarding banning of wearing of gold ornaments by members of public in public places," the advisory states.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)