New York is known for its diversity, but this new wave of monks stands out from the rest of the city’s colorful population. Clad in the orange, flowing robes of Buddhist tradition, these men of mostly Chinese descent make their way through the streets of New York asking for donations.
However, these men are not the holy, virtuous monks they appear to be. These so-called monks are actually con artists who solicit money from innocent city goers.
These scams seem to follow a general pattern. The monk approaches some passer-by, usually a tourist, and hands them a small amulet or medallion before aggressively asking them for cash donations in return. To convince the victim further, the monk will usually present a picture of their temple which the money is supposedly being used for. These men may ask for donations of up to fifty dollars. If they deem the donation insufficient, they may demand even more.
New York authorities have recognized that these men are obviously not monks. According to the New York Times, one of these monks has been seen walking into a bathroom to change into street clothes. He then boarded a train to Queens where he bought a jug of red wine with his friend. Aggressive begging is also unheard of in traditional Buddhist practice.
Police are having a difficult time incriminating these con artists as there is nothing inherently wrong with begging for money nor is there anything wrong with wearing Buddhist robes. Any arrests that have been made are made on charges of aggressive begging or unlicensed vending. These con artists rely on the victim’s assumption that they are legitimate Buddhist monks, even though they never explicitly say so.
In fact, these monks barely say anything at all, opting for Mandarin Chinese rather than English when soliciting donations. When asked for information regarding their temples or religious practices, the monks either refuse to answer or run away.
Harry Leong, a legitimate Buddhist, told the New York Times about his experience with a fake monk.
“He did not give me any direct answer, even after I repeated the same questions to him several times. I then asked him if he was a fraud, and he ran away from me.”
Real Buddhists like Leong are feeling frustrated with the fake monks since they give Buddhism a bad reputation.
These con artists are not afflicting New York exclusively and have been seen aggressively soliciting money from people in Japan, China, New Zealand, and Toronto.
A local business owner in New South Wales tells the Sydney Morning Herald about his frustration with the monks, “The people giving a donation probably think their money’s going to build a bloody charity thing in Burma and it’s going straight into their pockets. It’s wrong.”
[Image via Sydney Morning Herald]