Buddhist Leaders Telling NYC Tourists To Beware Fake Monks Who Solicit Donations

Image courtesy of Buddhist Council of New York

Just because someone is dressed like the kind of person you may trust, you should always know exactly who it is you’re handing your money to. That’s the warning Buddhist leaders are issuing to tourists visiting New York City, telling them to watch out for fake monks who are pushing people into giving them donations for temples that don’t exist.

NYC’s Buddhist leaders say men in orange robes who claim they’re Buddhist monks are walking up to tourists near the city’s hotspots and giving them shiny medallions while offering greetings of peace. But then they ask for donations, saying they need help building a temple in Thailand, and can get pushy if folks say no.

“The problem seems to be increasing,” the Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, president of the Buddhist Council of New York, a group that represents nearly two dozen Buddhist temples, told the Associated Press. “They are very aggressive and hostile if you don’t give them money.”

His group is trying to spread the word that these men are not related to any Buddhist temple, posting messages on Facebook alerting visitors to the scam.

Some of the most popular spots for the scammers included the High Line elevated park and Times Square, where costumed characters like Elmo and Spider-Man take photos with tourists for cash tips.

Though it’s not illegal to panhandle in NYC as long as the person doing the asking isn’t aggressive, the city’s parks department has a rule against soliciting money without a permit.

A spokeswoman for that department told the AP that the men’s actions were “aggressive panhandling,” a violation of state law and as such, will be enforced by police.

It’s not just NYC that has these fake monks, as the AP notes similarly robed men have been seen in San Francisco circulating “peace petitions” before demanding money. Chinese authorities say the problem of fake monks who beg in the street prompted the creation of an online registry of all actual Buddhist and Taoist sites.

Fake monks? Buddhist leaders warn NYC tourists to be wary [The Associated Press]