Warning as fake monks return to Sydney for Vivid festival

A group of fraudsters dressed as monks have re-emerged on the streets of Sydney in a campaign thought to be timed to cash in on an influx of visitors to Sydney for the Vivid festival.

NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe has issued a renewed warning to people not to give money to the robed men and women, who are dressed as Buddhist monks and approach people for money on the street, but who really have no affiliation with the religion.

Fairfax Media witnessed two men handing over cash to a "monk" dressed in orange robes in Darling Harbour this week.

When approached and asked to identify which religion and organisation he was from, the "monk" claimed he was Buddhist and tried to hand over a small medallion.

The man indicated he did not to speak English, however when told he was speaking to a journalist, the man said "Peace" and walked away quickly.

Fairfax Media has received numerous other reports of fake monks circulating in the city in recent days, including in Darling Harbour, Circular Quay, and even Bondi Beach. Thousands of tourists are gathering each night in the city to watch the city's landmarks light up for the Vivid festival. An estimated 270,000 people attended the festival on its opening weekend alone.

The "monks" usually ask for cash in return for their medallions, and have been known to storm off when they are only given a few dollars.

Their re-emergence in Sydney follows revelations in Fairfax Media in January that the men and women were scamming people in some of the city's biggest tourist destinations.

Mr Stowe said a number of fake monks had recently been reported in Victoria, and he suspected they may have returned to Sydney to take advantage of the influx of tourists for Vivid.

“They can reportedly become quite intimidating if people don’t hand over cash, so if that happens Fair Trading is advising people to report incidents to the nearest police station,” he said.

“Genuine followers of Buddhism adhere to ethical precepts so scamming people for money is hardly likely to lead to the sublime state of Nirvana."

Brian White, the chairman of the Buddhist Council of NSW, said a monk or nun would never approach people for money on the street.

"We are saddened by this behaviour," he said.

“Buddhist monks and nuns are traditionally supported by their community and would never ask for money from strangers in this way. Instead, people voluntarily give requisites to monastics, unsolicited and this is a practice which is done with a sense of joy."

Anyone soliciting for funds at Circular Quay or Darling Harbour must have a permit from the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.

The authority's rangers said they had escorted "monks" away from those areas twice last month. In each case, the "monks" claimed not to speak English.

NSW Fair Trading advice: How to identify a potential ‘face to face’ charity scam:

  • The person who claims to be collecting donations on behalf of the charity approaches you face-to-face and does not have any identification. Remember that even if they do have identification, it could be forged or meaningless.
  • The person tries to put pressure on you by making you feel guilty or selfish if you don’t want to donate.
  • The person asking for money cannot or will not give you details about the charity, such as its full name, tax status, address or phone number.
  • The person gets defensive if you ask any questions about what the charity does and how much of the donation gets taken up by costs.
  • The person asks for a cash donation and they don’t want to accept a cheque. Or, they want the cheque to be made out to them rather than to the charity.
  • The person doesn’t want to give you a receipt. Or, they give you a receipt that does not have the charity’s details on it.
  • People can report sightings of fake monks to NSW Fair Trading on 13 32 20.

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