'They're scamming people': Fake 'monks' in Sydney are cashing in
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'They're scamming people': Fake 'monks' in Sydney are cashing in

They can be found roaming the city hot spots in brown robes and sneakers, demanding cash from unsuspecting tourists – and receiving it, in often significant amounts.

But they're not real monks, they have no legitimate charitable cause – and despite the fakery, there's little authorities can do to stop them.

A fake Buddhist monk approaches people for money in Darling Harbour.

A fake Buddhist monk approaches people for money in Darling Harbour.

Photo: Supplied

Shaquille James Ray-Brazel, 24, is not a tourist but says he was fooled once by the monks before he realised they were con-artists.

"They gave me one of those amulet token things. I ended up giving him $20 at the time. When I gave him the $20, he noticed that I had more money in my wallet and he sort of gave me that look of 'Why don't you give more?'

"He was kind of blocking my way from walking around him after I gave him that money. I was just trying to get from A to B."

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Now he knows better, but encountering them again twice in one day last week was off-putting.

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"One of them actually approached me with one of their books, trying to get me to give them money. They were just walking up to people trying to get money off them."

He saw a group of three 'monks' at Central and then a group of four at Circular Quay, which he thought was unusual, as it's the middle of winter and usually they appear during the summer festivals and tourist season.

According to Property NSW, rangers in Darling Harbour and The Rocks "had dealings" with individuals, claiming to be Buddhist monks, soliciting money from members of the public on 12 occasions between March and July this year.

"On each occasion, these individuals complied with directions to stop their activities, which are in breach of regulations, and willingly vacated the areas."

A spokeswoman for NSW Police told Fairfax Media it was "not a police matter".

Duping people out of cash: there is nothing the police can do about it.

Duping people out of cash: there is nothing the police can do about it.

Photo: Supplied

Jonathan Jarman, 28, a magician who often performs street magic shows around Sydney, thinks more should be done. He says the monks "kill the vibe", especially during the festival period.

"It's breaks your heart when you kind of see them ripping off people," he says.

"They do a technique where they have a bunch of signatures on a piece of paper that they walk around with, and next to the names of people who have signed the book, they have the dollar amount of what they've supposedly donated."

The 'monks' use this book to silently pressure people into handing over large sums of cash.

Mr Jarman says it "doesn't make sense" that authorities can't do more to stop them, but they don't fall into any category covered by regulation.

Buskers or street performers like Mr Jarman must have a permit and, in places like Circular Quay, insurance. Charity workers must be registered and carrying ID. Begging is not illegal.

A spokeswoman for Fair Trading NSW said "the conduct of the alleged monks does not fall into any legislation administered by NSW Fair Trading and from an assessment of the method of operation of these people they are begging for money."

But Mr Jarman doesn't consider what these 'monks' are doing to be begging.

"If you're begging, normally you're just begging for yourself. If you need food or you want to raise money for yourself. These guys, they work in groups, it's not just one person going around dressed in a robe. They're working as a whole."

"When I was busking or doing some performing, on a good night I might make $200. Someone who is going around panhandling can make that amount in 30 minutes.

"It doesn't make sense that some people have to pay for a permit, or in some cases like Circular Quay have insurance and a permit, to then have these guys walk around and, not only kill the vibe, but... they're scamming people. They're acting like monks when they're clearly not."

Fair Trading's advice to the public? Use your judgement: "A person who is ordained as a Buddhist Monk will not beg for money in the street."

Jenny Noyes is a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a writer and editor at Daily Life.