Scammer's capital monk-y business

STREET TALK: Police speak to the man dressed as a monk on Plimmer Steps in Wellington.
STREET TALK: Police speak to the man dressed as a monk on Plimmer Steps in Wellington.

A phony Buddhist monk is soliciting large donations from the Wellington public, even guiding them to ATM machines to withdraw cash.

Dressed in the terracotta working robes of a monk, the shaven-headed man has been spotted during the past week wandering the streets of the capital offering bracelets to passers-by.

Several people complained to the Sunday Star-Times that the man then asked for a donation, and was not happy to accept small offerings.

The scam appears similar to one that originated in Asia several years ago and was first spotted in Australia at the beginning of the year. Men dressed as monks were reported in cities across Australia, with one person in Sydney claiming a monk pulled a portable credit card machine from his robes to ask for a donation.

Their actions led to a warning from New South Wales Fair Trading, which issued a public statement warning the men should be avoided and could face fraud charges.

The Star-Times went looking for the so-called monk, and found him on Plimmer Steps in central Wellington, being spoken to by two police officers.

He claimed to speak no English, so police contacted a translator. As the Star-Times watched, a young woman walking past stopped and pointed to the monk while gesturing to a bracelet on her arm.

After speaking to police, the woman, who did not want to be named, said the monk had approached her several days earlier and placed the bracelet on her wrist.

He then asked her to write a word in his book - she chose "peace" - and asked her how much would she donate. When she said she had only a small amount in coins, the monk ushered her towards an ATM machine.

The monk refused to speak to the Star-Times.

Wellingtonian Vicki Waddon said she was approached by the man in Cuba St last week and handed a card that said "peace".

She was instantly suspicious, as she had encountered a similarly dressed man in Hong Kong several years earlier. The man had given her a similar card and then asked for a donation, grabbing her purse and pointing to the notes inside.

Wellington police communications manager Nick Bohm said a 47-year-old Chinese national had been warned about his behaviour.

The man had recently arrived in New Zealand. There was no evidence to suggest he had been part of the scam in Australia, although his actions had "all the hallmarks" of that.

Inquiries with local Buddhist temples had shown the man had no connections in Wellington.

The man told police he was collecting donations for "prayers and blessings". The public were advised to ignore him and contact police if they had concerns.

New Zealand Buddhist Council chairwoman Amala Wrightson said receiving offerings, or alms, was part of Buddhist monasticism but should not be solicited in the manner described.

"Traditionally a monk or nun begging for alms will stand quietly until approached, and will receive only food in his or her alms bowl, not money.

"He or she will gratefully receive whatever is given and not demand more."

She advised people approached to ask for information about the temple the person claimed to be collecting for. Most Buddhist temples in New Zealand were registered charities and their names, addresses and Charities Commission numbers should be on any material.

Sunday Star Times