Two pedestrians in New Zealand being targeted by a fake monk - believed to be a member of an international syndicate.
Two pedestrians in New Zealand being targeted by a fake monk - believed to be a member of an international syndicate.

Fake monk scammers flee to Australia after NZ crackdown

TWO fake charity "monks" and a "nun" have left New Zealand - but others from a begging syndicate are applying for visas to come to New Zealand.

Police said the trio, who were under investigation, left Auckland for Australia last Thursday and authorities across the Tasman have been alerted to the alleged scammers.

They had been the subject of complaints for targeting pedestrians on Queen St and using aggressive methods to solicit for cash donations.

Immigration New Zealand yesterday said it had received visa applications from other members of the "Blessings" syndicate.

"[Immigration] officers in New Zealand have been in regular contact with their colleagues in China and we can now confirm that our offices in China have received applications by suspected or confirmed members of the Blessing scam," said the agency's area manager, Michael Carley.

"Participants have been known to dress as monks or nuns and try to persuade their victims to hand over money or jewellery in return for 'blessings'."

In an exclusive report yesterday, the New Zealand Herald revealed that a Chinese syndicate was behind a scam which recruited members in China.

For a fee of 10,000 renminbi ($2065), members would be trained to become either Buddhist monks, Taoist nuns, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) street doctors or fortune tellers.

Members were given the appropriate outfit, training and materials such as prayer bracelets, amulets and religious images to support their solicitation.

The syndicate would also help with visa applications and travel and overseas accommodation arrangements.

Investigations are still ongoing and no decision had yet been made on whether the visas of the three will be cancelled.

They had been issued with two-year multiple-entry visitor visas because they said they wanted to do some sightseeing in the country.

"But in any event their circumstances will be carefully considered before they will be allowed to return to New Zealand," Mr Carley added.

Mr Carley said a number of visitor visa applications from China nationals suspected to be involved in the scam had been declined.

"[Immigration] officers are extremely vigilant in scrutinising applications from suspected scammers, including the possibility of more Chinese nationals attempting to come to NZ under false pretences," he said.

Mr Carley said the scam was not confined to New Zealand and there had been many cases around the world.

"We work closely with our counterparts in other countries to share information to minimise the risk of such people being able to travel to New Zealand or elsewhere," he said.

Auckland Police District Commander Superintendent Richard Chambers said he was pleased the three individuals had left the country. He said police had been looking at criminal liabilities and the possibility of pressing charges.

"But honestly, I think it is a better outcome that they have left New Zealand," Mr Chambers said.

"We are aware they have gone to Australia, and we've passed on information via Interpol to ensure other authorities are aware of what they've been doing."

The fake monks and nuns have been reported around the world, including Australia, New York, Canada and Singapore.

Last month, bogus Buddhist monks reportedly targeted crowds who came to pay their respects at the Martin Place siege site in Sydney.

The Australian Minister for Consumer Affairs Jane Garret described them as "heartless conmen".


The scheme
• Fee: $2065.
• Members can be a monk, nun, street doctor or fortune teller.

• They are offered a religious outfit, materials to help with solicitation and basic training.

(Source: woman from Zhejiang recruited to be a fake Taoist nun)

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