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Hassling By Fake Buddhist Monks On High Line Has Grown Worse, Vendors Say

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Men dressed as monks are accused of aggressive panhandling on the popular High Line, with nearly a dozen asking for donations and leaving visitors frustrated.

They're dressed as Buddhist monks, promoting a message of peace. But when questioned, they are anything but, CBS2's Tracee Carrasco reported.

When Carrasco asked one of the panhandlers if he was a monk, he aggressively grabbed CBS2's camera. He is part of a group posing as monks to panhandle for money along the 1.5-mile-long High Line Park.

Michelle Dunson, of the Buddhist Council of New York City, said they're fakes.

"They're not authentic. They're not real. They're playing on people's heart strings," Dunson said. "It's basically a scam like any other."

The purported monks' ruse is to approach people with a gold medallion of peace, then offer a beaded bracelet. In return, they ask for donations -- $5, $10, or $2. One monk claimed the donation would be put toward a temple in Taiwan.

The purported monks get pushy if people don't comply and hand over a donation.

"I didn't know if they were real or not, but I just didn't feel comfortable, so I walked away," said Chris Rodriguez of New Jersey.

"When you feel like you're under that pressure here, you give the $2, and when he sees me go to get it, he says, '$5,' and I said, 'No, $2,'" a woman visiting the High Line said.

CBS2 first exposed the purported monks on the High Line in July of last year. Vendors said since then, the problem has gotten much worse and very little has been done to stop it.

CBS2's camera counted at least 11 bogus Buddhists on a sunny Friday afternoon. Dunson said it is a disgrace to the Buddhist religion.

"It is very disrespectful for any religion for anyone to falsify who they are, and especially if they're trying to make a gain," she said.

The group operating the High Line tells CBS2 they are frustrated by the panhandlers deceiving visitors. They are hoping this increased signage informs people not to give money, and in the long term, they are looking into legal options to remove these fake monks.

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