Wollongong’s ‘pretend monk’ busted over alleged street scam

Falun Lin leaves Wollongong Police Station on Saturday.
Falun Lin leaves Wollongong Police Station on Saturday.

A man has faced court for allegedly masquerading as a Buddhist monk in order to scam money from passers-by in central Wollongong. 

Police allegedly found Falun Lin clad in an orange robe, hands outstretched, as he solicited donations in exchange for beads on the corner of Crown and Keira streets on Friday afternoon. 

His bag allegedly contained two mobile phones, a large amount of beads and a ledger full of documented donations, including some surprisingly large sums for anyone to have actually paid for beads, police noted. 

Lin came to police attention after a bystander who had been the victim of a similar alleged scam in Sydney weeks earlier noticed him and raised the alarm. 

Police took Lin’s details but allowed him to leave, pending further investigations, and after attempting to make it clear that he should not continue asking for money. 

But Lin, 47, allegedly lasted just two minutes before police again found him with his hand outstretched towards a woman about 200 metres away, on Crown Street. 

The woman told police Lin had asked her for a donation, and she had assumed he was from the local temple.  

Police caught up with Lin at Wollongong train station, where he was seated on a platform bench, no longer wearing a robe or carrying a bag. 

In an account of events considered by Wollongong Local Court on Saturday, police said Lin “seemed to understand police easily at times, but claimed not to at other times”. 

He allegedly told police he was a Buddhist but not a monk, but that he would dress like that back in China sometimes. 

Lin, whose occupation is listed in police documents as ‘pretend monk’, was arrested and charged with dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception. 

On Saturday the court heard he would require a Mandarin interpreter for future appearances. 

The court heard he was charged with near-identical offences on March 31 and that immigration authorities were considering revoking his visitor’s visa, which expires in June, as a consequence. He was fined $500 in Parramatta Local Court for that offence. 

Prosecutor Amelia Wall told the court Lin refused to disclose the location of his discarded robe and bag. 

“The concern for police is that he will go and get that bag again, get that outfit again and continue to commit these offences,” she said. 

But Lin was granted bail, since his offending, if proven, will not result in a custodial sentence. 

It is a condition of his bail that he surrender his passport until court proceedings are finalised. 

In January 2014, responding to reports of similarly described scams in Sydney, Kim Hollow, the president of the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils, told Fairfax Media that Buddhist monks would not approach strangers on the street asking for cash.

"In no way do we condone ordained people, a monk or nun, wandering the streets collecting money," he said.

Lin’s matter returns to court on Tuesday.