Alleged professional beggars have been nabbed in Melbourne for duping generous Australians out of their cash and sending it to China.
Seven people have been charged with begging and possessing suspected proceeds of crime after being arrested with about $1000 in cash on CBD streets this week.
The group had come to Australia on tourist visas, allegedly as part of a criminal syndicate, and claimed to be homeless but all had accommodation, police said.
"(These) people have flown into the country just to make money off Melburnians' goodwill. We're a generous bunch but we've got a zero tolerance for that sort of behaviour," Acting Inspector John Travaglini told ABC radio on Friday.
"It's really hard to get a real understanding of how much money these people are making because of the fact they are exchanging some of the currency."
Inspector Travaglini said the beggars had been caught with receipts showing money collected had been converted into Chinese currency.
They have been referred to federal police and the Australian Border Force.
Inspector Travaglini said the seven detained were free to leave the country.
Authorities believe the beggars are flown in from China on tourist visas for short stints on the streets and handled by Chinese nationals in Australia, the Herald Sun reported.
A 2015 study by Salvation Army support service Melbourne Project 614 revealed professional beggars can take home up to $400 a day with many working six days a week.
Viral video highlights problem
Last month video emerged on social media showing several elderly women begging in the CBD.
The Reddit user who uploaded the clip said they had seen a “growing presence of organised fake Chinese panhandlers” operating over the last six months.
In the clip, three women can be seen hiding from the camera and fleeing the scene after gathering their collected money together.
After the video emerged Victoria Police informed Yahoo News they were well aware of suspected begging syndicates and were working to eliminate the fraudulent behaviour.
“While the majority of people begging in Melbourne are vulnerable and in need, there are a small number of professional beggars who target the CBD at times,” a spokesperson said at the time.
”We know this behaviour can result in the public feeling anxious or unsafe, particularly if the person begging is acting aggressively.”
The spokesperson reiterated that begging or gathering alms is illegal and can result in a punishment of 12 months imprisonment.
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