COFFEE BREAK | Is An Organized Violin Playing Scam Running Rampant In The US?

By Anya Wassenberg on July 13, 2022

Busker's Gain by Michael Coghlan (Adelaide, AU/CCOC 2.0)
Busker’s Gain by Michael Coghlan (Adelaide, AU/CCOC 2.0)

If you’re in the United States, and hear the sounds of a violin coming from a shopping mall parking lot, beware. You may be a potential victim of a violin scam.

Dozens of news reports document the phenomenon, which, according to reports, is running rampant in the United States. From Connecticut to Texas, police agencies have issued warnings to the public about violin scams, which some attribute to a national organized network.

What is a violin scam, you ask?

At its most basic, it’s someone who is busking with a violin, apparently playing, while they’re actually faking it — the music comes from a hidden recording.

The person, or an accomplice, then panhandles for cash. The scams are set up on public areas, often in or near the parking lot of a shopping mall.

Why a violin scam?

While fake playing to a backing track isn’t an entirely new idea by any means, its resurgence and spread through the shopping mall parking lots of the United States coincides roughly with the onset of COVID. Desperate times… as the saying goes.

There’s a caveat for all outdoor violin players too. As a result of the widespread publicity of the situation, citizens are now confronting the outdoor violin players they feel are pulling the scam, a situation that recently took place in Connecticut.

However, as a local radio DJ found when he publicized the case through social media, most public sympathy seems to side with the scammers. People listen to a few minutes of music, they drop a few coins…if it’s a mime show to a canned recording for someone who’s just down and out, many people don’t seem to mind.

The practice of lip-synching or miming as you play to a backing track isn’t technically illegal, either, despite numerous police advisories about the so-called violin scam.

However, some police departments see a more sinister threat. In Florida, police warned the public about violin scammers who went a step further, and began “harassing” people passing through a shopping mall parking lot for money.

In a Facebook post, the Crestview Police Department called it a “national violin-playing organized scam”. They explained their theory: “The group uses intimidation and distraction techniques to pressure people into giving them money.”

Reports of similar scams have come in from many cities in Florida, Texas, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and others.

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COFFEE BREAK | Is An Organized Violin Playing Scam Running Rampant In The US?

Busker's Gain by Michael Coghlan (Adelaide, AU/CCOC 2.0)
Busker's Gain by Michael Coghlan (Adelaide, AU/CCOC 2.0)
Busker’s Gain by Michael Coghlan (Adelaide, AU/CCOC 2.0)

If you’re in the United States, and hear the sounds of a violin coming from a shopping mall parking lot, beware. You may be a potential victim of a violin scam.

Dozens of news reports document the phenomenon, which, according to reports, is running rampant in the United States. From Connecticut to Texas, police agencies have issued warnings to the public about violin scams, which some attribute to a national organized network.

What is a violin scam, you ask?

At its most basic, it’s someone who is busking with a violin, apparently playing, while they’re actually faking it — the music comes from a hidden recording.

The person, or an accomplice, then panhandles for cash. The scams are set up on public areas, often in or near the parking lot of a shopping mall.

Why a violin scam?

While fake playing to a backing track isn’t an entirely new idea by any means, its resurgence and spread through the shopping mall parking lots of the United States coincides roughly with the onset of COVID. Desperate times… as the saying goes.

There’s a caveat for all outdoor violin players too. As a result of the widespread publicity of the situation, citizens are now confronting the outdoor violin players they feel are pulling the scam, a situation that recently took place in Connecticut.

However, as a local radio DJ found when he publicized the case through social media, most public sympathy seems to side with the scammers. People listen to a few minutes of music, they drop a few coins…if it’s a mime show to a canned recording for someone who’s just down and out, many people don’t seem to mind.

The practice of lip-synching or miming as you play to a backing track isn’t technically illegal, either, despite numerous police advisories about the so-called violin scam.

However, some police departments see a more sinister threat. In Florida, police warned the public about violin scammers who went a step further, and began “harassing” people passing through a shopping mall parking lot for money.

In a Facebook post, the Crestview Police Department called it a “national violin-playing organized scam”. They explained their theory: “The group uses intimidation and distraction techniques to pressure people into giving them money.”

Reports of similar scams have come in from many cities in Florida, Texas, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and others.

#LUDWIGVAN

Get the daily arts news straight to your inbox.

Sign up for the Ludwig van Daily — classical music and opera in five minutes or less HERE.

Follow me
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