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Scammers pretending to play violin for money a 'nationwide issue,' police say
Outside the Target in Portage, Michigan, on July 25, 2022, WWMT saw this man performing with a violin to solicit donations. While he was holding his violin down, with his bow away from the strings, violin music began playing from his speaker. (Photo: Philip Gawel/WWMT)

Police across the United States are warning the public about people pretending to play violins to solicit donations.

Scammers pretending to play violin for money a 'nationwide issue,' police say (Video: WWMT)

After getting a tip from a concerned viewer, WWMT found a man appearing to play the violin outside a Target store in Portage, Michigan, Monday afternoon. As he performed, he stood next to a sign that read, "DAD WITH 3 KID PLEASE NEED HELP FOR FOOD AND RENT."

When the reporters approached him and asked about his performance, a woman sitting beside him said they didn't speak English. As the man was holding his violin down, with his bow away from the strings, violin music began playing from his speaker.

After telling the man some people were concerned about him pretending to play the violin to solicit money, WWMT asked him for his perspective. He responded he did not speak English. WWMT noted his sign asking for donations was written in English and asked him who made the sign. The man then packed up and left the shopping center without further comment.

Police and officials across the country have been warning the public about similar performers.

Scammers pretending to play violin for money a 'nationwide issue,' police say (Photo: WWMT)

The supervisor of Springfield Township in Oakland County, Michigan, made a Facebook post Monday, urging residents to be careful with their money.

"This is a nationwide problem and we’re addressing it at our Davisburg Kroger," said Springfield Township Supervisor Laura Moreau in her post

These are not your neighbors in need (we’ve seen license plates from Texas, Virginia and Illinois) and they aren’t real musicians (the violin music is recorded). Please call Sheriff’s dispatch if you see this scam and do not reward them with a donation!"

Several police departments have alerted their communities about similar performers as well, including police in Florida.

"Recently, myself, along with members of the Community Policing Unit, have encountered individuals attempting this scam at many local shopping centers," said Cpl. James Gatti with the Pinellas Park Police Department in a November Facebook post. "Please be smart and safe with your hard-earned money."

Police in Maryland also chimed in.

"WARNING: This is a nationwide issue, please be aware of scam violin players in Rockville and other locations' shopping centers," the Montgomery County Department of Police (MCDP) said in a December tweet. "They are soliciting money through cash AND electronic methods. "

MCDP later tweeted that while the department does not enforce panhandling laws, it cautioned that the claims of the performers – such as being homeless or having a sick relative – are usually untrue.

"MCPD cannot discourage anyone from giving money, but does offer a word of warning to be cautious, especially if using phone apps," the police department said.

Other law enforcement agencies that have warned the public include the Norwalk Police Department in Connecticut.

"If you want to provide money that will go to people who need it, please donate to established, confirmed programs that will truly support the needy," the Norwalk Police Department posted on Facebook in December.

Viewers told WWMT the man who pretended to play the violin outside the Michigan Target has performed outside other shopping centers throughout the county.

The public information officer for the city of Kalamazoo said street musicians are required to get a permit, and it is illegal to solicit money on private property without the owner's permission.

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