Police across America issue warnings over busking scammers, pretending to play the violin

3 August 2022, 15:53 | Updated: 3 August 2022, 17:21

Scam artists are posing as violinists in America, and pretending to play for money
Scam artists are posing as violinists in America, and pretending to play for money. Picture: Montgomery County Department of Police / Twitter

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Posing as buskers, scammers have been miming playing the violin to pre-recorded tracks to solicit donations from unsuspecting passersby.

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Police across America are issuing warnings about a new major ‘nationwide emergency’... involving violins.

Over the last two years, reports of scammers pretending to play the violin, posing as buskers on the street, have swept across the USA.

These miming musicians will move the bow of a violin along to a pre-recorded track, which is usually stolen from another creator.

Instead of simply leaving cases out, so passersby can leave money – like most buskers do – these con artists will usually have someone with them either collecting money, or play against a sign pleading for money to help with rent, bills, or other financial issues. Some falsely claim to be sick or raising money for a poorly relative.

Real violinists have filmed themselves confronting these pretend performers, and a few of these videos have gone viral on the Internet and been shared by numerous news organisations up and down America.

Read more: Music teacher caught trying to ‘secretly’ mime along to student’s singing recital

Some reports are calling the scam ‘finger-syncing’, a play on the term lip-syncing, where a singer mimes to another musician’s voice.

Most commonly, scammers will use electric violins, plugging the instrument into a speaker via a cord.

This gives a reason, that the scammers can use, as to why the violin melody can be heard coming from the amplifier, as opposed to the body of the instrument.

The violinists tend to stand with their backs turned to onlookers, probably so their fingers cannot be seen, or else their miming could give them away.

In the video below, the person filming challenges a sham string-player outside Target, saying what he’s doing is “insulting”.

The videographer continues, “Do you know how insulting and awful this is to actual musicians? It’s not fair! You don’t deserve this – people work their lives to learn this instrument.”

Read more: Deepfake AI now lets classical composers ‘sing’ your favourite retro dance anthems

In America, just some of the states that have issued police warnings over this scam include Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Texas and Arizona.

The con has been coined a “nationwide problem” by many, and due to the spread of the scam, authorities are surmising this could be more organised than initially reported.

Police in Florida believe that these fraudulent fiddlers may be part of a larger group, who are travelling the south-east of America, using the same scam to fool passersby into soliciting donations.

Last week, Laura Moreau, the Springfield Township Supervisor from Oakland County, Michigan wrote on Facebook, “Warning to our compassionate, big-hearted residents – please don’t get scammed!

“This is a nationwide problem and we’re addressing it at our Davisburg Kroger. 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! 248-858-4951, option 8.”

Read more: The time when Joshua Bell went busking in the subway, and no-one noticed

The problem however, is not exclusive to the States.

Twitter reveals that the UK has also experienced this issue, with impersonating instrumentalists apparently appearing outside tube stations in London, near shopping centre entrances across major cities.

Electric violins can be brought for as little as $100 (£82), making this scam easy to copy.

Musicians who busk regularly are concerned this con will diminish their art, and one accordionist on Reddit wrote, “I am worried that this is going to spread as more and more videos of it spread online.”

The user wrote, “I'm guessing that [this sham] will do one or both of these things: show people who can afford a bluetooth speaker and a cheap instrument that they can do this anywhere, and make more and more people believe that all buskers probably probably fake playing.

“I've worked half my life to get to where I am with my musical abilities. It's disheartening to hear that [people could be told that] buskers are fakes.”