He was burly, as handsome as a martial arts actor and blatant as they come. He wore his dark red gown with familiar ease. His begging bowl was filled with $20 notes donated largely by foreigners who throng to the Sai Kung seaside restaurants at weekends. But this persistent fellow with the lucrative pitch was no Buddhist monk. When police finally questioned him after a number of complaints from suspicious businessmen, it turned out the entrepreneur was a two-way permit holder supposedly here on holiday. He ended up in court charged with begging. The bogus holy man was not the only robed robber out on the streets. There is a guy who prowls Yau Ma Tei who has the build of a weightlifter and a nice touch in golden robes; speak to him and he answers in a thick northern accent. These impostors, and other mainlanders supposedly here on holiday, are increasingly turning into prime pests. I followed the Yau Ma Tei mendicant one afternoon. His major contributors were aged ladies who dug deep into their purses to contribute what little they had to support what they thought was a holy man. It is no small problem. In 2003, police arrested 290 mainlanders for begging. Last year they caught 197. Nobody knows how many of them had packed monks' and nuns' habits into their suitcases when they came as legal tourists, but it is an artful dodge that is obviously common. Of course, only a tiny percentage of the 11 million mainland tourists last year came to beg, rob, steal or to trick people out of money. Let's all remember that police figures show visiting mainlanders are more likely to be victims than offenders. But it is irritating to see obvious religious confidence tricksters taking advantage of the ignorance of foreigners (who think monks do not eat if they don't collect money) and who prey on the ingrained piety and superstitions of old ladies. I am not the only one who gets irate about fake men of faith tricking residents and tourists to give alms. Nor about other forms of begging. Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) chairman Clara Chong Ming-wah is very concerned about beggars in tourist areas. So am I. So are shopkeepers, and so should be every Hongkonger who has a head as well as a heart. As Ms Chong says, nobody wants to harass those who are suffering genuine misfortune. She agrees with me, however, that the situation in some places is hardly in keeping with the 'Asia's World City' brand; HKTB has raised the issue with the Tourism Commission, and asked for action. Police are well aware of the bands of professional beggars who have descended on Hong Kong, and are doing their best to round them up. Its not a problem unique to Hong Kong. Other cities, notably San Francisco and London, are plagued with panhandlers who are insane, drugged, drunk, offensive and sometimes dangerous. The impact on tourism is enormous. Nobody feels like window shopping on a pavement littered with the human detritus of a failed society, or to walk past an imploring human being waving a stump of his leg or a mother clutching a child and holding out a plastic bowl. What makes me irate is the knowledge that there is no need for the underprivileged to beg in Hong Kong. There are adequate social programmes to take care of them. Nobody needs to plead for food or money on the streets. But it still goes on. Legal deterrents do not work. Beggars face $500 fines or jail for a month. The two fake monks I saw probably made $500 a day. To a genuine homeless, starving person, a few weeks in jail with a decent diet and medical attention could save their lives; but the same succour is freely available under social welfare schemes. I repeat, for those genuinely in need, there is no need to beg. That is what makes me see red when I walk through Star Ferry underpass or along Chatham Road. The other day, a couple of Germans were taking pictures of a pitiful old lady sitting on the stairs leading down to the ferry, next to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Back home in Dusseldorf they will probably be showing off the photographs, telling how old women have to live on our heartless streets, in the shadow of luxurious hotels. It is simply unfair and untrue, and I don't see why a small bunch of professional beggars, which is this lady's profession, should be permitted to besmirch Hong Kong's name and its people. Round them up.