The cliché old New York street hussle is a guy with a sidewalk table challenging passers-by to a game of three-card monte. But today's hussles involve homemade CDs, fake monks, and more. They are based more on abusing your politeness to get your money. I'll outline the most prominent, so you know how to avoid them.
First New Yorker tip: You don’t have to be polite or apologetic to someone looking to part you from your money. Many tourists will stop and listen to the sales pitch out of politeness or offer kind apologies about not being interested… most likely, this only makes the touts be more pushy in their pitch, hoping to wear you down. See someone trying to give/sell you something? Just keep walking, or non-verbally dismiss them. Getting you chatting, even to politely say no, means you’re already a mark in their eyes.
The fake monks.
While the Elmos and Doras of Times Square get more press, there are far more insidious costumed menaces roaming the city... the fake monks. You will spot them all over the high-traffic areas of Central Park, and occasionally in popular spots like the Financial District or the High Line. Dressed as Buddhist monks, these beggars will approach you, hand you a trinket, and then ask for money. They hope you will be too polite or embarrassed to just hand it back and walk away. But that's what you should do.
Your best bet: When you see someone in NYC walk up to you, and attempt to hand you something, keep your hands at your side, and just walking. If they verbally attempt to demand your attention, just ignore it. As noted at the beginning, no response is the best response here.
The CD guys.
That above advice goes double for the CD guys. The "monks" will at least treat your rejection politely. That's often not the case here. Here's how this goes down: a young man will approach you, telling you he's a breakout musician, and will practically shove a homemade CD into your hand. He will then demand payment for the CD. If you don't pay, the CD guys often become verbally aggressive, until you pay up, just to get away. They tend to congregate mostly around Times Square, but are ever expanding. If they insist, call the police!
Again, your best is to never take anything someone attempts to hand you in NYC.
The Battery Park ticket sellers.
Battery Park is a lovely park in lower Manhattan, with views of the harbor, Statue of Liberty, and downtown skyscrapers like the World Trade Center. It is also your waterway portal to harbor cruises, the (free) Staten Island Ferry, boats to the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, the Governors Island Ferry, & more. But in recent years, the park has become plagued by third-party ticket sellers, many unlicensed, who harass visitors into purchasing boat tickets. Many of them lie to, and scam, visitors about what the ticket they purchased is for. One dispute between two sellers recently lead to a shooting in the park.
Your best bet: Do not purchase tickets from anyone on the street. Buy your ticket from the booth or building where the company is based. If you see aggressive ticket sellers, find and inform the nearest police officer.
Street dance crews, most commonly seen around the City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge area, or in Central Park, can seem a fun distraction when wandering the city streets. But you're better off ignoring them, and keep moving. Often their "shows" begin by showing their impressive moves. This draws in the crowds. Then, the dancers pull in a few volunteers from the crowd, and line them up. This is where the show grinds to a halt. The dancers will stop, leaving the volunteers standing in the circle awkwardly endlessly, while they shake down the audience for "tips" (often requesting $20 or more). The volunteers will be asked for the biggest tips. Then, after several minutes of going around collecting money, and awkward homophobic jokes at the volunteers' expense, they will perform their brief stunt, and send everyone away a little poorer when they arrived.
Again, best to keep moving.
Pedicabs congregate around popular areas like Times Square or Central Park. Many are reputable, but far too many prey on tourists. A recent investigation found pedicabs charging riders hundreds of dollars for fairly basic trips. NYC law requires pedicabs to charge a per-minute rate, and to display that rate prominently on their vehicle, and to make riders aware of that rate before beginning. Many flout this law in various ways. So if you take a half-hour ride on the pedicab and the driver charges $10 a minute (and you were not aware of that), boom you've got a $300 bill at the end.
Tip: Never, ever ride in a pedicab where the driver is not in full compliance with a well-placed rate sheet on his/her vehicle. You can also try negotiating a set price with a driver before boarding (this advice also works for horse carriage rides). If you see a driver who does not comply, alert a nearby police officer.
Times Square character photos
In Times Square, you will see countless people in costumes (Elmo, Minions, Batman, Statue of Liberty, etc) coming up to tourists, having them take photos with them. This seems harmless fun, and kids of course love it, but please note these unlicensed performers expect a tip in exchange for the photo. Refuse to tip, and some performers may become angry. This is among the most harmless hustles... feel free to grab a fun photo, just be aware a dollar or two is expected in exchange.
The Ground Zero street sellers.
Technically, this is less a scam, and more just predatory sales. But it's a pet peeve of mine, so I'm including it here. Near the World Trade Center (usually on Church St, between Fulton & Vesey), street sellers gather to sell 9/11 photo books, and similar "souvenirs" to tourists in the area. They are not affiliated with any official organization, and certainly not with the memorial. They are vultures, who are profiting off a tragedy. Please do not buy from them.
Interested in purchasing books related to the World Trade Center? The memorial & museum have an official gift shop & kiosks... where the money goes to a good cause.
But please don't let this scare you! 99% of New Yorkers are polite, helpful, and are happy to welcome you to our city! But it is important to be aware of these scams, and have the confidence to avoid them.