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.
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. 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.
Again, your best is to never take anything someone attempts to hand you in NYC.
If someone is trying to hand you something in Times Square, keep your hands closed, and don't take it.
If they get confrontational, call the police.
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 (representatives from reputable double-decker bus tours tend to be a friendly exception here). 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.
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! Lost? Just say so, and a New Yorker will help you out! But it is important to be aware of these scams, and have the confidence to avoid them.