The sight of a person in tatty clothes begging on the street is enough to elicit money from many well-meaning passers-by.
But, it was claimed last night, some 'beggars' could be office workers with homes who are topping up their salaries by earning £200 a night from donations.
Employees are said to be returning from their day jobs and dressing up in rags to spend their evenings pocketing spare change.
One office worker with a 9 to 5 job said she planned to use the money earned by begging outside cash points and shops to pay for a new kitchen in her flat.
Last night, police warned that growing numbers of people were turning to professional begging to stave off the recession by earning hundreds of pounds tax-free a night.
Officers in Leicester have launched a crackdown after discovering that none of the 20 beggars they had cautioned in the last fortnight was homeless.
Sergeant Adrian Underwood said some beggars could earn up to £200 on a Friday or Saturday night.
If they netted this amount twice every weekend, they could earn as much as £21,000 a year on top of their normal salary 'We have intelligence-there is a woman who is begging because she wants a new kitchen for her flat,' said Sergeant Underwood.
'A lot of well-intentioned people see someone begging and think they are deserving causes.
'Would they give them money if they knew that person had just come out of a flat, was on benefits and had food in the larder?'
Previously Leicestershire Police announced a 'three strikes and you're out' approach after begging emerged as a major concern for people living, working and shopping in the city.
Beggars are given a formal warning and their details taken by officers. If they are seen again, a second warning is issued and if caught a third time, they can be arrested and prosecuted.
Toni Soni, the head of hostel services at Leicester council, said joint operations with the police have found no beggars to be homeless.
'There are people who are actually professional beggars who are doing it to make a living,' he said.
'If we did find they were rough sleepers, we would try to engage them in our support services.'
Beggars in London can earn up to £300 a day figures from Westminster council revealed in Protected content .
The Tory-run authority urged people to give money to homeless charities rather than beggars.