How to Avoid Getting Conned and Understand How Psychic Scams Work
Is Your Clairvoyant a Fraud?
Do you believe? According to CBS news 57% of Americans believe in Extra Sensory Perception. Similarly, in England, the BBC reports that more than half of Britons believe in psychic powers such as psychic readings and telepathy. Whether a true believer in psychic phenomenon or a die hard skeptic, everyone can agree on this one universal truth: There are a great many psychic con artists running money scams, separating the uninitiated from their hard earned cash.
There are no national figures for how many people fall victim to psychic scam artists. For one thing, many people never come forward out of embarrassment. Police do their best to reign in these con artist mediums, but the numbers are staggering and there aren't enough bunko squads to go around. Googling "How many psychics arrested" returns 1,560.000 hits, which should give you some idea of the scope of the problem.
Many people go to a psychic reader out of actual need. Perhaps they have lost someone very dear and are emotionally distraught. Perhaps their marriage is failing and they are seeking answers -- about career, relationships, love, sex, inner pain -- some divine communication from the spirit world that answers their desperate cries and eliminates their problems or concerns.. They don't know where else to turn and so seek out the mystic. God forbid they should choose a common thief.
This is where my friend comes in. His name is...well...let's call him Mr. Gullible. Mr Very Gullible. While I will relate his tale with tongue planted firmly in cheek, there is nevertheless much we can learn from his experience, and by understanding how these crystal ball blackguards operate, we can avoid falling prey to psychic scam artists ourselves. If we should laugh at our human foibles along the way, so be it.
Welcome To My World
Mr. Gullible had been feeling very depressed - something about his dead gold fish, Moby - and decided to seek the council of a genuine, authentic, got-a-neon-sign-in-the-window, psychic. So down to Madam Ruth's he goes for a psychic reading, and enters her storefront parlor. The light was low, but scented candles burned everywhere. Airy, gauzy fabric flowed along the walls and beads separated the front room from the darkness beyond. He stood nervously at the front door. Mysterious voices seemed to come from the walls. He could barely make out what the voices were trying to communicate. "Why can I not go to the base with you, Master?", came a woman's voice. A man replied, "We've been all through this, Jeannie. Now back in your bottle." "Oh...Master!", and then a swooshing noise. It was creepy.
Suddenly a gypsy woman appeared from nowhere. The hanging beads rattled, heralding the mystics presence. The woman held one hand open to the sky while the other clutched her throat, her weathered face turned toward the heavens with eyes closed. Suddenly, in dramatic fashion, the old woman announced, "You have come for a reading!". "Holy cow," thought my friend, "she's doing it already!"
My friend has entered the psychic's world. Everything - the scented candles, the fabrics, the look of the woman - has been carefully calculated to draw him in, to make him more susceptible to what is to come. Of course there IS the television noise in the background, but even psychics can watch I Dream Of Jeannie re-runs. Ray Hyman, professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and on the executive council of the national Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, states in the September/October issue of The Skeptical Inquirer, "Anyone who's been to a reading knows that it's quite a powerful experience. A psychic has the upper hand right from the start. You're entering their world, using their language, following their rules." For this interview, as well as a fine example of a true-life new-age psychic reading in the modern world, go to jdlasica.com. Same game, different playing field.
Let's Play 20 Questions
They take a seat at a small table with a crystal ball between them. The gypsy makes mysterious movements with her hands along the outside of the glass ball. She begins to ask simple, seemingly innocuous questions. "You have lost someone very near to you," she intones. Why, yes. Poor old Moby! "This has hurt you in a meaningful way." Yes! I loved that little fish. "I am seeing the letter B." No acknowledgment from my friend. "It could be a first name...or a last name...or a city...or a place.." Yes! Yes! Mr. Moby lived in a BOWL! She continues in this fashion until she makes a pronouncement: "You are a sincere and deeply feeling individual, but people don't understand you. You are intelligent and highly motivated, but you sometimes let other people's problems consume your thoughts. You always try to do good, even at your own expense. Women are attracted to you, but they fear your intelligence and depth. There is trouble ahead, but you will overcome it." "Holy smokes," thinks my friend, "she MUST be psychic."
They call this a "cold reading". This is nothing more than a cheap parlor trick and the psychic con artist is very good at it. My pal Gully wants to believe, no...needs to believe so badly, that he fails to realize that he has given her all the information she needs, and that her final proclamation is just a newspaper horoscope. My friend doesn't know it, but he has now become her "mark". In the Monday, March 5, 2001 edition of Time magazine, Leon Jaroff writes, " "It is a sophisticated form of the game 20 Questions, during which the subject, anxious to hear from the dead, seldom realizes that he, not the medium or the departed, is supplying the answers." For an example of cold readings and how they work, go to skepdic.com. You could do it yourself. Hey, there's some free career advice. I hear the money's good.
Set The Hook
The psychic's face takes a serious turn. She is hearing voices or seeing something, but what? Finally, she reveals the mystery. "I see a darkness over you. It is evil. It is a very powerful curse! Very powerful!" Mr. Gullible is very worried now. He has already been sucked into the Psychic's world and he believes what he is hearing. Ah, well. He needn't worry. The psychic can remove the curse. She will only have to burn a special candle and purchase a prayer card, and she can get them both for only $300.00. My friend hesitates, but the gypsy woman is having none of that, so she badgers him. "Don't you want to remove the darkness? This curse can kill you! You could die! The curse must be removed!" Hesitantly, he hands over the money as the psychic tells him to return the next day to find out if the darkness has been removed...and to bring an egg with him. As in chicken. Over easy.
As soon as the old woman began speaking of the darkness and curses and death, he should have run away. Far, far away. Adios. Arrivederci. Goodbye. Threatening a person who is emotionally vulnerable is not only unprofessional, but immoral and criminal. There are no special candles and no prayer cards. Find out in advance what the cost of the reading is and don't give them one dime more, regardless of what they tell you or threaten you with.
Those Eggs Look Yummy
My friend returns to Madam Ruth the following day. Bad news. It is much worse than she thought. There is not one curse, but SEVEN, and that requires more special candles, prayer cards, and some crystals this time. Once again, my friend hears that nagging voice in the back of his head telling him get out. She asks for the egg he brought with him. He hands it to her. She places a bowl in front of him, cracks open the egg and, TA DA!...the egg is full of blood! Or maybe there is a live slug writhing in the raw yolk. "You see!," exclaims Madam Ruth. "This is the poison...the evil that infects your soul!" My goodness, can it get any worse? My friend is shook up. He hands over the cash and promises to return in 3 days.
Any beginning magician worth his weight in rabbits can pull this stunt. The Large, Grade An egg Gully brought has been switched with a pre-doctored egg in which red dye has been injected. The writhing slug trick is even easier. The psychic has simply palmed the slug and released it into the bowl as she cracks the raw egg. Isn't that a French dish? Snail in egg? Very simple illusions, but they can have enormous impact on the believer, even causing fear. When you hear that little voice in your head, listen to it. That's real ESP and everyone has it.
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Onward and Downward
The readings continue. The curses are difficult ones, Madam Ruth informs him. She has never seen anything like them. He begins to have readings at her home. At one point, the psychic instructs Mr. Gullible to place a $100 dollar bill into a sealed envelope for every year he has lived and to carry it with him at all times. For Gully, that's $3500.00 bucks. She asks him to see the envelope on several occasions but she never opens it and always gives it back. He trusts her even more for her honesty and does as he is told.
I meet my friend for lunch. I order the eggs. He tells me all about Madam Ruth and all the money he has "invested" in removing the dreadful curses. "Gully, Gully, Gully," I say to him", "the only thing you have "invested" in is the psychic's retirement plan." I show him incontrovertible evidence that it is all a scam, a con, a rip off. I produce documents that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is a con artist and he is her mark. Does he believe me? No, he does not. He is suffering from True Believer's Syndrome, a real affliction where someone continues to believe in spite of proof to the contrary. "I've been to her house," he says, "and she's not rich. How could she be stealing money?" I show him an article about a family of con artists in Chicago that owned multiple houses and several psychic parlors. Many of their houses looked like the Taj Mahal on the inside. He is pissed at me and exits the restaurant in a huff. I ask the waiter to bring me a side of escargot and I finish my eggs.
It's An Ending, But It Isn't Happy
Gully continued to see the psychic. Eventually, she declares that the $100.00 bills have absorbed the evil and must be destroyed. She appeared to tear up the money before his very eyes. Or did she have to burn it in a secret midnight ceremony? I forget. I've had a little fun with Gully's story, but this is, in fact, a serious issue. Many people - educated, intelligent, savvy - fall prey to psychic scam artists every day. They can truly feel despair due to the psychic's chicanery, and there have been many documented cases of victims committing suicide. Remember what you have learned here, and never give a psychic your full name, address or telephone number: With a little knowledge you can avoid becoming the next big payday for a psychic scam artist. At least Gully no longer sees the psychic. He's broke.
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From top, all on flickr: Gypsy with crystal ball/misfitgirl; Neon sign/SeraphimC; Storefront B&W/ectarama; Fortune machine/Willy Volk; Everystockphoto: Snail/tristrambrelstaff