Psychics may seem harmless and fun on TV, but they can make a lot of money by exploiting vulnerable people.
(You Won’t Believe #6!)
“There is no way the psychic could have known that!”
I have been researching psychics since 2002, and I have heard this phrase too many times to count. Mentalist and psychic expert Mark Edward would answer that with “Oh yes, there is.” Let’s look at ten ways psychics could know that, with real life examples. I bet you don’t know them all!
1. These people are very good, slick, practiced, and fast.
Hollywood Medium’s Tyler Henry claims he has already given over a thousand readings, and he is only twenty-two years old. When you look at people who have been in the psychic business for ten or more years, those people are on auto-pilot; the questions and statements flow out of them naturally. To an audience member who is watching them for the first time, they appear to be making statements that seem specific, but if you watch enough of these readings you will see some of the same “specific” statements come up over and over again. Old photographs in a box, the sound of keys or coins in a pocket, a fire in the house, someone fell off a horse, a bird came into the house, a garden with roses—all are generalities that seem specific.
2. They use stooges, and sometimes it’s you.
I’ve attended several psychic group readings, and it is pretty typical to arrive early and find that the first couple rows are saved for friends and the best fans. I purchase the VIP passes to these events and never get to sit in the very front row. When I chat up these front row women (yes, they are usually women) I discover that they attend multiple shows in different cities. They talk comfortably and with statements such as “he usually does this in his shows” or “in his show a couple days ago, he said/did this….” Chip Coffey reserves a segment of his show for something called “Coffey Talk,” which is where he chats with the audience and answers questions. It was clear from the questions that several of his fans knew a lot about the TV shows Coffey had been on years ago. Some were fairly obscure questions only a true fan would know to ask. Later on, during the psychic part of the evening, he “read” one of these women with some specific statements. I guess you would call these people psychic groupies; they are unaware that they are being used as stooges and are honored that their dead family members always seem to come through at each show. The regular audience who is seeing Coffey for the first time think he is really accurate and don’t realize what is going on.
Also, in that same event Coffey said that he was getting a message about a psychic business one of the audience women was thinking of opening. He made it sound like he had received this information from the spirit world, but I knew he had been chatting with the woman during the break.
For Penn & Teller’s Bullshit! Show “Talking to the Dead,” Mark Edward examined the incident of psychic Rosemary Althea connecting with a couple’s daughter who had committed suicide. Althea snapped her fingers and said, “She was gone like that,” and the parents nodded their heads and wiped away tears. Mark explained to the show’s producer that there was something not right with that; you don’t want to say suicide unless you are very sure. The producer interviewed the parents, and sure enough, they said that Althea had done readings for them before and the couple was friends with Althea’s publisher who brought them to this show.
At another psychic show Mark and I attended in 2017, after the event was over I chatted with a woman who was so excited that the psychic had given her a reading.
Is psychokinesis real? Can people move objects with their minds or is it even scientifically possible? Explore the history of telekinesis and learn how even some of the greatest psychics in history have been exposed as frauds.
Another Law School for You
WASHINGTON, December 24, 2017: Psychics, or fortune-tellers, predict information about a person’s life. For most people, sitting in front of a psychic is for fun. The laugh is worth the five dollars. Unfortunately for some, the weak or vulnerable, consulting a psychic is too often a sure way to lose significant money and to be emotionally thrown down the proverbial rabbit’s hole.
Psychics in person, online, or on the telephone, cheat people experiencing times of trouble in the areas of romance, money, and health. Those who are lonely, have undergone a recent romantic breakup, who have suffered a financial setback, who have been sued, are sick, or have sick relatives sometimes turn to psychics. They actually pay these frauds significant sums of money so that they can hear their future in the hope that their future will be better.
P.T. Barnum, of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus fame, is widely credited for his understanding of this phenomenon. He summed it up in one famous statement: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Millions consult psychics, mediums, palmists, card readers and others who claim supernatural abilities to predict the future every year. In one 2009 study, the Pew Forum found that in that year about 1 in 7 people reach out to psychics or other types of fortune-tellers.
Regulation of psychics
While virtually every part of our lives is regulated in some way, it is shockingly surprising that these fraudulent psychics are not as regulated as one might think. Laws governing fraud exist in every state. But few states actually have laws addressing the scams perpetrated by psychics and their like.
Regulating an industry that calls itself supernatural is challenging. Particularly one that claims it is beyond the understanding of modern science and one that has no educational requirements. Yet these fortune tellers charge, often heavily, for their services.
Some psychics claim their services are a religious activity. They claim their earnings are similar to donations made to other religious organizations, i.e., not taxed. Others offer that they are entertainers. They even post disclaimers to shield themselves from any losses or injuries suffered by their customers who take their advice. Some rely on the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
Can you test psychic claims with science? Here are a few creative ways that you can test psychic powers scientifically as well as the results of these types of tests that have been performed hundreds of times over the last fifty years. This is part of my Exposing Psychics series.
What are Barnum Statements (The Forer Effect)? Let’s uncover how psychics use the Rainbow Ruse and psychic number games to fool their victims. We’ll examine clips of Theresa Caputo, John Edward, James Van Praagh, Joe Power, Rosemary Altea, and other alleged psychics to expose psychic tricks and cold reading methods just as magicians/skeptics like Derren Brown, Paul Zenon, and James Randi have done before. Don’t fall for their tricks, stay skeptical and don’t drink the psychic Koolaid!
This scam involves making a series of opposite predictions (on winners in the stock market, football games, or the like) and sending them to different groups of people until one group has seen your perfect track record sufficiently to be duped into paying you for the next “prediction.”
For example, Notre Dame is playing Michigan next week, so you send 100 letters to people, predicting the outcome of the game. It doesn’t really matter whether the recipients of your letter are known to bet on college football games. The information you provide will stimulate some of them to want to bet on the game. You name your letter something swell like The Perfect Gamble. In 50 letters you predict Notre Dame will win. In the other 50 you predict Michigan will win. You write a short introduction explaining that you have a secret surefire method of predicting winners and to prove it you are giving out free predictions this week. Notre Dame wins.
The next week you send a free copy of The Perfect Gamble to the 50 who got the letter that predicted a Notre Dame victory. In the introduction you remind them of last week’s prediction and you inform them how much they would have won had they followed your advice. To show there are no hard feelings and to give them one more chance to take advantage of your surefire system you provide—free of cost—one more prediction. This week Notre Dame is playing Oregon State. You divide your list of recipients and you send 25 letters predicting Notre Dame will win and 25 predicting Oregon State will win.
After the second game, you will have 25 people who have seen you make two correct predictions in a row. Three correct predictions in a row should convince several recipients of your letter that you do have a surefire way to pick winners. You now charge them a substantial fee for the next prediction and, if all goes as planned, you should make a handsome profit even after postage and handling costs.
Since you are a crook for running this scam, you won’t feel guilty in promising the prospective suckers their money back if not completely satisfied with your predictions. Your hope is that they will be greedy and say: “How can I lose?” You needn’t remind them how. You might even be able to rationalize your behavior by telling yourself that they deserve to be scammed because they’re so greedy!
For different audiences, you can pretend to be a psychic or an astrologer or a mathematician or a gambler who knows how to fix college football games. If you are cheating the gullible as well as the greedy, you may be able to convince yourself that you are performing a beneficial service to the community by cheating these people out of their money. You might persuade yourself that rather than try to put you in jail for being a fraudulent scammer, society should give you an award for reminding people to use their common sense and critical thinking skills.
A variant of the perfect prediction scam is used by some psychics. If you tell enough clients “someday you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams,” then if one of them inherits a great sum or wins a lottery, you may get credit for being psychic.
Detecting psychic scams & debunking mediums is easier when you know how psychic methods like hot reading work. Don’t be fooled by psychic misdirection. Expert mentalists, skeptics, and magicians Penn and Teller, Derren Brown, Paul Zenon, James Randi, and Mark Edward will reveal the secrets of psychics by exposing disgraceful psychic tricks used by psychic Sally Morgan, The Long Island Medium (Theresa Caputo), Rosemary Altea, Peter Popoff, Joe Power, James Van Praagh, and more. Stay skeptical, dare to be curious, but don’t fall for this bullshit, and don’t drink the koolaid.
These two videos are absolutely brutal to watch. I love it. I enjoy watching these con artists fail at their con game.
Part 1 –
Part 2 –
I know, it’s redundant. All psychics are fake and a scam, but some are worse than others.
When most people think of psychics they conjure an image (see what I did there) of someone dressed in robes in a mystically decorated parlor who reads your palm or the tarot cards for $40. They are making a meager living giving people a bit of harmless entertainment. Some may actually think they have powers, some may know it’s all an act, but what’s the harm?
In truth, however, many psychics are predators who scam people out of hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars. They prey on the vulnerable and the desperate and can ruin lives. This is not a benign industry.
A recent report from Toronto is just one of many – a steady stream with no expectation of ending. They report stories of people who have been victimized by psychics promising to turn around their fortunes, while parasitically bleeding them of as much money as possible.
How the scam works
Encounters usually begin like any street-corner psychic, with a simple reading. Everyone who comes in for a reading is a potential mark. The more desperate the better.
Such psychics (I am just going to use the term “psychic” for convenience, but assume the usual caveats – alleged, fake, etc.) are adept at creating the illusion that they have some magical insight. They are, after all, just mentalists, and usually not very good ones. They don’t really have to be, as their audience wants to believe, often desperately.
Their primary tool is the cold reading. This is the technique of listening to what your mark says, then feeding it back to them as if it came to you magically. You can also make vague statements that are likely to apply to most people, then following up when you get a positive reaction, while glossing over any misses. Simple observation also plays a role. A willing target will do most of the hard work, making all the connections in their own mind. This can seem quite impressive to someone naive to the technique – in fact a skilled mentalist can seem impressive even to someone familiar with it.
This is all part of the grooming, drawing the mark in and gaining their confidence. This is, after all, a confidence game. Once you believe that the psychic has the magical power to fix your life, you are lost.
They then use a variety of tricks to bleed their marks of all their money. They may use some slight of hand, like pretending the water their mark gargled is full of insects, or an egg used in a seeing is full of black ichor. They try to convince their mark that they are cursed, and that the psychic has the power to lift the curse. This frequently involves praying over cash, gift cards, or other untraceable items of value – items the mark never sees again.
In one case a psychic scammed a business man whose girlfriend died unexpectedly out of $700,000.
I firmly believe in the importance of skeptics attending psychic shows, to see firsthand how the biggest touring psychics in the country claim to put audience members in touch with the spirits of their dearly departed – for entertainment purposes only, naturally. In seeing such shows up close and witnessing their effect on devoted audiences we get to see how seriously people take the word of a psychic, and therefore how serious an issue it is if the person making the claims doesn’t have the supernatural powers they profess.
One such show I recently attended was that of psychic Paula O’Brien, whose Liverpool show saw a modest audience of around 150 gather in a hotel function room, eager for Paula to make contact with the other side. Among the usual fare of scattergun names (“Is there a Stephen or a Stewart or a Scott?”) and random numbers and dates (“What does the number three or the month of March or the 3rd of any month mean?”) there were a few points that particularly stood out to a skeptical viewer.
Most disturbing was the lady who told Paula she had attempted suicide on two occasions since the death of her husband. Clearly this was a sensitive subject, and one which needed to be handled with care – or, ideally, left to qualified experts. All of which made Paula’s response shocking: “I promise you, if you try again – and this is your husband’s words – you’ll be in a wheelchair sucking through a straw.”
We then learned that the audience member in question had taken to smearing her deceased husband’s ashes on her skin before leaving the house, after being advised by another psychic that she should abandon her plans to scatter his ashes, and instead should keep them close at all times. It is hard to witness such cases and still wonder whether there is any harm in seeing a psychic.
It starts out in Russian, the English begins at the 0:50 mark. The description below the video has been translated from Russian to English by Google Translate.
I have my fingers crossed. 🙂
Description via Google Translate:
Paul Zenon is one of the most famous British magicians with extensive experience in the representation of different tricks, illusions, frauds and paranormal topics. It has several hundred appearances in television shows and almost 30 years experience in participating in public. Began to earn money as a street magician and learns how people can be fooled and manipulated. Then apply their practical knowledge of human psychology and attention to good causes like exposing pseudoscientific “stars”.
Gender Ratio of Zeno presented the most common techniques of mediums, illustrated with examples from the past few centuries. Cold reading (cold reading) and pre-collect information about companion enjoy the same frequency as in the 19th century and television fortune-tellers today.
The psychic technique of remote viewing is consistent with simple, well known magic tricks.
Today we’re going to sit in a quiet room and draw sketchy pictures of — well, of anything, really — and claim psychic powers, for we’re demonstrating the amazing psychic ability known as “remote viewing.”
Remote viewing was made popular beginning in the 1970’s, when some in the US intelligence community grew concerned that the Soviets had better psychics than we did. $20 million was appropriated to test the skills of a group of psychics called remote viewers. Supposedly, you could ask them a question about some place, and they’d use psychic abilities to draw you a picture of whatever’s going on there, and it was hoped that this would lead to useful intelligence. Project Stargate, and a few others like it, was canceled by the 1990’s, due to a lack of reliable results. Proponents of Project Stargate say that the US government’s investment in the project proves that it had merit. Critics point out that the funding was stopped, and say that if merit had been found, funding would have at least been continued, if not dramatically increased. We can be reasonably assured that the project did not move underground with renewed funding, since the participants have all long since gone public with full disclosure of what happened. Since none of them have turned up mysteriously disappeared, we can safely assume that the government is not too concerned about this supposedly “classified” information.
The most famous remote viewer to emerge from these projects is a man named Joseph McMoneagle. Today he offers his remote viewing services on a consulting basis, and in 1994 he went on the television show “Put to the Test” to show just what he could do. [This] is a clip from the show … and if you want, … watch it, form your own opinion, then [read] my comments.
What you’ll find is that the show’s unabashed endorsement of his abilities contributes largely to the perception of his success, but if you really listen to the statements he makes, and look at the drawings he produces, you’ll find little similarity to what he was supposed to identify. They took him to Houston, Texas and sent a target person to one of four chosen locations. McMoneagle’s task was to draw what she saw, thus determining where she was. They edited the 15 minute session down to just a couple of minutes for the show, so you’ve got to figure that they probably left in only the most significant hits and edited out all of the misses.
The four locations were a life size treehouse in a giant tree, a tall metal waterslide at an amusement park, a dock along the river, and the Water Wall, a huge cement fountain structure. Here is what McMoneagle said:
- There’s a river or something riverlike nearby, with manmade improvements. Houston is a famous river town, so this was a pretty good bet. It applies equally well to the waterslide and to the dock.
- There are perpendicular lines. I challenge anyone to find any location anywhere without perpendicular lines.
- She’s standing on an incline. She was not standing on an incline, and there were no apparent inclines at any of the four locations. Remember, they edited it down to just the most impressive two minutes.
- She’s looking up at it. This would apply best to the treehouse, the waterslide, or the Water Wall. There was really nothing to look up at at the dock.
- There’s a pedestrian bridge nearby. Sounds like a close match for the treehouse or the walkways on the waterslide.
- There is a lot of metallic noise. Probably the big metal waterslide structure is the best match for this.
- There’s something big and tall nearby that’s not a building. This applies equally well to all four locations.
- There’s a platform with a black stripe. Not a clear match for any of the locations.
That’s it – those were the only statements of Joe’s that they broadcast. Strangely, at no point did they ask McMoneagle to identify the location; they did not even ask him to choose from the four possibilities. Instead, they simply took him to the actual destination where the target person was, which turned out to be the dock, and then set about finding matches to Joe’s statements. Suddenly, nearly all of Joe’s statements made perfect sense! Certainly there’s a river nearby. There was a traffic bridge in the distance: traffic, pedestrians, near, far, no big difference. Metallic noise and something big: there was a ship at the dock, but if you ask me what kind of noise a ship makes, metallic is not the word I’d use. And that platform with a black stripe? Could be a ship.
I argue that the target person could have been . . .
Project STARGATE: Psychic Soldiers via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube
Project STARGATE may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but for years taxpayer cash funded experiments with psychic powers. Tune in to learn more about the Cold War psychics — and why some people believe these programs continue today.
One of the most important, and least considered, questions about belief is, “What would it take to convince you that you were wrong?”
It is something we should always keep in the front of our brains, whenever considering a claim. We all have biases; we all have preconceived notions. These only become a problem when either (1) they are unexamined, or (2) we become so attached to them that nothing could persuade us to abandon them.
I’m very much afraid that for some people, belief in the power of psychics is one of those unexamined, immovable ideas. I say this because of the response people have had to a catastrophic faceplant performed last week by Skeptophilia frequent flier “Psychic Sally” Morgan.
“Psychic Sally,” you may remember, is the performance artist who has thousands of people convinced that she can communicate with the dead. She bills herself as “Britain’s favorite medium,” and fills halls with people who have purchased expensive tickets to her shows. This is despite the fact that in a previous show she was caught “communicating” with a fictional character, and was once accused by a journalist of receiving information from a helper through an earpiece.
None of this diminished her popularity. The first incident was only revealed in a newspaper article after the fact, and in the second, the journalist was actually sued by Psychic Sally for libel — and she won. There was no proof, the judge ruled, that the Sally had cheated. The journalist, and the newspaper he worked for, were forced to pay reparations. But this time it is to be hoped that things are different, because Sally did her monumental kerflop right in public. Here’s how blogger Myles Power, who was there that night, describes it:
Sally came to Middlesbrough on Friday night and her show started off very well. Even though she was getting the vast majority of what she was saying wrong the audience did not seem to mind and seemed to be having a good time. The point at which the audience became disillusioned with the performance was quite specific. One aspect of the show is that audience members can submit photographs of dead loved ones, in the hope that Sally will select theirs, and give a psychic reading from it. Sally pulled out of a box on stage one of these pictures. She held the picture up to the camera and it was projected on the large screen behind her. The picture was of a middle-aged woman and by the clothes she was wearing and the quality of the image, I guessed it was taken some time in the 1990s. Sally immediately began to get communications from beyond the grave from a man holding a baby named Annabel……or was it Becky. Noticing that no one in the audience was responding, Sally asked the person who submitted the photo to stand up. A rather small chunky woman at the centre of the hall stood up and Sally once again began to get messages from the afterlife. She was informed that this man and baby were somehow linked to the lady in the picture. However the woman in the audience (who was now also projected behind Sally) disagreed and started to look increasingly confused as, presumably, nothing Sally was saying made any sense to her. Sally then decided to flat out ask her if the woman in the picture had any children who passed and, when informed that that she hadn’t, responded by saying “I will leave that then.”
Sally then became in direct contact with the woman in the photo who began to tell her that there was a lot of confusion around her death and that she felt it was very very quick. She later went on to say that the day Wednesday has a specific link to her death and that she either died on a Wednesday or was taken ill that day. As the woman in the audience was not responding to any thing Sally was saying, she decided to ask how the woman in the photo was related to her. It turns out the woman in the audience got the whole concept of submitting a picture of someone you wanted to talk to from the afterlife completely wrong – and for some unknown reason submitted a younger picture of herself.
So there you have it. “Psychic Sally” has now been caught not only summoning up the spirit of a fictional character, she has gotten into psychic communication with the ghost of a person who is still alive and sitting right there in the audience.
Apparently the hall erupted in laughter when it became evident what had happened, and Psychic Sally never really did recover. A number of people walked out. People wouldn’t answer her leading questions. The audience, for that night at least, was a lost cause.
But here’s the problem:
Many years ago I was asked to give a talk to incoming university students on the nature of psychology. As a social psychology professor, I had a lot of interesting material that I was sure students would find fascinating, from blind obedience to authority to the everyday persuasion techniques of salespeople. Yet to my surprise, at the end of my presentation, I had but two questions from the students: “Does The Secret really work?” and, “Can psychics really read minds?” For those unfamiliar with The Secret, it is a bestselling book and film that promotes the idea that we can have whatever we want merely by thinking about it, all couched in New Age terms and a gross misrepresentation of quantum physics. And as for psychics, there has yet to be any solid experimental evidence of extrasensory ability, even though there is $1 million on the line (more on that later). I initially thought that students asked these questions because they did not have much formal training in science at this point in their academic career, though I soon came to realize otherwise.
College and university students, from freshmen to seniors, have asked me similar questions, along with queries about aliens, ghosts, and a wide variety of New Age and alternative health and psychological treatments. Through countless questions on these topics, I’ve realized the need to teach scientific skepticism, and that using examples of pseudoscience — claims that appear to be scientific but are not — can be an invaluable resource for helping students become discerning consumers of real-world claims.