Culture

Beware the Psychic Scam

Why human desire to know the future is costing vulnerable folks big bucks.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Miriam Doerr

Ever ask the question, “why me?” or perhaps wonder why you attract “bad luck” and cannot have the things you desire? Perhaps you are tired of dating and want to know if your soul mate is out there? Maybe you have been working in the same job for years and secretly fantasize about whether you will ever get a raise? If these thoughts have crossed your mind, you’re not alone.

The desire to know what lies ahead is a fundamental human need as we seek certainty, stability and a harmonious existence in life  – we want to know that for all our efforts, we will someday be rewarded. Particularly, when we suffer hardship or bouts of misfortune for no apparent reason, we consider if it’s something we are personally doing wrong or whether we have taken the wrong path.  It is this human desire that leads us to look externally for answers and for some upon the doorstep of a trusty psychic on the quest for spiritual enlightenment.   

So what exactly does it mean when we say a person possesses ‘psychic abilities’? There are a number of abilities we consider “psychic” but the two most commonly encountered in a street reading are psychometry, where a person reads the past history of an object by sensing its vibrational energy and precognition, where a person acquires knowledge of an event in advance by means of extra-sensory perception (ESP), premonition or vision.

While many of us consider fortune telling and such abilities as mere entertainment and a bit of mindless fun, for others there is a genuine risk of getting caught up in a dangerous psychic scam whereby certain frauds claim to possess these psychic abilities with a view to exploiting vulnerable people.  Think it couldn’t happen to you? Don’t be so sure…

While I consider myself to be an educated, intelligent woman in control of my own fate for the most part, I have visited psychics on the occasion.  Whenever I am faced with periods of stagnation, I attempt to obtain answers from the meta-physical world.  However, much to my dismay, I am confronted with the same façade – a phony spiritual medium intent on defrauding me for his/her own pecuniary gain.

Sadly, my story isn’t unique.  According to a Gallup Report in 2005, a study found that 73% of Americans believe in at least some form of psychic or paranormal phenomena.   Further, it seems hundreds if not thousands of people across the US have not only experienced the same deceptive psychic con as myself, but have also lost tens of thousands of dollars along the way. 

So why would an intelligent person continue to seek out spiritual guidance through psychics after being met with the same hoax time and time again?  The secret of the ‘psychic allure’ lies in their intrinsic power to bestow insightful ‘magical’ information upon a vulnerable person in a scenario that typically begins as follows:

First, the hook - you see a sign that reads, “Psychic reading - $10.”  You think, “that’s cheap, I’ll go in for a bit of fun”.  The psychic glances at your hands and suddenly bedazzles you with extraordinary details about your life, family, profession, and relationships.  Alternatively, a “stranger” may approach you on the street claiming to have a ‘spiritual gift’ and begins to freely divulge intimate details about your history.

Now, I’m not talking about those facts that constitute a ‘cold reading’, whereby a psychic sees an antique ring on your finger and deduces that the ring is very old.  No, I’m talking about emotional, heart-wrenching private information that only you could possible know – when she tells you that your ex-boyfriend who you still hold a flame for with the initial K and N wants to reconcile with you OR that while your work in sales is rewarding, your heart truly desires a career in finance.

At this point, you’re impressed and think, “How does she know that? Maybe this person is really on to something!” So you listen a little more intently as she lures you in.  Once she has gained your trust, she explains that the reason you can’t obtain Mr. Right or your dream job is because you have: a spiritual blockage; a curse upon you; and/or a dark energy around you  - all preventing you from having a fulfilling, happy life.

It’s about this time that she will offer to help you by giving you a ‘spiritual cleansing’ emphasizing that this is the only way for you to obtain success and rid your evil - all for a starting price of anywhere between $250 to $14,000.  When quizzed on why “God’s work” requires such a large amount of money, the answers usually range from: the darkness is too engulfing; the money is for special candles; the funds go to the church for prayer; and it’s the cost of the ingredients for a spell.  Thankfully, my own common sense prevailed on each occasion and I politely declined such assistance.  However, others have not been so lucky, falling victim to such hocus-pocus.

Gypsy Psychic/Spiritualist Scams is a website dedicated to exposing spiritual scams and blacklists thousands of phony psychics across the US.  The site, which includes hundreds of accounts of victims’ stories, lists at least “750 Gypsy Fortune Tellers in the police database” and provides individuals with the ability to ‘name and shame’ fraudulent psychics and/or write reviews.  Some of these victims have been conned out of tens of thousands of dollars and many have sought criminal proceedings against psychics for fraud.

Yet, the difficulty in holding such scammers accountable is that many hide behind the first amendment right protecting freedom of speech.  While the Supreme Court has held that deceptive speech, such as fortune telling, enjoys no first amendment protection, the law provides an exception when the conduct is part of a show or for the purpose of entertainment or amusement.  Hence, many psychics who bear a sign declaring that their services are “for entertainment purposes only” are able to escape liability.

But then how do we explain the ability of those who seem to exhibit an enhanced sense of ESP in revealing intimate details about our lives which cannot be attributed to mere trickery?  For over a century, science has attempted to investigate into the validity of human psychic abilities to no avail.  To date, there is no conclusive, scientific proof that parapsychological phenomena exist. In fact many scientists consider such supporting evidence as simply a product of co-incidence, biased or deliberately phony. 

Nevertheless, there are a number of psychic studies which yield statistically significant results with many parapsychologists holding the view that psychic abilities are the result of a hereditary condition linked to genetics of the brain.  Others suggest it is a skill which we all possess that lies dormant until activated.  A recent study even claims that those with psychic abilities suffer from synesthesia – a genetic neurological condition enabling them to see sounds or smells or hear colors and feel feelings. 

According to E. Mark Stern, humanistic and existential clinical psychologist, there are those who pretend they are psychic and do it for material gain, but there are others who are naturally drawn to this form of inner exploration and for them it is authentic:

“As a humanistic psychologist, I have never contradicted those who claim to be psychic.  It is an important human quality to seek ways to extend consciousness and one’s own sense of self by finding realms within which go beyond the accepted materialist notions. With the diminishing influence of religion, people say they are ‘spiritual’ and in some cases their spirituality is a sense of what religion would have given them: non-dogmatic enchantment.  People want to believe in something because ‘belief’ per se, no matter what the belief, is an enhancing part of one’s existence,” he told Alternet.

Ironically, it is a person’s ‘belief’ in these supernatural powers that enables a phony psychic to swindle you in the first place.  The insightful information that a psychic divulges about you at the beginning of a reading – whether through legitimate psychic ability or solely guessing – is the reason he/she is able to convince you of any subsequent negative repercussions which may compel you to spend money.  In this regard, it is important to note that psychic truths and supposed bad curses are not synonymous.

So what exactly constitutes a credible psychic and where can we find them? Can psychics really read our innermost thoughts and show us the way? To solve this mystery, I consulted highly regarded intuitive counselor Erin Pavlina for answers:

“Psychics can’t read your mind.  Spirit guides can only metaphorically see the path in front of you as it is today and can give you a guide map.  But you are still the one who makes the turns you wish to make. A professional intuitive will only give you options. At the end of the day, it is your choice and armed with that information, you decide whether to have the experience or not,” she told Alternet.

Pavlina, who has written over 600 articles on psychic development and a “how to” guide for avoiding common psychic scams, believes the best way to find a credible psychic is to get a referral from somebody that has already seen that person:

“As a professional, my duty is to relay information without flipping it through my own ego, desire or hopes.  We must be ethical because people want to give us all of their power and we must not take it.  I am not going to make decisions for people or rob them. I use my gift for people who desire them.  I am merely providing a service,” she said.

As for the supposed ‘bad luck’ or ‘curses’, Pavlina is quick to dismiss such assertions explaining that fake psychics use this as a tool to prey on gullible people by invoking fear in order to relinquish a person’s control:

“Curses are not real. I don’t believe in good or bad luck. You create your own path and reality. You don’t ever need to remove a curse because it isn’t there. Anyone that tells you that you are cursed is asking for money and is trying to scam you.  We believe in it because we all like to believe that there is a reason for not getting what we want. These psychics give people false hope by saying that if you let them remove your curse, you will obtain good luck. This is not going to happen.” Pavlina said.

This raises the question of why as human are we so desperate to seek out such services on the quest to know the future? According to psychotherapist, Dr. Neal M. Goldsmith, Ph.D, when people are thinking about spirituality they are thinking of the present, not the future:

“People want to know who they are right now at the deepest possible level, they want to know their inner soul. It’s not about seeking the future, it’s about seeking a happy future, which you gain from the present,” Dr. Goldsmith told Alternet.

As for avoiding bad luck, or more positively, attracting good luck, Dr. Goldsmith explains that our perception on good and bad luck emanates from our childhood experiences.  If we were told we were inadequate as a child, then as adults we will seek out other measures of comfort, such as psychics, to explain our hardships and end up making additional blunders.

“While it looks like a string of bad luck, in reality, it is merely somebody attached to the embrace of their psychological history. The way to resolve a bad-luck personality is to go back to the origin - we’re not born feeling bad about ourselves or inadequate, we’re born just fine. What you are doing now is a projection of what you do inside – it comes from our own psychology,” he said.

Therefore, it seems it is not the external events that create our reality, but how we respond to them – our attitude. When we engage psychics we are seeking spiritual insight in order to change our self-concept and worldview.  However, allowing others to validate our existence puts us at risk both financially and psychologically as we attempt to borrow supposed ‘good feelings’ from the future to obtain some level of comfort in the present.

While it can be fun to play with supernatural ideas, it is important to remember that psychic abilities and supposed curses are not mutually exclusive.  Just because a person is able to display an extraordinary talent in revealing intimate details about your life – whether legitimately or through a cold-reading technique – does not justify any type of extortion under the guise of curing a curse that doesn’t exist.  Don’t be fooled.