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.
Scriptures prohibition toward divination
Interestingly, there is actually religious opposition in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism based on scriptural prohibitions against divination.
New York makes fortune telling a class B misdemeanor:
A person is guilty of fortune telling when, for a fee or compensation which he directly or indirectly solicits… he claims or pretends to tell fortunes, or holds himself out as being able, by claimed or pretended use of occult powers, to answer questions or give advice…
Pennsylvania has a comprehensive fortune-telling statute:
A person is guilty of a misdemeanor… if he pretends for gain to tell fortunes or predict future events, by cards, tokens, the inspection of the head or hands of any person, or by the age of anyone, or by consulting the movements of the heavenly bodies… pretends to effect any purpose by spells, charms, incantation… administering love powders, potions…
Maryland requires psychics to undergo a police background check.
Salem, Massachusetts (of all places, right?) also requires background checks and caps the number of fortune tellers allowed in town.
Warren, Michigan requires fingerprints.
Criminal cases involving psychics
A criminal lawyer (yes, a criminal lawyer!) went to a psychic woman and paid her more than $100,000. She convinced him that she was the embodiment of his deceased sister and that she would help him achieve financial success.
A Boulder, Colorado woman’s five-year sentence was for stealing more than $300,000 from her clients. She would tell them their cash and credit card numbers would “draw out bad energy.”
One of her victim’s son was thought to be dying.
Sylvia Browne, a psychic, had a weekly television show for years. She told families that missing loved ones were dead (when they were not) or alive (when they were not). Out of 115 pronouncements, Browne was correct exactly 0 times.
She was never convicted of being a fraud, but then did get convicted of grand theft for falsely selling shares in a gold mine.
In 2002 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shut down Miss Cleo’s weekly television for advertising free phone readings that cost customers up to $100 per call. She aggressively told customers that they had to pay. She was required to forgive the debts, estimated in the millions ($44.3 in Florida alone), and to undo the damage to customers’ credit ratings.
How psychics work
Psychics take advantage of people. They are, in many cases, highly skilled in terms of reading people and picking up (when in person) on body language. When on the telephone, psychics can also hear subtle changes in breathing, tone, and cadence of speech that equate to in-person reactions.
Psychics all tend to begin their approach to customers in about the same way. They start by providing an inexpensive “cold reading” where they deliver generalized statements with solemn authority. The reading continues until they hit upon something that triggers a reaction. Psychics then feedback the information they have picked up on, gradually convincing their clients of their “powers.”
Astute people will roll their eyes and terminate the session. Others will fall prey to the psychic’s predictions and promises.
A better alternative to psychics
Recall the Magic 8-ball manufactured and sold as a children’s toy by Mattel. It had 20 “answers” such as: It is Certain; Without a Doubt; Signs point to yes: Yes, Definitely; Better Not Tell You; My sources say no; Don’t Count on it,” and so on.
The 8-ball sells for under $10.00 and is available at Walmart.
Civil cases involving psychics
Civil lawsuits against psychics mostly fail. There are primarily two reasons for this.
- First, the psychics’ “entertainment only” disclaimers are a strong defense.
- Second, the victim’s irresponsibility (stupidity) often motivates judges to hold that despite the apparent ridiculous nature of the soothsayer’s promises, the victim’s role is equally the cause of the loss.
If a psychic said a spouse did not have cancer, but if in fact he or she did, a lawsuit by the aggrieved survivor must prove that the psychic presented the information as a fact and as an expert medical opinion. That the psychic’s reading caused the survivor to reasonably rely on that information. Note the keyword “reasonably.”
A court would certainly ask why the survivor consulted a psychic instead of a doctor. Thus, a lawsuit against the psychic would fail.
In 2009, in South Dakota, a woman sued for the return of $30,500 from a psychic who promised to bring her husband back.
In 2010, in New Jersey, a woman’s psychic told her that she was suffering from a curse. The psychic promised to remove the curse after the woman paid her over $160,000. The woman recovered $19,000.
Courts rule on reason and evidence.
A prediction for you
Prediction: If you go to a psychic, you will lose money and gain nothing valuable. Unless you want to be told how attractive you are. (Note: You are beautiful – no charge.)
Advice: Don’t let the psychic sell you a potion to enhance that beauty.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 703-761-4343, via email, or through his website.
His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website: http://www.samakowlaw.com/book.
Samakow has now also started a small business consulting firm. The website for this business is brand new and Mr. Samakow will be most appreciative of any and all comments. www.thebusinessanswer.com.