Friday, November 22, 2013

Beware, Thee, of the "fake psychic"

A mind whose gift is the ability to convince the gullible to part with their money, is nothing more than the personification of a self-interest profit.

"Fortune-teller cases seem to be on the rise"
2013-11-09 by Claire Suddath from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
A 65-year-old woman named Michele Zlotkin walked into a sparse, peach-colored Boca Raton, Fla., storefront that advertised psychic readings. It was just over a year ago and she had recently retired from teaching elementary school. For the first time in 40 years, she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life. She wasn't married, didn't have children, and her elderly mother lived in New Jersey.
"I thought, well, I have to start a new life," Zlotkin says. "So when I passed this store that said 'Spiritual Healer' and 'Psychic' on the front, I stopped in, thinking they could help."
Zlotkin had been to see what she calls "spiritual healers" before and had always found them comforting. "I sat down and talked to this guy named Trinity and I don't know what happened, but the next thing I knew, I was going to his place more often than I should've gone." Over the next six months, she would give $130,000 in gift cards, watches and cash to Trinity, who told her he was using them to get her recently deceased father out of purgatory.
It's tempting to write Zlotkin's story off as yet another misfortune of the superstitious or overly gullible. A search of newspaper records turns up similar arrests and trials dating at least as far back as the 19th century. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, over the past 20 years the percentage of Americans visiting fortune tellers and psychics has remained steady at 15 percent. Clearly not all those people would buy a $28,000 Rolex for a psychic who worked in a strip mall, as Zlotkin did. But hundreds of such incidents happen annually, and few psychics are ever prosecuted.
Recently, the number of cases seems to be climbing. In January, charges were dropped against an Orlando psychic after she returned $100,000 to a client who'd paid her to remove a curse.

$25 million scam -
 In September, a 62-year-old psychic named Rose Marks was found guilty in a Florida court of running a $25 million scam out of storefronts in Fort Lauderdale and Manhattan; during the trial, best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux testified that she paid Marks $17 million over nearly 20 years. Less than a month later, a Manhattan psychic named Sylvia Mitchell was found guilty of stealing $138,000 from clients who visited her Greenwich Village shop. She faces up to 15 years in prison.
At the low end, fortune telling starts with a simple palm reading. For a few dollars, a fortune teller will trace the lines on your palms and give a vague description of your past. You've had troubles, the psychic tells you, something isn't going your way. Meanwhile, the psychic is watching you for clues.
"They're very good at cold readings, by which I mean reading the body language of a stranger who's walked in off the street," says Bob Nygaard, a retired police officer in New York who is now a private investigator specializing in fortune-telling scams.
Nygaard is quick to point out that there's nothing inherently wrong with a palm or tarot card reading. In fact, fortune telling is protected under the First Amendment as free speech. Plenty of benign psychics will give you a glimpse into your future - however inaccurate that glimpse might be - and then send you on your way. Nygaard isn't worried about them. "I'm talking about people who run confidence schemes," he says.
Fraudulent psychics will endure a long succession of customers paying just the basic fee for the novelty of having their palms read, knowing that eventually someone will walk into the fortune-telling storefront who'll be psychologically pliable enough to be taken for a ride. Most victims of fortune-telling scams are emotionally vulnerable and socially isolated. They're often struggling with a personal heartache, such as divorce or bankruptcy. They're someone like Tiffany, a young IT contractor in Texas who'll give only her first name because she's embarrassed to admit that from 2007 to 2009, she gave $40,000 to a psychic she found on Craigslist.

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