Sylvia Browne manages to be wrong one last time.

Sylvia-BrowneSelf-proclaimed professional psychic Sylvia Browne, whom I’ve written about previously, has passed away at the age of 77. Some 11 years short of her prediction that she’d die at the age of 88.

I mention her passing not as an opportunity to gloat or celebrate her death, but as a final point to the fact that she was a charlatan who made herself rich preying upon grieving and desperate people while providing no real benefit to anyone outside of herself.

Alas, she is (was) not alone in lacking the scruples required to not take advantage of vulnerable and gullible people. Plenty of other “psychics” will fill the void left by her passing in short time. The best we can do is to continue to point out their techniques and try to educate people to avoid being scammed.

“Pet psychics” now pass as legitimate columnists in supposedly serious newspapers.

Catherine Ferguson learning that this horse used to be Abraham Lincoln. What are the odds??

Not to suggest that crap like this is why newspapers are dying a slow death, but I’m sure it doesn’t help. It seems you can write into The Jersey Journal for a reading from a “Pet Psychic” who will reveal your pets’ innermost thoughts and dreams:

My 9-year-old cat Lotus lives the good life in that she sleeps and eats all day. My question for you is as follows: She tends to meow and twitch a lot when she sleeps. I’ve often wondered if she is reliving a previous life. Could this be the case?

By now I’m sure you can guess that the “Pet Psychic” is going to answer in the affirmative, but you’ll never guess what one of Lotus’ past lives was actually spent as:

Lotus tells me that you are very wise, in general. But, she is quick to add that you are way off base this time. She does admit to having a past life as a Roman general, but that’s not what she’s viewing when she sleeps.

Got that? Kitty used to be people and an important people she was! But that’s not what she’s dreaming about:

Instead, she is frequently living scenes of great conquest in animal form. She is a tiger, or sometimes another big cat, stalking then pouncing on her prey. She is proud to wind up with hard-to-catch, but delicious fresh food.

Well isn’t that just a stunning revelation. Well, no, it’s not.

Here’s the great thing about being a Pet Psychic: You can make up whatever bullshit story you want and the one person who could call bullshit on you… can’t because they’re an animal now. So go wild and claim whatever nonsense enters your head! Fluffy was once Cleopatra! Tickles used to be a famous 18th century German brewmaster!

Apparently the Pet Psychic in question is Catherine Ferguson who advertises herself as a psychic for pets and people as well as a Reiki master, and she has a PH.D (probably in advanced bullshitting). Her fees for readings run from $25 for one question via email or snail mail for approximately 15 minutes worth of a reading at a limit of 15o words to $90 for a 60-minute consultation in person or via phone, e-mail or snail mail. That’s roughly a buck and a half per minute which is a good rate of pay if you can manage to bullshit well enough to get it.

Here’s the thing I don’t get: Since when is this something worth putting in a newspaper? Granted, I haven’t subscribed to a paper in years so maybe I’m unaware of the sudden legitimacy of “psychics” as columnists, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would encourage people to take your paper seriously. Given that I just wrote a similar entry a week or so ago about a local news website, Ann Arbor.com, also putting woo in its pet advice column, I guess I must be totally out of touch with current trends in pet care. But at least in the latter example it wasn’t a full-time woo column like this one appears to be.

However, there is once again a silver lining in the comments to this article the first of which reads: “Oh, for #$%&’s sake.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Skeptic busts psychic’s “evil money” scam.

This is a dual purpose story. First, it’s about dumbasses who believe psychics are real and end up allowing themselves to be scammed out of their money. Secondly, it’s about how a little skepticism can make all the difference.

It takes place in ***Dave’s neck of the woods and it involves a Denver-area psychic named Nancy D. Marks:

Lafayette police say the investigation began after receiving complaints about possible fraudulent activity. The accusations involved the loss of large amounts of money that police say were given to Marks for “psychic readings” and other psychic services.

Marks was arrested on three charges including two counts of Theft Over $20,000 and one count of Criminal Impersonation. She was being held in the Boulder County Jail on $250,000 bond.

It seems Ms. Marks, which is a surprisingly apt name in some ways, was telling folks that their money was possessed by evil spirits which was the cause of their suffering. I bet you’ll be able to guess what her solution to that problem was. That’s right, they needed to give her their money so that she could make the money suffer instead of the idiots clients.

Amazingly enough, more than one person actually bought into this bullshit. One gave her $50,000 and another upwards of $240,000.

It all came to an end, however, when someone with just a bit of skepticism decided to visit the psychic on a lark. You’ll have to watch the news report to get the full details:

Kudos to Linda, who’s last name wasn’t given for some odd reason, for her skepticism and dedication to getting this fraud busted. I especially liked how she rolled her eyes when recounting how Marks told her she had a number of evil spirits around her that required a butt load of money to banish.

For the record I am not a psychic, but if you are stunningly credulous and are troubled by evil money spirits then I would be more than happy to accept your money and make it suffer so you don’t have to. I have come up with a number of ways I will punish the evil money spirits by forcing them to do good by buying food with it and paying my rent. Being that I am already evil the evil money spirits will have no power over me so my safety is insured. I will also further my evil by forcing evil spirits to do good things which is the ultimate in suffering for them which insures my evilness will be maintained.

See? It all makes sense. So long as you have the brains of a grapefruit.

“Psychic” cleanses $140,000 from several families.

In our continuing series on the question of “what’s the harm in letting people hold onto stupid beliefs” we bring you the following news item. It seems several families in Lakewood, WA have fallen for the old your-money-is-infected-with-evil-spirits-but-I-can-clean-it-for-you scam to the tune of $140,000:

The victims told Lakewood police they met Señora Monica at the nearby swap meet or heard her advertisements on a Spanish-speaking radio station, Hoffman said. She advertised that she could help with “all your problems.”

On her business card, Señora Monica listed her services as: Reads cards, reads palms, performs cleansings, interprets dreams, reunites loved ones, sexual deficiencies, cures nervous disorders, employment problems, alcoholism and drug addiction. “Don’t suffer anymore. If you can’t have children, call me,” the card reads. “Performs spells, counterspells and love spells.”

Some victims had Taro card readings with Señora Monica and decided to have her cleanse their money. Some of the sessions occurred with the victims at the store on South Tacoma Way.

The victims had set up a final meeting Sunday night during which they would receive their cleansed money and would pay a gratuity – whatever they felt was appropriate – to Señora Monica, Hoffman said.

“Señora Monica never showed up,” Hoffman said.

Big fucking surprise. I could’ve told you that was bound to happen and I don’t claim to be a psychic. Once again I am torn on this issue. On the one hand stealing is wrong so I sympathize with the people who lost their money, but on the other hand these people must have Cheez Whiz for brains to be that fucking credulous and as such arguably deserve the fleecing they were given.

Repeat after me: No one is psychic. Anyone who claims to be able to tell you your future based on Tarot cards or tea leaves or chicken entrails is lying to you. If they try to tell you they can clean your money of evil spirits that are ruining your life you should punch them in the mouth and run away with your hand firmly on your wallet. If you give them your money you will not get it back.

And if you still insist on handing it over because you’re afraid it might have evil spirits then send it to me instead and I promise you I’ll spend it on stuff I could really use, like a new couch, thus protecting you from the evil it contains by spending it on stuff I want.

Scientists put psychic’s paranormal claims to the test

In an article from The Guardian:

Professional medium Patricia Putt was last week subjected to a rigorous scientific test of her powers as the first stage of her bid to claim a $1m prize from the James Randi Educational Foundation

The young female volunteer in front of me could not suppress an embarrassed giggle as she sat there wearing a ski mask, wraparound sunglasses, an oversized graduation gown and a pair of white socks, a large laminated sheet hung around her neck displaying her participant number.

Then things got even weirder. Professor Richard Wiseman knocked on the door to collect our volunteer. He accompanied her into a large room where she was instructed to sit in a chair facing the wall and do nothing for 15 minutes or so. Professional medium Mrs Patricia Putt was then brought into the room and sat down at a small table around 12 feet away. Sometimes Mrs Putt would request that a volunteer read a pre-specified short passage, as she had found from past experience that often “the Spirit enters and makes contact through the sound of the sitter’s voice”. After that, no talking was allowed whatsoever as our medium wrote down a “reading” describing the volunteer using her alleged paranormal abilities. At the end of the reading, Mrs Putt left the room and the volunteer was allowed to change back into somewhat more conventional garb and given a reminder to return later in the day for the all-important judging phase.

What was going on here?

Read the rest of the article here.

Very interesting to see the great lengths the Randi Foundation goes to to make sure the tests are very scientific and are acceptable to the participants. Also interesting to see the excuses brought forth afterwards.

Another “psychic” busted for “cleansing evil spirits.”

Here’s a news item that’s becoming all too familiar:

Lisa Marie Miller, 27, of San Francisco victimized a woman who “sought her out because she was in love with a fellow who was not returning her affection,” said Deputy District Attorney Cherie Bourlard. The woman contacted Miller in 2005 after seeing a newspaper ad that offered a $10 reading.

Miller convinced the woman that she was cursed and needed “spiritual cleansing,” authorities said. The woman gave Miller $108,000 from her checking, savings and retirement accounts as well as cash, jewelry and gift cards. She also financed a Corvette for Miller, authorities said.

Right off the bat we know the female “victim” here is a fucking dumbass. She goes for a $10 reading and ends up paying out over $108,000 over the next several months? I suppose I could see that if it were simply a case of repeated visits racking up additional fees, but what argument can you make that buying someone a car will help cleanse you of evil spirits that doesn’t wave red flags all over the place?

The “victim” is a dumbass and you know what they say about a fool and her money…

The woman finally figured out something was wrong when she read media accounts that Miller’s mother-in-law, 56-year-old Lola Miller of San Jose, had been arrested for taking $450,000 in cash and services from a San Jose woman. Lola Miller, who went by the name “Miss Donna,” read the victim’s fortune, told her that she and family members were cursed and that she would cleanse them of evil for money. She also threatened the victim.

Putting two and two together, the woman bilked by Lisa Miller tried to contact the supposed psychic, but her calls were not returned. At that point, the woman went to authorities.

So I’m wondering what the crime actually is? How do they prove that she didn’t cleanse the “victim” of evil spirits. If you accept the premise that money is the root of all evil then Lisa was doing a fabulous cleansing job.

Lisa Miller pleaded no contest in September to one count of theft by false pretense. A Santa Clara County judge sentenced her to two months in jail and five years of probation. The judge also ordered her to pay full restitution, of which she has already paid $61,000, authorities said.

I’d be curious to see what the false pretenses supposedly are. How is what she did any different than, say, Sylvia Browne who charges $850 for a phone reading? Actually I know the answer to that. Sylvia never blames anything on “evil spirits” in her readings. She just gives you a bunch of empty platitudes and counts on your gullibility to bring you back for another $850 session.

As for Lisa Miller, seems her whole family has been busted for cleansing evil spirits:

A third member of the family is also facing psychic-related criminal charges. Lisa Miller’s sister-in-law, Danielle Miller, 23, is accused of bilking $36,000 from a woman to cleanse her of evil, prosecutors said.

Which just goes to show there’s a lot of dumbasses with deep pockets out there. Damn my scruples.

“People want the illusion of control.” Online psychics raking in the cash.

Fear makes people stupid. The fact that we re-elected George W. Bush is one form of proof for that theory and another is the fact that people worried about the stock market crash have been wasting money consulting online psychics:

While it doesn’t take a psychic to see that tough times lay ahead for the economy, online practitioners of the divination arts say they’re seeing a marked sift in the questions posed by their clientele, with anxious consumers increasingly asking what’s in store for them financially in the months ahead. Believers who normally seek psychics for advice on a cheating spouse are now asking whether a pink slip is in their future, and internet psychics across the board saw a spike in traffic in the days following the initial market crash.

The boom in superstition is a predicable response to troubling times, says Columbia Business School professor Gita Johar, who’s studied the phenomenon. “If the future is uncertain, people turn to psychics,” Johar says. Consumers tend to embrace the supernatural when confronted by stress, combined with uncertainty. “You have an illusion then that you can then control the outcome. People want the illusion of control.”

The problem with illusions, of course, is that they aren’t real. That doesn’t stop the psychic snake oil peddlers from charging you a hefty fee for it:

Spears is one of many self-described psychics, empaths and mediums who make a living giving online readings by instant message or phone on sites such as LivePerson.com and AT&T’s Keen.com. Spears performs readings by online chat for $2 to $3 a minute, and says that since September she’s been talking almost exclusively with Americans who are concerned about their economic futures.

“People ask if they are going to lose their house or if they are going to find a job soon, or am I going to be laid off,” says Spears,

“Usually I can give some time frames, and for some people, it is clearly ‘yes,’” Spears says. “I can tell them if another job is coming and a time frame for when they will get another job.”

Hourly rates for online psychics typically range from $100 to $1,000 per hour, but those steep rates haven’t seemed to deter the monetarily anxious from reaching out.

Another IM reader, Pure Empathy, says his business has soared since the economic downturn. He charges $2 a minute and says he gives away lots of free time.

“It’s really starting to pick up,” he says. “People are more depressed, and I can easily make $150 to $200 a day.”

“Finances are coming up a lot more lately,” he adds. “People want to know when their finances are going to get better. I tell them I don’t see it happening until middle of next year — we are going to have a long down period.”

The sad part is you don’t have to be a psychic to figure out things are going to be painful for awhile to come. All you have to do is pay attention to current events. What I find most amusing, though, is a lot of what these psychics are selling is just plain old common sense and they even admit as much:

All three say their job isn’t just about making future predictions, it’s also about giving good advice and listening to people’s concerns.

“I answer all of my questions using my cards or gifts, but I make sure to tell them to use common sense in spending, to not quit a job that is a sure pay until another job is secured, and to make sure to use a budget and stick to it as best they can,” Elliot says. “I also remind them that readings are entertainment and not a necessity, to keep in mind the things that are wants and the things that are needs.”

Sometimes people ask the obvious, according to Spears.

“Sometimes a person asks what does that person feel about me,” Spears says. “If he doesn’t call you in four weeks, that tells you other things are on his mind, and you are not it.”

Can you believe there are people out there who pay these charlatans for that? They don’t need a psychic, they need a swift kick in the ass.

So seen any aliens or UFOs yet today?

Remember back at the end of September when I wrote about the mediums predicting aliens would land in Alabama today and help us “break away from the dark forces? Well the day is half over and I haven’t heard anything on the news yet. Man I hope they don’t stand us up like the last few times they told various psychics they were coming.

So far there’s no update on “Blossom Goodchild’s” blog other than a post on the 12th where she said she was going to remove all the negative comments from her site:

To remove (when time allows) all comments that do not come from LIGHT and LOVE. Which is what my blog is SUPPOSED to be about. Sadly, it has turned into a space that is packed full of religious arguments, deeply offensive swearing, bible fanatics claiming me to be the devil and much much more. I give thanks to those who are coming from the place in their heart that spreads only kindness and understanding.

TRULY guys … I had manifested a beautiful world to live in surrounded by those who come only from LOVE in their heart. My soul has been battered and bruised to find hatred and malice inside the hearts of so many. And to those who feel the need to go on and on arguing and sending such negativity to the world I have this to say in all LOVE … … get yourselves a life! A life that makes YOU happy what ever form that may take for CLEARLY, many of you are deeply wounded and hurt.

She’s gotta be taking it from both barrels with not only skeptics giving her a hard time, but the Bible fanatics at is as well. Still I’ll be interested to see what she has to say about the (lack of) events today when she finally gets around to writing about it. Meanwhile it’s hard to say whether or not Mike Quinsey has written anything new as the website he posts to is pretty much impossible to navigate. 

Still I suppose it’s possible that aliens could land before the day is out so keep an eye out. That goes double for all you folks in Alabama.

 

School reports child as sexually abused based on the claim of a psychic.

Being a single mom raising an autistic daughter is hard enough to begin with and having to deal with stupid shit like this only makes it harder. Colleen Leduc had just dropped her autistic daughter, Victoria, off at the school and was headed to work when she got a frantic phone call saying she needed to come back to the school immediately. Upon arrival she was greeted with the following news:

“The teacher looked and me and said: ‘We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of “V.” And she said ‘yes, I do.’ And she said, ‘well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.’”

Victoria, who is non-verbal, had also been exhibiting sexualized behaviour in class, actions which are known to be typical of autistic behavior. (See other typical actions here) That lead authorities to suspect she had a bladder infection that may have somehow been related to the ‘attack.’

Leduc was shaken by the idea. “It’s actually your worst nightmare your child being violated,” she admits. “So for them to even suggest that, and that be my worst nightmare, it was horrific.”

But things got worse when school officials used the “evidence” and accepted the completely unsubstantiated word of the seer by reporting the case to Children’s Aid, which promptly opened a file on the family.

“They reported me to Children’s Aid,” Leduc declares, still disbelieving. “Based on a psychic!”

It’s bad enough that the teacher’s aid was credulous enough to buy into this story, but the fact that everyone else bought into it enough to take it seriously is just amazing. They must have some very incompetent people running the Terry Fox Elementary school. A possibility backed up by the fact that Leduc had to take steps to safeguard her daughter after the school repeatedly “lost” her at various points. Steps that would, in fact, pay off in this new situation:

As a result, the already cash strapped mom had spent a considerable sum of money to not only have her child equipped with a GPS unit, but one that provided audio records of everything that was going on around her.

So she had non-stop taped proof that nothing untoward had ever happened to her daughter, and was aghast that the situation had gone this far. But under the Child and Family Services Act, anyone who works with children and has reasonable grounds to suspect a youngster is being harmed, must report it immediately – and the CAS has an obligation to follow up.

The key words above should be reasonable grounds and the word of a supposed “psychic” who claims to have gotten the knowledge through her extra sensory powers and not, say, as an eyewitness to the crime should never be considered reasonable grounds. Not only should the teacher’s aid be fired, assuming she’s not a volunteer, but probably the principal as well for letting this idiocy happen in the first place.

The credulous are ripe pickings for the unscrupulous.

Every now and then someone asks me what harm there is in people believing in nonsense such as psychics and tarot cards. I just have to point them to news stories like this one:

Pair charged in tarot card curse scheme – Boston.com

NAPERVILLE, Ill.—Authorities say the owners of a suburban Chicago tarot-card reading business have been charged in an alleged plan to defraud customers by persuading them they were cursed.

The DuPage County sheriff’s office says customers of Psychic Tarot Card Reading thought they could only lose the curse by undergoing thousands of dollars worth of counseling.

These two got caught before anyone lost any significant money, but there are dozens of cases of folks losing multiple thousands of dollars to their stupid beliefs in psychics and other “supernatural” nonsense. As always I’m torn between wanting to see justice done to scam artists and letting the overly credulous lose their shirts on the off chance that it’d teach them a lesson, but they seldom seem to learn it.