How Psychics and Mediums Fool People

October 24th 2015

Laura Donovan

You may roll your eyes every time you walk past a shady looking psychic shop, but a lot of people have walked through those doors during rough patches in their lives, and many of them have been ripped off.

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News outlets frequently publish articles about people giving hundreds of thousands of dollars and even millions to psychics who promise to have all of the answers in the world and beyond. As you can imagine, this doesn't usually end well for customers. Some find themselves penniless, filing lawsuits for fraud, and even more vulnerable than they were prior to seeking these services. But how do they get to such a low point in the first place, and how do psychics push them into spending so much cash?

How psychics convince you to keep giving them money

Psychic readings location

People who go to fortune tellers and psychics often do so during vulnerable moments in their lives, making them perfect targets for self-proclaimed clairvoyants who promise to make everything better with their special powers. Those especially desperate for answers won't stop when they've given all of their money to psychics, either. Many will take out loans from loved ones to finance these services once they have drained their bank accounts.

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Late last year, the Atlantic wrote about a New York corporate executive who got scammed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by a psychic named Tammy, who has since abandoned her shop. The executive, who asked to use the fake name, Ali Beck, was in a rough emotional place when she saw Tammy's "$10 Walk-In Special" sign in Manhattan. Beck was newly divorced and suffering from bad nightmares, so she thought Tammy could make the bad dreams and pain go away. Besides, a $10 visit seemed a lot cheaper to Beck than therapy, which often costs hundreds of dollars per hour, so Beck figured it couldn't hurt to see what Tammy was all about. Tammy told Beck that she was cursed and that she would happily get rid of it—for a big price.

Psychic and tarot card readings location

Over a 7-month period, Beck shelled out $55,712.72, which caused her to sell her Long Island home and ruin her credit, to assist Tammy curse-removing rituals. Tammy maintained a sense of urgency when working with Beck, claiming that the curse would prevent her from ever finding love again. Emotionally distressed, Beck continued paying Tammy, who ultimately refused to complete the curse removal process without another $10,000.

Beck never told friends or loved ones about what happened to her, perhaps out of shame and to protect her successful businesswoman image, but she did consult private investigator Bob Nygaard, who specializes in this kind of fraud and has helped more than a dozen people get their money back from psychic scams. Nygaard learned that Tammy had opened up a new psychic business under the name "Sister Mary," but she ultimately fled that shop as well.

Earlier this year, Nygaard made news for helping another individual (a man whose name was not revealed in court documents) challenge fortuneteller Priscilla Kelly Delmaro, who reportedly scammed the man out of more than $700,000. He had shown an interest in a girl named Michelle, who didn't seem to return his feelings, so he sought the help of Delmaro, who claimed bad spirits were keeping these two from becoming an item. When Michelle died suddenly, the man felt Delmaro had been right about the negative energy, and she promised to reincarnate Michelle for a fee. He found himself selling his car, losing his apartment, and and borrowing nearly $30,000 a coworker to keep up with Delmaro's demands. He became yet another person to squander all of his money on psychic services and be left with nothing.

Why don't psychic clients just walk away?

You may wonder how someone would go broke on psychic services, but it's a lot easier than you think to fall into this trap, Stanford sociology professor Robb Willer told ABC 7 in a video interview several years ago. Because no one likes to admit they have made a mistake, they keep giving psychics money no matter how ridiculous the circumstances.

"As a sociologist, I'm not surprised," he said. "I don't think any of us are really above superstitious belief[s], or being conned by con artists, especially really smart ones who are really clever with their tactics. The tough thing is getting that first payment, but once you've gotten that, it's must easier to get people to agree to follow-ups that are larger and larger."

Many victims of psychic scams are also motivated by fear. Most of the time, they go to a psychic in the first place to sort out a particular issue that is bothering them, and when they're told something negative is indeed going on, they will do anything to rid themselves of the bad energy.

Two years ago, the Miami Times interviewed 42-year-old Priti Mahalanobis about getting conned out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by a psychic. Like the tortured divorcee scammed by Tammy, Mahalanobis was very accomplished. An educated woman with a master's in applied economics, Mahalanobis received the same spiel many psychics tell customers: someone had put a curse on her family and the curse could be lifted for money. Because her family was at stake, Mahalanobis was willing to do anything to protect her life and the lives of her loved ones. By the end of the whole ordeal, she had invested than $130,000 in psychic services.

"What would I not give if it meant the freedom of my whole entire family?" Mahalanobis told the news outlet. "At that point, if she had told me to give up my life, I probably would have done it."

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