Fortune tellers who give questionable advice for big money see their victims coming
Psychics. Fortune tellers. Mediums. Many towns and cities across Canada have one. They are among the world's oldest professions.
Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King consulted a psychic. So did Nancy Reagan, wife of U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The ancient Greeks, even Roman emperors would hike for days to visit the Oracle of Delphi, a high priestess who told fortunes for a price.
These days, across North America, it’s an unregulated $2-billion cash business and growing. And now, these so-called seers, purveyors of the paranormal, are the latest Hollywood reality genre, complete with high profile celebrity readings.
Most of the time, it is innocent fun, but not always. Just ask “Jack”. (At his request, W5 changed his name, face and voice to protect his identity.) He was in his early 30s, with a promising career and two young children when he visited his first psychic.
“He did a card reading for me. He talked about my past, a bit about my present and obviously he talked about my future,” Jack recalled in an interview with W5. “As I left I was pretty intrigued.”
That visit was the beginning of a years-long spiral into the world of the occult, the evil eye and magic candles, which cost Jack his marriage, his job, his house and almost his sanity.
“I’m so financially buried; I don’t have another 500 bucks to give a psychic,” Jack said.
Jack paid a lot of money over 13 years to five different self-proclaimed psychics who told him he was cursed, his kids were cursed and they could make the darkness go away.
“I did the calculation. I’m talking about $25,000.”
Shocked that he was taken in? Well he’s not alone.
Jack is one of more than a dozen victims, W5, the Toronto Star and Ryerson University’s School of Journalism spoke to, who say they were scammed by fraudulent psychics, who make fake claims, phony promises and pocket your cash.
Miki Corrazzo says she’s a fourth generation psychic who’s made a legitimate living at this for 40 years. She admits shady psychics are masters at exploiting victims’ weaknesses.
“People who have been out there and really know how to spin the yarn and tell a good story and be convincing, make up to half a million bucks, easily.”
That’s half a million dollars a year.
It’s a crime that goes virtually unchecked, even though fraudulently telling fortunes is a criminal offence.
It’s hard to prove someone can’t really tell the future. Police say victims won’t come forward, for fear of looking superstitious, stupid or staggeringly naïve. But it may be more complicated than simply being gullible.
“Well it certainly has some parallels to the classic addictions, drug addiction and also pathological gambling,” said Dr. James MacKillop an addictions researcher who admits psychic addiction hasn’t been widely studied, but perhaps should be.
U.S. research shows one in four people believe in some aspect of the paranormal, but nobody knows exactly how many Canadians have been victimized.
We wanted to see for ourselves what some self-proclaimed psychics offered and how much they charged for their services.
We sent out two undercover agents from W5 and the Toronto Star with fictionalized cover stories. He pretended to be a 40 something, financially successful divorced man who lost his girlfriend and wanted her back. She told psyichics that she was 25 years old, newly engaged and wanted to know if she had picked the right partner.
Psychic Jasmine took less than 10 minutes to ask the agents for $950 and $1200 respectively to lift “a circle of darkness” she saw threatening both their relationships. A second psychic Theress asked our female agent for $500 to do a spiritual cleansing to remove the darkness surrounding her. She told the male agent she could only give him advice, not fix his life and sent him away after a $50 reading.
No harm done to our agents; as for Jack, he’s now renting the home he used to own. He can’t afford a new car and he still hasn’t told his family, friends or priest about his troubles. Not even his therapist knows.
“They are selling you hope your life will change for the better. If you do these things, candles, crystals or sacrifice a lamb - it will work. And that’s all you want, for it to work.”
Jack said the magic rituals and fantastical promises sound absurd now, but when his life was imploding, he got desperate and went head first into the paranormal rabbit hole.
“It does sound crazy and you look back and you kind of go, what was I thinking.”
Sadly, Jack said, there won’t be justice for the half dozen psychics that nearly ruined his life.
“It’s the perfect crime. It’s the perfect crime.”