The $23 million dollar man: Peter Popoff

You might not want to look at this story about the televangelist fraud, Peter Popoff around lunchtime — it contains graphic visuals of a known con artist cheerfully defrauding the sick and elderly, and it might leave you a little squeamish. Popoff was discredited by James Randi 20 years ago, as is vividly shown at the link, but he’s back now, sucking in millions of dollars every year with his lies.

There’s also a couple in the story who were sick and unemployed, and who borrowed thousands of dollars from relatives to help them pay their bills…and who instead sent all the money to Popoff, who promised them magic Jesus prosperity. It’s a veritable freakshow of stupidity—you’ll despise the con artist, but you’ll also want to kick some of his victims.


  1. says

    He reminds me of this “faith surgeon” who allegedly healed people by magically removing people’s tumors with the help of a fake finger filled with a wadded-up tissue soaked with fake blood.

  2. says

    At a certain point, people who are so willfully gullible and stupid have expended society’s allotment of sympathy. For someone poor and in debt to be spending their money on Popoff is comparable to playing the lottery (only with worse odds!) (!) — it’s no longer unexpected behavior. The reason they are poor and in debt is because they are the kind of idiots that spend their money in that way. If they didn’t send it to Popoff they’d probably go to a chiropractor. There’s just no helping some people.

    Predators like Popoff prey on the stupid, credulous, and uneducated. Of those 3 we can only fix the latter and with people like these it doesn’t “stick” anyhow.

  3. says

    Boy, and I think it’s great if I make $100 having a yard sale. Some people have it, and some people don’t.

  4. says


    I think it’s more than a little simplistic to say that the reason these people are poor is because they spend all their money. Think about that for a sec, and I’m sure you’ll see how ridiculous a statement this is.

    Writing off the poor (by far a majority group anywhere in the world) without examining the causes in any sort of detail is the groundwork for nothing more than close-mindedness and elitism.

  5. Christian Burnham says

    I recall Randi saying that after his expose, the Carson show received many phone calls from people wanting to know where they could see this man of God.

  6. H. Humbert says

    The woman who sent Popoff her money says that, looking back, she considers herself “a stupid person.” The host also claims that the woman feels she was “brainwashed” by watching Popoff on television.

    What lay at the root of her problem? She was a person of faith. Almost all swindles appeal to it. Religious faith is almost invariably intertwined with scams, since it is the easiest way to short-circuit a person’s sense of skepticism. Whether it’s “The Secret” or magic Jesus water, it only works if one has enough faith. Even those Nigerian email scams are sprinkled with references to Christian charity, lest the person have doubts about handing over their bank account numbers.

    And for those faithful theists who would deny that they themselves are susceptible to such scams–you fail to see that you’ve already be taken.

  7. Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD says

    I don’t understand how the government doesn’t just shut these kinds of things down as fraud.

    It’s FRAUD. It should not be given a free ride because it’s based on faith.

    If a doctor or financial advisor did any of this, they would be locked up.

  8. tacitus says

    Popoff has been back for several years already, plying his snake oil on BET and other places. It seems that the only lesson he learned from Randi’s debunking was that he did not have to use cheap parlor tricks to make a fortune from fleecing his flock.

    Benny Hinn, John Edwards (the “psychic” not the presidential candidate) and many others proved to Popoff that there are enough gullible people around to make a nice living without resorting to anything tangible that could get you into trouble.

  9. John C. Randolph says

    He’s a lying, thieving son of a bitch, just like L. Ron Hubbard.


  10. says

    The key here is that Popoff was exposed as a fraud 20 years ago. The public/media hive mind has a tough time remembering back five years ago, much less twenty. (Quick: How many of you can name the two leading figures in the Big-Ass Pseudo-Scandal that unfairly cost a congressman his career and kept the media busy right up to 9/11? No Googling, now!)

  11. says

    Phoenix Woman is talking about Gary Condit, the former congressman from Ceres, California. Right? It was the case of missing intern Chandra Levy, whose body was eventually found in a D.C. park, probably the victim of an assault while she was working out on a running trail.

  12. Slippery Pete says

    Wow, and I thought blaming the victims was a habit of righwing extremists. Sad to see that mentality here as well.

  13. Kagehi says

    Yes, the right wingers tend to place two kinds of victim blame in the same category.

    1. They wouldn’t have gotten hurt if they had been some place else. Which wrongly presumes that the people involved could have or would have known that something was *going* to happen that could kill them. This is a bullshit argument, but quite common among the right wing. If X didn’t do, think, attend, walk past, etc, Y, then Z would have never happened to them, because obviously it was *bound* to happen if they did any of those things.

    2. They wouldn’t have been hurt if they hadn’t ignored all the dangers or been so ignorant and gullible to fall for it. This one is valid, up to a point. You cannot absolve someone of *at least* 50% of the guilt in such cases. Why not? Because its their ignorance and gullibility that led them to “make” that choice and, by that same token, if they had avoided X, they would have just fallen for Y the next day. Who do we blame for *them* being too ignorant to see the danger and/or too gullible to avoid it? Its kind of unclear how anyone but them is at fault for choosing to be duped, but that doesn’t at all absolve or excuse the tens of thousands of con artists running around looking for people that *are* both ignorant enough to not see the obvious BS in their snake oil and who are desperate or gullible enough to buy it.

    If any of those people stopped for ten seconds to ask, “Does this really make any sense at all, given all the other con artists that sell the same thing?”, well… some of them would still fall for it. And that is the point, but at least it would be a start. We have friends that are just like that, and I can tell you that they have never invested in anything, make choices about where to live, what jobs to get into, what life choices to opt for, what they should spend money on, etc. ***ever*** in the entire time we have known them that haven’t lost them money almost the moment they tried to invest it. These people could have starts out with ten million dollars and within less than five yours been trying to scrape together gas money. They just don’t *get* why they can’t ever get ahead. And, they *do* also send a portion of their monthly income to TV evangelists as well.

    Now, I can certainly blame the TV evangelists they send some of their money to for helping them make stupid choices in *that one instance*, but who the heck should I blame for the other 90% of the stupid shit they do all the time, gremlins?

  14. Kagehi says

    Ack.. Please ignore the mess of wrong words in there. Was trying to get ready for work while typing and… lol

  15. H. Humbert says

    Exactly what, Slippery Pete, do you believe people who willingly give their money away are a victim of?

  16. says

    Wow, if anything is symptomatic of the free pass religion’s had for centuries, this is definitely it.
    If anyone in any other facet of life pulled this sorta bullshit, they’d have been locked up for it. I’m surprised no one’s tried to shoot this guy.
    If it falls under the umbrella of religion, it’s carte blanch.

  17. says

    H. Humbert, there is a kind of fraud called the sweetheart scam, in which con artists befriend people and earn their trust and even love, then systematically “borrow” and steal their money with no intention of paying it back and no concrete benefit returned. The police consider that to be a crime, even though the people gave their money, even though they believed that they were helping someone who deserved help. It’s very hard to prove because there are generally no receipts, the person feels stupid for being fooled or refuses to believe they were robbed, and, indeed, there’s that residual feeling of “they did it voluntarily” so what’s the problem?” It’s called the sweetheart scam. All it takes is someone who’s lonely and vulnerable, and perhaps old enough to be a little forgetful and not want to admit it.

  18. cbutterb says

    Exactly what, Slippery Pete, do you believe people who willingly give their money away are a victim of?

    Depends on the pretenses on which they were asked to give it. If a televangelist claims he will use donations to feed the poor, but in fact keeps most of the money for himself, his benefactors have a claim on victimhood. If the televangelist claims only that he will use donations to “do God’s work” or “spread God’s word”, then you’re right: they aren’t victims at all; they’re just stupid.

    It’s like how they sell Head-On: They make no assertions of efficacy; they just say where you should smear it. Any belief in any medical properties is imparted solely by the buyer. It’s actually just a stick of wax. Anyone who purchases it for pain relief is a moron and not a victim.

    However, a poor and uneducated patient with chronic pain who is, referred by a licensed medical practitioner to a reiki quack or a reflexologist is very much a victim. The air of authority associated with legitimate, evidence-based medicine has been improperly lent to pseudoscience. Yet they’re not completely blameless, because come on, you should know enough about the way your body works to know that it doesn’t operate on mystical energy, and that jackhammering your foot isn’t going to make your back feel better.

    Victimhood and moronhood are orthogonal continua. You really have to know the specifics of a particular situation before you can pass judgment.

  19. H. Humbert says

    Monado, I have sympathy for any victim of a scam, including those duped by Popoff.

    The problem is that many people don’t want to be helped. In the case of Sweetheart Scams, I’m sure many times the victim refused to listen to the warnings of concerned friends or loved ones until it was too late. As you point out, it’s tough for police to draw a line between being tricked and willingly deluding oneself. How does one get through to such a person?

    My comment was mostly directed at Pete, who seems to think anything short of uncritical sympathy for people who delude themselves is “sad.” My point was that sympathy is not a preventative measure, and that people here are correct to discuss solutions to the root of the problem.

  20. davis says

    Popoff is not the only one. I recently saw some other preacher on TV tell people that they would get that good job they need if they join the prayer club or some such shit involving sending in money. They all do it, and they’re vile.

    Makes me momentarily sorry that here is no Hell.

  21. CalGeorge says

    Maybe a few public service announcements sprinkled in with the fleece-o-mercials would make a difference.

  22. says

    Not only does the government allow this to go on, but they give him tax breaks because of the special status of religion! I think that is the most vile part of the system. All those televangelists and big church crooks are raking in millions from the poor on a tax-free basis.

  23. says

    There will always be people foolish enough to fall for this sort of thing. Expecting people to just wise up and stop falling for it is like expecting people to all become above average. Allowing this sort of thing to go on is essentially punishing people for being gullible. I think you’d have to weigh the intrusiveness of a ban against the prevalence of the scam in any case.

  24. arachnophilia says

    i noticed an infomercial of his on tv late last night, and i thought to myself, “he’s back? and still using the same name?

    i don’t mean to insult the victims of this, but that kinda says something right there. that someone who’s very name is now synonymous with “swindler and charlatan” can still make a comfortable living doing the same old things. and people still fall for it.

    then again, a quarter of this country still supports g. w. bush, and believes they’ve been abducted by space aliens and such.

  25. Ray says

    There is no god. If there were, Popoff would be afflicted with boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.
    Good Christians, wake the Hell up! Emulate the Lord you say you reverence and drive this money-changer out of your temple.
    Or you could let the air out of his tires.

  26. gerald spezio says

    Mooney had the cojones to ask PZ to cover his *Flogging Science* website with the caveat that PZ bring his faithful flock of dunderhead scientists. Mooney’s website is flogging less, but flagging bigtime. Seven days ago Mooney announced
    a titillating new website – *Speaking science.* Two short posts total as of today. Evidence of “overwhelming interest” or contempt?

    Mooney needs an Italian vacation to keep running up the gigantic carbon debt of his framing education excursions. Yabut, framing is sooo important.

    Popoff, Popoff he’s our frame. Popoff is the perfect article to take over Chris Mooney’s *Flogging Science* website. With two or three minutes training Popoff could grasp the depths of framing studies and flog away.

    Go Popoff and bring Matt Nisbet witcha.

  27. says

    I am having trouble distinguishing the people that Popoff swindled from the following groups of people:

    1. Parents of very large Catholic families who don’t use condoms or any other birth control because “every sperm is sacred.” And being unable to reasonably support all those children they still
    2. belong to the very large subset of tithers who see it as their duty to pay taxes to the God who created heaven and earth and if
    3. the money that they sacrifice from their own tight budgets goes to make preachers like Mac Hammond incredibly wealthy
    4. they justify their giving by accepting that they need to put their money where their faith is
    5. and commit $1,000 dollars to Robert Tilton so he will pray on a snot rag for them and their dreams will come true because of their “vow of faith.”

    So, if all of the religions have always asked for money and Popoff talks a good talk, how is he different from the Pope? It has ever been a part of western society that the church deserves our money to continue its “mission.”

    I have sympathy for the people who run into a supersalesmen who only slightly extends the societal value of giving to the church with promises that in the end are little different than a promise of a reward in Heaven. I am sure that most of your parents have done or do the same thing. Some of the readers here may even be recovering tithers yourselves. It doesn’t make them stupid, it just means that atheists really need to push the issue that religion is a bad thing. It’s an education issue.

    Religion is a disease, like alcoholism; except there is no twelve-step movement to cure people of it.

  28. Sam says

    except there is no twelve-step movement to cure people of it.

    Yeah – step 2 (the ‘higher power’ one) would be somewhat problematic, I would iamgine.

  29. Crudely Wrott says

    I attended a healing extravaganza by Katherine Kuhlman in Florida just a couple of years before she died. The most amazing thing I observed during the entire service happened just before the lights dimmed. Long, and highly descriptive, story told short:

    A man with a severe injury, a real one, folks, entered the venue on crutches and made his way up the bleacher stairs and found a seat behind my wife and I. An odor first alerted me; rotten meat. I managed to sneak a peek past my shoulder while speaking in my wife’s ear.

    I saw that is left foot was all but severed despite his attempt to arrange his clothing to conceal the fact. Days old gauze more or less held it to his leg and a single strand of tissue bridged the gap. An extreme dislocation of the ankle.

    A few minutes passed, five or so, and I noticed two “suits” mounting the steps shoulder to shoulder. I thought they were ushers then noticed that they were bulky, mounting the steps in lockstep, and looking just over my head. Looking at the wounded man.

    Inasmuch as I was attempting to be a Christian at that time, my next thought was that they had come to aid him, and so their actions seemed. They flanked his seat, said they’d like to help him and “Put your arm around my neck. I’ve got your crutches.”

    As they helped him gently down the steps I felt a swelling emotion. They had known! They came to take him down the steps and take that big right turn towards the stage, the altar! Oh how wonderful thank you Jesus.

    Except they turned left, toward the main doors. I watched them go out. I watched the doors. I saw them come back in; just the suits. No wounded man.
    The suits split up and disappeared.

    True story.

  30. daenku32 says

    I saw a Popoff infomercial on cable for the magic water just this morning. Will the quack ever quit?

  31. ranson says

    I seem to recall Randi saying a few years back that he had gained access to the warehouse where Popoff was packaging his “Holy Oil” from the promised land (also in those little soy sauce packets, like the water), and discovered several industrial cans of Wesson and a lot of Kmart aftershave.

  32. says


    I hope the solution (and I realize it would be “asymptotic”) is to catch ’em young …

    Of course, if the world were more just anyway, this sort of guy would be in prison …

    And yet I also realize the problem of responsibility here.

  33. gerald spezio says

    I have been flogging Mooney and Nisbet, also known as the framing police, whenever I can. Of course, neither Mooney or Nisbet will post anything that really knocks their linguistic scam. When you are on your way up in discourse studies, there are non-linguistic debating rules, Monsieur.

    My last unpublished attack to Mooney’s website focused on the carbon debt imposed by their incessant yuppie jetting behavior to re-educate the science bunglers. Behold, today’s *flogging science* has a post by Moon-struck framing their reckless jet-setting as “comfortably covered” by their purchase of “TERRA PASSES.” Reality is language, you understand?

    Pick up a terra pass and you are *comfortably covered,* folks. You might even consider investing. Framing, framing, framing. You will find a further development of this powerful reality transforming framing technique at “The Secret.” This is all cutting edge stuff, as in “the whorehouse theory of language.”

  34. John C. Randolph says

    “There is no god. If there were, Popoff would be afflicted with boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.”

    Sorry, I wouldn’t take a singlel instance of justice as proof of a god, until and unless all charlatans who prey on people’s superstitions are similarly afflicted.


  35. says

    I always look on the bright side when there is a god botherer fleecing the faithful: as long as he spends the loot on whores and booze and cars and mansions, we are safe. If he buys more radio time or starts an orphanage or something with the money then we have problems.

  36. whindy where says

    where is the church? the tithe? and the benficient gov? gone with the ship tax and the fines for children out of wedlock and the debtors prison? it is all faith? for the dying confide in strangers rather than family? and the rich use the public system to care for their elderly and palative care and keep their vacations? so who is decadent?
    Peter Popoff is a hardworking man, no different than any other, even cris angel mind freak magician, Is peter supposed to say hey this NOT FAITH? Is it not things hoped for? Peter is a friend and a good one, better than any of you complainers, what have you to your credit? blogs?

  37. Kevin .D says

    This guy is full of lies that mislead people. It’s like a new born from the “Jonestown” scene. I mean people are stupid for even falling for it. Im just saying that this guy should stop selling his moldy bread and toilet water and shut his show down. He’ll answer to God on judgement day.