Are these psychics practicing their skills on parole boards?

Michael Wilson has a fascinating article in which he examines the transcripts of psychics testifying before the parole boards where they come clean and admit that they are running scams. What was interesting in the article is that it seems like there is no shortage of people willing to give them huge sums of money. He cites the case of Celia Mitchell.

Celia Mitchell, 38, was pointedly asked that exact question last year: “What is the psychic business? Is it real, or a bunch of baloney?”

She answered, “It’s a scam, sir.”

“The whole thing is a scam?”


Ms. Mitchell would know. She herself was a psychic. But after making a living portraying herself as a vessel of supernatural powers, she was coming clean.

She worked out of shops on Ninth Avenue in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. In 2009, Ms. Mitchell told a client that a dark spirit was keeping happiness at bay. She asked the client for an $11,450 Rolex watch and a lot of candles and cash to clean the spirits. In all, the client paid her $159,205, according to a criminal complaint.

Another psychic got $713,975 from a marketing professional by promising to reunite him with a woman he loved. He paid her even after the man discovered that the woman had died. [My italics-MS]

Mitchell was asked if there were any legitimate psychics out there and replied, “If they are taking your money, they are not for real.”

Of course the psychics know that the whole thing is a scam. But one has to be skeptical as to whether these confessions signal real remorse on their part. After all, what these psychics are really good at is not foreseeing the future but figuring out what people want to hear and then telling it to them in a plausible manner. They may be doing the same thing to the parole board in order to get out early.

Digital Cuttlefish has more on this story, where it is pointed out that there is a temptation to think that it serves the victims right for being so foolish and that their losses can be viewed as merely a tax on the gullible. But while some of the victims of these scams may not have lost large sums of money on an absolute scale, what they lost may cause them much greater hardship than those who could afford to squander thousands. Yes, they should not have been so gullible but it is wrong to take advantage of people’s gullibility.


  1. Holms says

    I think you messed up some blockquotes…

    And as for the ‘tax on the stupid’ thing, charging for goods / services that do not exist is plain old fraud regardless of whether the victim has loads of cash to lose or not.

  2. Cuttlefish says

    “Of course the psychics know that the whole thing is a scam…”

    I would not actually paint that broad a picture. Ray Hyman, for instance, had convinced himself that palm reading actually worked, before testing his belief and finding it did not hold water. It is entirely possible that someone who is giving general advice, and getting the sort of feedback we can expect given the Barnum Effect, might convince themselves that they are the legitimate sort of psychic, and that their Tarot or palm reading or whatever is actually working. I have spoken to psychics who have convinced me that they honestly believe they are absolutely the genuine article. (invariably, these ones are utterly unafraid to be tested, and are eager to hear about ways they can try to prove their legitimacy.)

    That said, the psychic industry (as exposed by M. Lamar Keene, for instance) is as bad as those prosperity gospel preachers. I have also spoken to psychics who are well aware they are scamming, and who justify it as “entertainment”. One, for instance, did not charge at all, but made hundreds of dollars in tips at any appearance at a fair. He also charged a buttload of money for videos showing how you, too, could do the same.

    I despise the latter, but have little regard for the former. They are not actively cheating people, just profiting through their own and their clients’ ignorance.

  3. says

    Those who make their living by committing fraud know how difficult it is to prosecute and convict them. Unless there are serious consequences or their acts are completely outlawed, frauds will always go back to their crimes. Just look at Kent Hovind, out of prison and back at it already.

    If you want another example, read about Sanford Wallace, nicknamed “Spamford” who called himself the “spam king”. He has been a scourge on the internet for more than twenty years engaging in fraud, rampant unsolicited advertising (e.g. porn, viagra, etc.), distributing spyware to collect private information, hacking websites (e.g. gathering the information of 500,000 facebook users and sending 27 million unsolicited ads) among other unethical acts.

    In the 1998, he claimed to be “reformed” and had become an “anti-spammer”. To no one’s surprise, it was a lie and he was back at it within months. A hyena can’t change its laugh.

    As it happens, Wallace has pled guilty various charges this past week. He faces a massive fine and possibly three years in prison. It couldn’t happened to a more deserving piece of filth.

  4. Holms says

    ^ is he the guy whose address was discovered, and was immediately signed up to every publication with a free mailout?

  5. Nick Gotts says

    “It’s always about the money” may not be 10% true, but I think it’s pretty close.

    There’s a most entertaining novel on this theme, Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks, by Christopher Brookmyre. It has a Scottish setting, but two of the central characters are an American “remote viewer” and the psychologist who is testing him. The “Unsinkable Rubber Ducks” of the title are those believers who refuse to abandon their belief in the face of the clearest evidence that they have been scammed. Another character is a long-time debunker of psychics who gets bored trying to sink the unsinkable, and becomes a “psychic” scammer herself. If you try it, don’t be put off by the first chapter -- it’s not in the authorial voice!

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