Four in 10 U.S. adults believe in psychics, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. Whether or not you’re among the believers, every psychic service isn’t considered a scam, in the legal sense. There are nearly 94,000 psychic businesses nationwide, offering palm and tarot readings, astrological advice and similar services. Industry revenue tops $2 billion a year, market research firm IBISWorld estimates.
It’s one thing to hire a psychic to entertain guests at an event or to spend $20 or so for an online palm reading, if you understand what you’re getting for your money. It’s another for a self-described psychic, spiritualist or medium to promise to remove a curse, restore your health, bring you riches or return the love of your life to you if you pony up enough cash.
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Scam psychics prey on people who are grieving, lonely or struggling emotionally, physically or financially. (The AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline saw an uptick in calls about psychic scams in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.) They solicit business by mail and social media, open storefronts or approach potential targets on the street.
Other self-proclaimed clairvoyants seek customers via telephone hotlines, as did the famed TV psychic Miss Cleo in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Two companies promoting her services were charged with deceptively marketing paid readings as free services.
Some supposed psychics book readings, collect payment, then break off contact with the buyer before services are rendered. (This scam is particularly prevalent on social media, the Better Business Bureau reports.) Those that do follow through may ask what is troubling you and offer a solution or tell you they sense a particular problem in your life and promise to fix it for a fee that can run into the thousands.
Or multiple fees: A hallmark of more involved psychic cons is the insinuation that the psychic’s work is never done. For example, after giving a reading, a scammer may say you need help clearing away negativity. Once that’s done, the fortune-teller comes up with another costly service or ritual that must be performed if you are to achieve happiness. The swindler may use high-pressure tactics or resort to threats about future bad consequences if you don’t keep paying for services.