When Is Fortunetelling “Bilking?” Or, Why is it Legal at All?

Posted on June 15, 2015


Answer: It’s always bilking. It is only a matter of degree.

As Michael Wilson reports in the New York Times, a man consulted a Times Square psychic for help in winning the affections of his lady love. Over the course of the next 20 months, “she bled him dry;” he had handed over $713,975.

And what a ride it was. See Wilson’s article for the details: negative energies, evil spirits, 80-mile-long bridges of gold. Truly bizarre stuff, but our hero bought it hook, line and sinker.

Eventually, and sadly, his lady love died unexpectedly.  The psychic then claimed she would be reincarnated into the body of a woman in Los Angeles, and our hero — having gone to Los Angeles to search her out — didn’t seem to recognize his old flame in the new woman he had met.

It was only then that the man began to suspect that the psychic “wasn’t everything she was purporting to be.” Really? Ya think?? News flash: Psychics are never what they purport to be. But, having handed over more than $700,000 without the desired results, our hero hired a private investigator, and together they took the case to the police. The fortuneteller is now charged with grand larceny (and it’s not the first time; she had run afoul of the law previously, having scammed a Florida resident out of $30,000 back in 2011).

So here’s my question: if getting customers to pay you mega-bucks for your “psychic powers” amounts to grand larceny, then why isn’t the same thing petty theft when you get customers to pay you small amounts of money? Why is “fortune-telling” or “psychic” work legal at all?

Is it because the psychic in this case claimed she could not only tell the customer about the spiritual state of his case, but also actually perform expensive actions to shift things in his favor? Maybe that’s the line between fraud and… what? What are paid lies about being able to see into the future, or to commune with the realm of spirits, or to communicate with the dead, if not fraud on a smaller scale?

But wait, some will say. You can’t just outlaw all psychics and fortunetellers – what if some of them are real? How do we know that some people don’t have these powers? I mean, don’t police departments sometimes consult psychics, and what about religion – don’t the faithful believe in a spiritual world in addition to the physical world? Might there be something there, some truth to it all?

My answer to the above: police departments who hire psychics are wasting their money. Don’t even get me started on religious beliefs. And if anyone out there had real supernatural powers, they would very likely have applied to James Randi’s organization for the million-dollar prize money that they will pay out upon proper, controlled demonstration of their powers. Not only has that prize never been collected, but many others also lie around unclaimed. Golly, why do you suppose this is? Because it’s all fake. Fake, fake, fake. Even if someone really believes in their own supposed psychic powers, they are not real; that person is just deluded. Put any of these claims under controlled testing conditions, and they evaporate.

Given that track record, “fortune-telling” should only be legal as a show, a performance, an acknowledged “magic trick” of the same sort that audiences will pay to see as entertainment, knowing that what they see on the stage is an illusion, where half the fun is in the amazement, and the other half is in trying to figure out how it’s done. But to open a shop, hold out that illusion as truth, and prey on the weak-minded, stupid and desperate, should rightly be called a crime, whether it nets $70 or $700,000.

Posted in: Crime, Interests, Justice