The big psychic scam: How mindreaders and fortune tellers prey on the vulnerable 103



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Going to a psychic can be quite a nerve-racking experience. What will they say? Will they be right? There are so many questions, but definitely one of the most asked is “are psychics real?”

While there’s no definitive answer on that, it is well-documented that many psychics aren’t being honest and are in fact not in touch with the spiritual world, so much so that they’ll take your money and laugh all the way to the bank.

There is one type of psychic medium that is largely criticised by self-identified true psychics – cold readers – and they are the people who tell you they have a direct phone line into the afterlife, such as well known personality John Edward. This technique is very effective but can prey on people at their most vulnerable, i.e. those who have just lost someone. Before we go into just what tricks so-called psychics use to convince their clients, we’ll take a look at a very embarrassing slip up an American clairvoyant had on an Australian TV show.

James Van Praagh is similar to John Edward in that he alleges to hear voices and messages from an audience member’s dearly departed.

Van Praagh started out his routine on the now axed talk show The Circle by asking a lady about her mother, and guessed that she took medication of some sort, an answer that would have a very high chance of getting right. He then asked whether this lady’s mother had arthritis (no), a back problem (no), or trouble with her legs (no). He realised that he was getting into trouble so he asked if anyone else had leg problems, and she revealed her father had hip replacement. “So he can’t walk as well as he used to”, he says. “No, he walks very well”. He then makes a guess about her family being Catholic and having a picture of Mother Mary in the house – around 25 per cent of Australians are Catholic.

He then has no option but to ask another person about their father and if he liked cars, before the host of the show ended the segment.

What Van Praagh was attempting to do is called cold reading, which is perhaps one of the most common and well-known tactics used by alleged clairvoyants. It works on the give and take sort of format in that a person with a deceased loved one will do anything to talk to that person once more, and in the midst of their desperation, reveal very specific details that the psychic can then use to convince them they have their loved one on Line 2.

Cold reading psychics will guess things that have a high chance of being true and are expert body language readers, taking cues from what you’re saying. If a guess is confirmed, the alleged psychic pushes forward in that direction, hoping that confirmation bias will make the victim remember the hits and forget the misses.

Other types of master manipulating psychics will do warm or hot readings, which is where the alleged psychic will use broad statement such as guessing a common cause of death. More commonly in the digital era, psychics can read up on you before an appointment and use what they know to have you believe they know something you don’t.

Cold reading psychics rate themselves on how often they get a hit, i.e. they guess something correctly about that person. They use crowds instead of one on one meetings so that they can increase the probability of at least one person agreeing to their statements i.e. ‘who has the mother with the red hair?’ or ‘I see a woman with a large dog’.

These types of psychics love people who want to have a miracle because they will believe anything, even if the psychic makes mistakes and covers them up by changing the subject, asking other people instead, attributing it to an ‘interruption’, or rationalising it.

At the end of the day, if you have just lost someone, it’s advised not to go to a psychic straight away to console yourself. Seeing a trained professional will be much more worthwhile and legitimate. With that said, it is impossible to know who is a psychic and who isn’t, so use your judgement to figure out if it’s worth your time.


Tell us, have you ever been to a psychic? What was the result?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Yes i have had a psychic reading. When i was in my 20s. Then in my 50s. They take a stab and watch for a reaction and then build on it. What rubbish. I can’t believe how that silly woman on RHOM is given airtime re her psychic ‘abilities’. It is all manipulation and misleading. Especially for the vulnerable.

  2. No, and it’s unlikely that I ever will. Talk to people while you are all alive, rather than regretting once someone is gone.

  3. I had a reading when I was a kid, they told me I would marry someone tall dark and handsom and becoming rich, well the man I married was short and plain and I ended up poor as a church is all made up garbage

  4. They seem to strike it lucky at times with their prophesies but as Sue Erlangsen says, it’s better to talk to people before they’re gone.

  5. I was having a card reading once and the phsychic suddenly said that an elderly woman was coming through and that she was saying their was a mix up with the flowers at her funeral. Only the undertaker and myself ever knew this bit of information, I had never said anything to anybody else. So true or false.

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  6. I had a reading by a friend at work who told me things that were going to happen regarding a holiday which was spot on, I only went for fun but cannot get over the detail she got right. Who knows?

  7. Only one not a scam in this world is the Holy spirit of God believe u nd me he knows all things at all tyms. One certainly can put there trust in him nd experiance his faihfullness thats for sure.if yor lookn look up^ nd talk to him He is the only real deal.

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  8. Someone we know went to one with her mother, when a family member went missing. They were told he was happy in a commune in another state & didn’t want to be contacted. Two years later his body was found near to where he had disappeared. I suppose they had a bit of peace for a time.
    I’m afraid we have always been very sceptical.

  9. Who truly knows the power of the mind and our senses. There is probably genuine ones out there but 99.9 percent would be scam artists. Would dearly love to talk with my Dad just one more time but it’s never going to happen. Death puts and end to conversations and it really is final

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