Another “psychic” exposed

By Phil Plait | January 30, 2008 2:00 pm

I don’t think any psychics are real. There is no evidence whatsoever that they exist, and it’s very clear — if you actually look for the evidence — that all the most famous psychics are frauds, deliberately or otherwise.

So it’s very nice to see an Australian TV show go the extra mile (in this case, thousands of miles) to not only expose one such fraud, but to make sure she doesn’t get away with scamming people in the UK either.

This was a great debunking of Loretta Williams, a fraud who has been stealing millions of dollars from people for several years — by selling them candles for $2000! I’d love to actually see a US show do an expose like this.

My only complaint: they contact an Australian psychic (President of the Australian Psychics Association) who talks about how people should not have to pay extra for a reading from real psychics.

HAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahahaha. Psychics are funny. So cluelessly ironic.

Tip o’ the wizard’s hat to my dear friend Richard Saunders for this.

Comments (56)

  1. Greg

    I do miss those Miss Cleo commercials though. At 2AM, there were hilarious!

  2. Michelle

    well thank god cracked auras don’t exist! I’m much more reassured now.

    Sigh. That wrecked the whole video when they brought that guy in.

  3. Ian

    He’s the tricky thing. How is what she did really any different than any other psychic? Honestly it doesn’t seem like you can sue her, because if you can sue her then you can sue any of them. Sure she went beyond the reading and sold candles and healing therapies but hey, they agreed to pay. I honestly don’t see what’s so wrong about it. It’s the fault of these fools.

  4. ccp

    You know, you’d think these psychics would see these investigations coming…

  5. Why is SHE the one being arrested. For crying out loud, if some moron is stupid enough to hand over thousands of dollars for some psychic reading, fine. Why is it the job of police to protect people from their own stupidity?

  6. Michelle

    Yea, exactly Ian… The whole reading is a scam too, not just the candle.

    But then, can you sue feng shui folks for selling you stuff that is supposed to bring you joy and wealth? I bet they sell costly candles too. Or fountains. Or statues. You know, stuff you would normally pay 20 bucks for but they sell at 200 because it helps the chi?

  7. BA: have a look at the Italian show “Striscia la notizia” aired by Canale 5. They expose psychics all the time. See http://www.striscialanotizia.mediaset.it/

  8. TheBlackCat

    Ian, I have the same question but I appear to reach the opposite conclusion. People should be able to sue other psychics. They are committing fraud.

  9. Gary

    For a number of years as I walked past the shops on Campus Corner here in Norman, there would be signs posted, especially on football game days, proclaiming “Psychic Fair, Duck Pond, Sunday at 2pm” or whatever time.

    It was my joy to be able to stick my head in the door each and every time I passed this little shop to ask “If it is a Psychic Fair, why do you need to advertise?”

    Usually, this was met with looks which were translated as “Huh?”

    I was entertained anyway…

    Gary

  10. Ken

    Ugh. BA, you realise you’re saying something nice about a TV program that plays the exact same game as con artists? They prey on fear etc and compete with a rival program (“A Current Affair”) for who can start a mob better.

    Look up some of their other clips on YouTube, or “Chasers war on everything” for some examples of how they use hyperbole and horrible science (“experts” who are clearly talking out of their arse) to scare viewers and bully people.

  11. gopher65

    People are stupid for buying a reading or a candle or anything else like that, but…

    Instead of “Buyer Beware” I’d say “Seller Should Prove”. If a seller can’t prove their claims they should be arrested and charged with fraud. That includes everyone from Chiropractors to Feng Shui to religious organizations to polititions. If you lie and you get money for it (through donations or otherwise), you should be arrested. Anything that can’t be proved is a lie *if you claim it to be true*.

    That last bit is the key. If they claim they speak the truth but can’t prove it, and the get money for it, they should go to jail, plain and simple.

  12. Ryan

    I’ve no problem believing in telepathy. I can manipulate sound readily enough and there are plenty of animals that emit light. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to do something similar with radio waves. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s happened/evolved yet. Now, as far as talking to the dead or seeing the future? Yeah that’s just bunk.

  13. Gary F

    I thought the most amazing part of this video was that someone had paid her $310,000 for whatever it is she does. Even if I believed in psychics, I would never pay one that much money. Why not shop around for a better deal? They really should have tracked down that person, I’m curious how someone can obtain that much spending money while being so stupid. An inheritance maybe?

  14. Gary F

    Ryan: So, if I tape a cell phone to my head, will I have telepathy?

  15. Pat

    Gary: No no no; telepathy is a disease of the phone…

  16. Ryan

    Gary: heh, that’s a bit of a simplification, but you get the general idea. I’d just rather be using an organ of some sort as opposed to a surgical implant. Honestly I’d be surprised if we don’t have a technological form of telepathy within the next 50 years. That’ll amount to basically having a cellphone/laptop implanted in the brain. Direct p2p connection when within a mile or so; hook into a network for long range communication.

  17. Michael Lonergan

    This is really not any different than those late night TV preachers stealing from the sick and poor, promising health and wealth. As far as I’m concerned all of these crooks need to be sued. It makes me so angry that people can prey upon the vulnerabilities of others, all in the name of “spiritualism.”

  18. Michael Lonergan

    Gary: No, but if you tape a telescope to your head, you can see the future…. Wait, that would be the past.

  19. gus

    please take down john edward, he’s total scum.

  20. Joshua Zucker

    I think the real problem here is they keep saying “well, SHE doesn’t have genuine psychic powers” … how do they know? I don’t see anything evaluating her (lack of) powers on the show. All psychics are frauds and so they should be able to only sell their services clearly labeled “for entertainment purposes only” and at a price that fits that label.

    Meanwhile we hear on this show from the psychics association as though there are, in contrast to this case, reputable psychics out there.

  21. Hank

    Magical thinking is the real culprit here. Without it, these scam artist would not have anybody to prey upon. If you believe in psychics/fairies/santa or a combination thereof, the leap to cracked auras isn’t that far.

  22. iamaelephant

    I have no sympathy for her “victims”. A fool and his money are easily parted.

  23. Come to the US, Loretta! You’ll never be exposed in our mass media and you can make a fortune. Maybe even make it on Montel.

  24. tacitus

    If there were no laws against scamming then the modern world would be a terribly difficult place in which to operate. We would soon find out that all of us are “victims” and “fools”.

  25. Michelle

    I don’t think we’ll ever develop telepathy and I don’t WANT to have us develop telepathy! Crashing into my brain and putting voices there is a no-no. I mean, it’s the only place where I still have some privacy!

  26. Robert

    Today Tonight actually did something good? Anna Coren is lame.

  27. Michael Lonergan

    iamaelephant, the thing that gets me angry is that they prey on people at their most vulnerable, such as just losing a loved one. People in that state are not thinking straight, and when they are fed all kinds of mis-information from a “psychic”, you better believe they are willing to cough up the money. It is not all their fault.

  28. Buzz Parsec

    Gary, Ryan, Michelle -

    See “The President’s Analyst”. A very dated movie in some ways, but a brilliant parody of the Company. (The Phone Company, that is, not the CIA. Wait, the CIA’s in it too, and the KGB.) If you can get past the “hippies”, the parody Bell Telephone educational movie is right on the mark, exactly like all the Bell educational movies they showed us in the 6th grade.

    I won’t give away the McGuffin, but your posts are directly relevant.

  29. Michelle

    Noted buzz. I’m gonna add it to my… um… “RENTAL” list. ;)

  30. unthinkableMayhem

    Today Tonight and it’s competitor A Current Affair are truly the worst kind of tabloid journalism.

    They constantly cater to the lowest common denominator with most shows consisting mainly of advertisements for garbage products barely concealed as news, exposing dodgy tradesmen or welfare cheats and stories about useless celebrities.

    The only time either of these shows are worth watching is when they take opposing viewpoints on a subject. As they are on at the same time you can flick between the channels and watch the pseudo-journalists praise and condemn the same thing.

  31. I just heard that the Montel Williams show is through! This means Sylvia Browne has lost her venue!

  32. JB of Brisbane

    I don’t agree with the view that people scammed by “psychics” have only themselves to blame. The same could be said for people who paid too much for a piece of real estate, or bought a clapped-out car for full value. There needs to be some sort of legal redress in these instances, preferably by normal lawful action rather than the litigation route, which often is another example of practitioners getting rich off other people’s misfortune.

  33. Rory

    damm straight unthinkableMayhem

    Don’t post Today Tonight videos. Sure they are exposing ONE fraudster but that is it. They never address the issue as a whole, they just target some individual, hounding them and making them look like fools.

    This isn’t real journalism, hell they’d probably do a pro moon hoax story if it got them the ratings they needed.

  34. Rory

    Oh and I double the motion from Ken.

    Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chasers_War_On_Everything for an insight into australian current affairs.

  35. billsmithaz

    @GaryF:

    How’d she get $310,000 from one person?

    Easily, I’m sure. Only a True Believer would give her that kind of cash. Once the psychic’s ‘treatment’ starts, confirmation bias would certainly allow the Believer to interpret any positive event in their lives as proof that the ‘treatment’ was working. And with proof like that, they’d simply continue the treatments and continue buying $2,000 candles.

  36. JT

    Michael, I love the connection you made.

    “For $40,000 I can psychically remove the curse that’s ruining your life.”

    “For $40,000 I can pray to God to make you rich and powerful and get you into heaven.”

    They certainly sound the same to me.

  37. Michael Lonergan

    JT, I was very active in a charismatic church that believed in “prophetic” gifts. I was very “gifted” with this. I had the ability to “read people’s mail” during personal ministry times. Now that I am out of that, i know exactly what I was doing. It’s really just mental trickery. It would take me about 10 minutes to teach anyone here how to effectively do this. There is nothing spiritual about it. All it takes are good observational skills, good listening skills, good communication skills, intuition, and in my case, a good knowledge of the bible so you can throw out relevant verses to give it an air of authenticity. It’s really no different than what these psychics do. The ironic thing about it was that another church of the same denomination would go to psychic fairs, rent a spot, and set up “God Reading” tables, where people could come for a personal prophetic word. They didn’t have to pay for it, but the object was to convert them.

  38. COX!

    /agree with comments from people from the merry old land of Oz (such as myself) Today tonight will probably run another story the next night about homeopathy or Detox diets or ‘Shonky’ builders ripping off our fat kids, turning them Lebanese. (Inside joke ^^)

    And of course the ‘competing’ current affair program “a current affair”
    is not much better, running stories on UFO’s and faith healers, the lady hosting it (Tracy Grimshaw) you may remember interviewed Our beloved James Randi on the today show when he was in Brisbane (Can’t remember when sorry)

    The skeptical climate in Australia I’m Afraid is still fairly Ignorantly tempered. Running of shows such as Medium and Psychic Investigators (put in a educational program Catalyst’s time slot no less. Winning the Australian skeptics bend spoon award) Isn’t exactly promoting rational thought.

    But with a rising generation of from what I’ve seen (My age bracket 21 ^^) we may just have a chance.

    As mentioned b4, check out The chaser’s war on everything, you wont be sorry (I love you Chas Licciardello)

  39. Jeffersonian

    I like what several people have said.
    We live with Caveat Emptor in all (I think) first-world economies. Would we even want to live under Caveat Venditor? I mean, that would lead to some awful situations, right? So, if that’s the case, where DO you draw the line between frowning on scamming the gullible and enjoying an Emptor/Free-market system? Logically, if we followed the Venditor philosophy we’d have no churches. And not only are we not allowed to sue them, but they get tax-free status! (Regardless of the psychic predictions of the Book of Revelation, promise of an afterlife, etc.). Seems like either a contradiction or that the line’s a bit fuzzy. In the US, local laws traditionally govern this, but, still, where do you draw the line?

  40. rus

    i say, way to go loretta! if you can get rich because people are stupid enough to give you thousands of dollars at a time, more power to you! one lady in the clip even admitted it was her fault for trusting her.

    i would go so far as to say that she shouldn’t be legally liable at all. if you’re so mentally undeveloped that you need the government to hold your hand to protect you from people like this, what are you doing with that much money to spend in the first place?

    oh, and for those of you who disagree with me:
    i’ve recently come across $23,938,400 worth of unclaimed money in zaire. unfortunately, i need $15,000 for legal and processing fees before i can touch it, so if you can front me the $15k i’ll give you 10% of the money after it is released to me. i believe $2.4 million is more than a fair return on your initial investment. all i need is for you to send me the $15k. oh, and your bank account number so that i can deposit the $2.4 mil in there for you.

    any takers? anyone?

  41. Gareth (bujin)

    Yes, people who part with $310,000 to someone who feeds you with a load of gibberish are quite stupid. But regardless of the gullibility of others, psychics are committing fraud, and should be prosecuted.

    I thought about adding “some” before the word “psychics” in that last sentence, but sod it. Psychics have consistently failed to provide any evidence that what they do is genuine, so as far as I’m concerned, they are all either frauds or delusional.

  42. gopher65 writes:

    [[That last bit is the key. If they claim they speak the truth but can’t prove it, and the get money for it, they should go to jail, plain and simple.]]

    I hope to Christ you’re never elected to public office.

  43. Jeffersonian posts:

    [[Logically, if we followed the Venditor philosophy we’d have no churches. And not only are we not allowed to sue them, but they get tax-free status!]]

    Anyone can sue a church, Jeff. People do that all the time.

  44. madge

    It just goes to show that there is a sucker born every minute and two to take him. Both sides , the “psychics” and their prey should be given a short sharp lesson in reality, logic and critical thinking. BA should be compulsory viewing in every school on the planet! :)

  45. hahaha, that made my day. It’s so great on several levels. You think they are doing good reporting here, and in a way they do :) But then they act like psychics really exist! “Just this one is bad. We, the real ones, are CHOCKED by her behavior.” hahaha, as usual….

  46. Santiago

    I just can’t feel sorry for those people who paid up hundreds of dollars to that woman. Yes they may feel vulnerable, yes these are skilled con artists, but friggin heck, a 2000 dollar candle? 310,000 dollars to remove a curse? I think, as a society, we need to make fun of people who pay any amount of money to psychics. Psychics (and priests, and conspiracy theorists) exist because there is a market for their wares. You’ll never be rid of them until you starve them out of hapless victims to ensnare.

  47. taiki

    800 quid is roughly 1600 USD, no 2000.

    But still, fleecing is fleecing.

  48. COX!

    Well and good to sit back and cluck our tongues at these gullible fools, but all said and done, they have a weakness, this is seen and exploited by a predator and they are VICTIMS.

    Don’t Blame a rape victim.

    Common sense is an oxymoron.

  49. I find it rather funny how they keep saying that she’s a “phony” psychic, or not a “real” psychic as if such entities really existed!

  50. Leon

    “She says she’s interested in people’s fortunes. We think she’s more interested in taking people’s fortunes.”

    HAHAHA!!! I laughed out loud at that. One of the best one-liners I’ve ever heard for this kind of nonsense.

    Yes, it’s kind of sad that they call her a fake psychic, implying that others out there that aren’t pulling illegal scams are real. But it was gratifying to see an important psychic (yes, I use that term loosely) tell the camera that she’s a fraud. So much the better if we can get these charlatans to expose one another.

  51. I have known self-proclaimed psychics who would not take money for a reading, and who would tell someone consulting them that they weren’t getting anything if that were the case. Their idea that they had psychic powers might have been delusional, but they weren’t out to cheat anyone.

  52. Pete from Australia

    I wouldn’t take much heart from that Today Tonight story.

    Both TT (and its timeslot competitor on Australian free-to-air television, A Current Affair) specialise in the “miracle cure”/”fraud exposure” circle of life.

    Here’s how it usually works: They’ll produce a “miracle cure” story introducing the scam, milk it for how it’s helped some “battlers” (poor people) for about a week. 6-24 months later, they’ll run a “fraud exposure” story, then milk it for another week with how it’s harmed those “battlers”. In the 6-24 months since, the goldfish memory viewers forget entirely that the tabloid news programs promoted it in the first place.

    After exposing this psychic “fraud”, they’ll happily promote the next John Edward style con artist without any sense of shame whatsoever.

  53. Em

    There is nothing spiritual about it. All it takes are good observational skills, good listening skills, good communication skills, intuition,
    ~ quoted, in part, by Michael Lonergan 30 january 2008 ~

    If you stand before a glass window, a chicken wire fence, and individual panels each of tulle, lace, silk, polyester, cotton , wool and brick, will you not have visibility of the images and scenes going on behind them ranging from 100% to 0% ? Imagine the human body being made of these materials wrapping around your soul, the core of who and what you are. There is nothing spiritual about being able to view the contents of a person’s soul, or the experiential memories housed therein. The more transparent the wrap, the more one is able to see.Heightened intuition makes for heightened skills of observation, listening and communication. However, if a person is on the phone, or in front of a computer speaking in real time, what are they observing; the screensaver on the monitor ; the cat sleeping in a basket? The same sense that tells you to drive an alternate route home, only to find out later there was an accident stopping traffic on your regular route, is the same sense that a person uses to discern the events surrounding an individual. The more practiced you are at using that sense , the more personally detailed the scenes and images become.Our bodies are surrounded by an electromagnetic field, proven by science. Scenes and images get trapped onto that field like a photograph on film. The person with heightened intuitive acuity can tap into that field and thus “see” the life of that individual , much like looking through a photo album. The better practiced you are, the sharper the photographs. It’s simple and anyone can do this. You don’t need to be special. You can be the stupidest of people and still practice using the circuits in your brain which allow for this sense to work as efficiently as sight, smell, touch or hearing. Some people are better at it than others, just like some doctors are better than others, or some carpenters are better than others. Just because you can do it a little doesn’t make you a master at it, but the sense is just as valid as our other senses. You will find frauds and counterfeiters in every occupation. One corrupt doctor does not make all doctors corrupt.

  54. the dog sniffer

    I was ripped off by the fake psychic Laura Bushnell. Her con story is that she has the breast milk of the Virgin Mary. yeah, right,
    and Bushnell says that she has a piece of the cross that jesus was crucified on.
    yeah, right.

    I thought she had mental problems, as in Laura is insane, to lie purposely to others in order to take thier money.

    Someone needs to do something about her lies.

  55. laffing

    I know this is an old post, but I just have to add, that during the Miss Cleo days, radio comics Bob and Tom said, “If someone thinks that Miss Cleo is really psychic, it isn’t Miss Cleo’s fault.”

  56. Abel

    Do check out this scam and expose them
    http://www.cosmicnectar.org/
    http://www.poonamuppal.net/index.html

    She charged a friend of us 40k USD claming to exorcise a vicious demon. We all knew he just need medication to stabilize his over thinking mind. So after the exorcism, our friend still feel the same. They refuse to refund and said our friend is just not facing reality. Thinking back, they refuse to accept cheque and only insist on cash.
    We realise she always keep asking us to buy their products and go for healing sessions.
    Another of our friend also went as she said her anger come from an entity which she can clear. After the healing, she is still the same. Then they will use psychological method, says that it will take time. She charges 250usd per hour for such ‘normal’ healing but never assure how long it takes. So, if she goes 4, 5 hours, the clients also has no say. Whatever charges they give, they would claim it is message of ‘cosmic energy’ setting the charges, not they themselves coming up with the amount.
    We had lodged a police report and when approach, she is smart and gather all her weak, sucked in disciples to speak up for her, say they are willing parties to pay and believe in her “power”. But the police is not relenting and will continue to investigate as they know she is telling lies too.

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