There are fortune tellers, and then there are fortune tellers, who are apparently better at building their own fortunes than they are at telling you whether you’ll meet a tall, dark stranger.
Business Week had a recent article on a Florida woman who was scammed out of pretty much everything she owned by a strip mall “spiritual healer”. As poor Michele Zlotkin admits:
“I sat down and talked to this guy named Trinity and I don’t know what happened, but the next thing I knew, I was going to his place more often than I should’ve gone.” Over the next six months, she would give $130,000 in gift cards, watches, and cash to Trinity, who told her he was using them to get her recently deceased father out of purgatory. (Source: Business Week.)
Zlotkin, at sixes and sevens after her retirement as a school teacher and the death of her father, started out small: an $80 palm reading.
But “Trinity”, whose real name is David Uwich, quickly figured out that he’d found a mark.
He needed money to build a shield to fight the devil so Zlotkin’s father could get out of purgatory. He needed the Rolex watch so he could destroy it and prove that Zlotkin’s father had given up earthly needs. (Police later found the watch at a pawnshop.) “I know it sounds ridiculous,” says Zlotkin. “But he was very, very, very convincing.”
After blowing through her savings, maxing out her credit cards, and cashing in her retirement plan, Zlotkin finally awoke from her fugue state and realized that a) hey, we’re Jewish, so what do we know from purgatory; and b) I was scammed.
It turned out that Uwich was well known to the Boca Raton PD, and he was arrested. But successful prosecutions of this and other fortune telling/psychic scams are difficult.
How can you prove that they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain?
How can you prove that they weren’t really communicating with your loved ones in The Great Beyond?
How can you prove the Uwich didn’t manage to get Michele Zlotkin’s father out of purgatory.
Let’s face it, the answers to those questions are in limbo.
While Michele Zlotkin certainly got taken for an expensive ride, she’s not alone – or even much of a big spender.
…during the trial [of Rosa Marks], bestselling romance novelist Jude Deveraux testified that she paid Marks $17 million over nearly 20 years.
$17 million? That’s an awful lot of tall, dark strangers, curses, hexes, and communing with the late George Appley.
I was a bit taken aback to learn just how many folks there are out there who think they’ll find the answer to their big life questions by staring into the crystal ball.
According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, over the past 20 years the percentage of Americans visiting fortune tellers and psychics has remained steady at 15 percent.
Which seems quite shocking to me – who are these 15 percenters? – until I remember that there are a couple of psychic readers on Charles Street, the main drag of my neighborhood, which is one of the most upscale and highly educated ‘hoods in Boston.
Although I think that it might be a hoot, I’ve never been to a fortune teller/psychic. (I have had fun with the Ouija Board, and I have some tarot cards around here somewhere.)
I am certainly an unlikely candidate to get suckered in – I’ve got way, way, way too much of the skeptic gene in me – but it would be fun to see how they figure out your “tells”, and listen to what they have to say. Something fun to do on girls’ night out.
And there is nothing illegal about fortune telling, psychics, spiritual healers, whatever. They’re “work” is pretty much covered under free speech. (With a bit of caveat emptor tossed in.)
It’s the out and out frauds that spot the vulnerable, the easily manipulated among us, and go to ka-ching town that give this “business” a bad name.
While I don’t have any direct experience, I have watched the reality show “Long Island Psychic” a few times, and found it quite entertaining.
In my favorite episode, the LIP (that’s Long Island Psychic for you who are not particularly sensitive or attuned) went to a gathering of late-middle aged Italian American women to psyche them out (or whatever they call these engagements).
She told the group that she was sensing that someone had had a recent loss, which is not a bad guess when you’re with a bunch of late middle agers, especially given the elasticity of the word “recent.”
Anyway, LIP glommed on to one woman who weepily said that her mother had recently died.
“I can picture her walking around in some kind of a housecoat,” the LIP said.
Oh, yes, the recently bereaved nodded. That’s my mother.
“She has Kleenex in her housecoat pocket, am I right?”
Again, there was the tearful nod.
“And she has rosary beads with her a lot.”
Mamma Mia bingo!
LIP assured the daughter that her mother wanted her to know that she was in a better place, etc.
I’m pretty sure that in an equivalent gathering of late middle-aged women, I, too, could have figured out that one of them would have had a still-hurting loss. And it doesn’t take a psychic to figure out that the average late, lamented LI Italian-American mother might have worn a housecoat, kept wadded up tissues in her pocket, and “said” her beads. (I bet she kept a lot of old Cool Whip containers around, too.)
Or maybe you do need to be psychic to know this kind of stuff.
Do I feel a new profession coming on?
I promise I will not scam anyone out of their pension…