The world sometimes seems full of psychics, clairvoyants, and spiritual mediums. While psychic phenomena may very well exist, there are undeniably some amongst these many who claim to have special powers of the mind who are out to just make a quick buck, and there have been numerous instances of these con men and women being exposed. In some of these cases the scams are quite bizarre indeed, and here we will look at some of the stranger cases of so-called psychics trying to swindle people in the weirdest and most brazen of ways.
Probably one of the most notorious and longest running psychic con jobs ever pulled off was by the world renowned psychic Maria Duval, of France. Duval was a well-known psychic who went about sending out masses of letters to millions of people around the world, mostly the sick, elderly, or otherwise vulnerable and down in the dumps, each one appearing to be handwritten and containing amazing personal information about the recipients that no one could have known. For many this seemed totally legit, so they were all ears when Duval told them she had the power to bring them health, luck, and prosperity for, you guessed it, money. It was all bogus, the information compiled through the use of what are called “sucker’s lists,” made up of data that had mostly been given up by the victims themselves online and which were compiled by data brokering companies who would sell them to the highest bidder, but to the destitute looking for a miracle it all seemed like magic.
Duval asked for an average of around $40 for each correspondence, during which time she would dispense her “powers” and give out lucky talismans, psychic readings, or power words, and people by all accounts bought it hook, line, and sinker, to the tune of 1.4 million Americans eventually falling for it and forking out an estimated $200 million dollars across the United States and Canada. In some cases people were putting on the line their whole life savings to be sent out to this psychic who they had never even met in person. U.S. authorities eventually caught wind of the scam and at first thought that the sheer scale of it all meant that it had to be an organization carrying it out. They were skeptical that the photo provided was even of the psychic in question or that Maria Duval even really existed at all, but she was indeed real.
Duval had gotten her start as a local psychic in the south of France, giving readings and selling astrology charts, but she had always had bigger aims. Duval had gone on to become quite the celebrity in her native country, appearing on countless TV shows to demonstrate her psychic powers and using her abilities to allegedly find missing persons. She would eventually concoct the letter scam and arrange to have them sent out through an elaborate system of front companies that hid the true origins of the letters and obscured the extent of Duval’s involvement. It would turn out that although the scam had grown into a juggernaut, Duval herself had only been a small part of it as far as anyone could tell, with the money mostly going to the various shell and front companies that operated it, but she did receive an estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars from it, so she was no angel. In the end, by the time authorities tracked her down and brought her in she was an elderly lady with dementia, making her testimony shaky at best, and to this day it is unknown just how much a part she had to play or how much money she made off one of the longest running and widespread frauds in history.
Another rather well-known con pulled off by a popular psychic was launched by Gina Marie Marks, of Bethesda, Maryland, in the United States. Marks started out by giving pricey tarot readings and spiritual consultations, but then used her influence as a psychic to take it to the next level. She began convincing clients to withdraw large amounts of money in order to stuff it into their pillows and mattresses. Why, you ask? Well, so that the bills could absorb their energy, of course. Marks had these people seriously believing that if they did as they were told their body energy would be transferred into the bills, but of course this wasn’t enough to complete the process. No, to do that the victims had to send this spiritually charged money to Marks herself, who would then place it on an altar to carry out spells and rituals to cleanse the person of evil spirits, curses, and negative energies.
It wasn’t so she could spend it, you see, it was all about ridding these poor souls of their evil spirits. In one case she took the money in order to cast a love spell on it for a lonely Chinese client, who forked over around $80,000 for the privilege. These clients were assured that their money would be returned when it was properly “cleansed,” but surprise, surprise, it never was. When these clients would ask her about the money Duval would either claim that the process had not been completed yet or that they weren’t taking it all seriously enough and that they should stop worrying about it and focus. In the end, over the course of 5 years Marks defrauded five people out of a total of $350,000, which is a lot of cash to be spiritually cleansed. In court Marks would cintinue to insist her powers were very real, and denounce people for persecuting her, for not understanding these gifts or her mission, saying, “People are racist from gypsies. They’re racist on my culture. We do have power. We’re not allowed to talk about it.” Racism or not, swindling people out of their hard earned money is typically frowned upon, and Marks would receive a sentence of 6 years in prison.
This would not even be the only case of a self professed psychic asking for cash to spiritually cleansed, and it seems to be a rather common scam that a shockingly large number of people are willing to fall for. In 2010, 75-year-old widow Joann Niskey was told by a psychic named Rose Mitchell that she seemed depressed and needed a consultation. Fair enough, but things would get more bizarre when Mitchell told Niskey that she was a victim of an ominous curse called “The Kennedy Curse,” and that this was the reason she had lost two husbands during her lifetime. The cure for this curse? Well, all she had to do was fork over $86,000 in order to be cleansed of evil energies, after which it would totally for sure be returned. It never was.
Almost as weird is a psychic in West Hollywood, California, named Lisa Debbie Adams, who in 2009 convinced a woman she had approached on the street that she was in fact cursed and needed to do something about it right away. The thing she needed to do was to apparently purchase $30,000 in gold bars in order to form a spiritual shield that would protect her. Not only this, but Adams also informed her to open up her credit cards in order to help “ward off evil,” and that she had been cursed in the womb and would need to eventually have $96,000 cleansed in order to get that taken care of. Fortunately she was reported to the Irvine Police Department and arrested before she could finally get the cash or the gold bars.
While the cases we have looked at so far mostly have to do with hard cash and monetary gain, some scams are more directed to baser instincts. Enter Karl Lang of Newport, Wales, psychic and scumbag extraordinaire, who between the years of 2005 and 2009 was convincing two young, attractive women that he could help contact their dead relatives if they just did a few things to help him focus his powers. Seances were arranged, and Lang informed them that they had to strip naked in order for the process to completely work. They were also encouraged to perform explicit acts on each other and themselves, as well as erotic poses in order to widen their spiritual powers of contacting the spirit world. They were also instructed to send nude photos and videos, and one of the victims would say she had been commanded to act like a "porn star” in order for her spiritual energies to be heightened. This went on for four years, with the women told that in order to “level up” their spiritual power they would have to perform more and more explicit, outrageous, and demeaning acts in front of him as he too sat naked. One of the victims would later say:
To get stronger, he told me I had to do things that mankind was afraid of. This meant I had to get naked and perform a bit like a porn star. He said the more outrageous I performed, the stronger I would become. Sometimes my sister would be there and we would both be naked next to each other. The first time I stripped off my clothes, he said, ‘Well done! You’ve gone up a level in the spiritual world’. He told me the more outrageous I behaved, the higher level I would get. It was like a reward system. Once I passed to level 5, he would be naked too. If you didn’t dance to his tune, all hell would break loose. Bad things would happen. I’d lose my colours [spirit powers] if I didn’t do what he wanted. Thinking about it now it makes me feel sick. I’m embarrassed and ashamed about what I had to do, but I was completely controlled. He mentally abused me. I met Karl at a very vulnerable stage in my life. He said I had a gift and he made me feel special. His eyes were warming and he made me feel safe and comfortable in his presence. I saw Karl as my saviour.
Something indeed was certainly leveling up during these seances, but it is questionable that it was their spiritual power. Lang would eventually be charged and sentenced on various charges of indecency and exploitation, but it is really amazing how far he was able to take it all for so long. Both victims claimed they had been young, impressionable, and brainwashed by Lang, who warned them not to tell anyone about their exploits because he was “the reincarnation of Jesus Christ,” because why go by halves? Lang for his part has totally denied the allegations, saying the women did these dirty acts and stripped down willingly without his encouragement or instructions, because he is such a wellspring of magnetic raw animal sexuality, I suppose?
He has remained defiant that his powers actually work and that he has helped countless people reach dead loved ones throughout Britain, but for most he is a predatory pervert. David Watts, senior prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service in Wales, has said of the case:
This was a very unusual case involving the cynical exploitation of a number of young women. Karl Lang preyed on his victims in a callous and underhand manner. He targeted them at times in their lives when they were at their most vulnerable. They were vulnerable in the sense that they were bereaved and sought the defendant's consultation in communicating with those who died, and he took the most gross advantage of the situation. Each of Lang's victim's has shown tremendous courage in coming forward and reporting what happened to them. We hope that today's verdict will provide them with some measure of comfort.
These have been just a few of the cases that show the remarkable lengths people are willing to go to parlay their "psychic gifts" into personal gain. The truly sad thing is not even that these fraudsters have pulled these off, but that so many people out there are willing to believe it or go along with it enough for it to be worth their while. Psychic abilities may very well exist, and it is not the intention or scope of this article to debunk or attack these claims in general. However, it is plain to see that there are plenty of people who have no qualms about preying on the believers, so the next time you are looking for the services of a psychic be sure to do your homework and try to prevent yourself from being taken in by a con.