Are there people who can speak with the dead? No one really knows for sure.
Are there frauds who take advantage of the depressed or bereaved for financial gain? That answer is a resounding "Yes."
Since Spiritualism first captivated the nation in the late 1840s, con men and women have become masters of deception. Some scams involve complex equipment, hidden chambers, and theatrical seances. Most psychics and mediums, however, rely on old-fashioned cheating. Here are a few of the most common tricks used to fool the gullible.
Psychics have their own fraternity. Since their earliest days, they've been sharing names of fervent believers. Printed social registers (primarily published online today) were once notated and distributed among bogus Spiritualists. The biggest suckers were marked with the phrase "dead easy."
Many psychics also compile their own "data books." These include information from birth and death records, newspaper announcements, gravestones, internet background searches, social media, and other public or investigative resources. While you might not know your psychic, he or she may already "know" you from a quick browse through your LinkedIn profile.
This is an old trick used by mediums who take clients by appointment. Since they know when you'll be arriving, it's easy to slip some cash to an innkeeper, hotel employee, or waitress. In exchange, these spies report back on the items you've packed, your favorite foods, and other personal details. This information is later revealed to hoodwinked sitters during their "readings."
It's not unheard of for psychics with a local storefront and nearby clientele to go one step further. Hairdressers, maid services, and even mailmen offer a wealth of information to psychics looking to earn the trust of someone willing to spend substantial sums of money. One or two pinpoint-accurate "spirit" messages (actually originating from Gil the gardener) and the client swallows the psychic's swindle - hook, line and sinker.
The Law of Averages
Simple statistics play to a phony psychic's hand. You'll never hear a medium tell you, "I'm seeing a spirit standing behind you whose name begins with 'X.'" But, it's nearly guaranteed that the spirit guide will see someone whose name begins with J, M, S, D or C. Why? Because these are the most common first initials. If the hoaxer is lucky enough to get an affirmative response from the sitter on the first or second guess, the race to the wallet is on.
Once the psychic has piqued your interest, the game of fishing begins. And whether you intend to or not, the natural impulse to respond to a question is difficult to stifle. "I'm seeing someone named Mary," the psychic reports. "She says you shouldn't feel guilty. What does that mean?"
Before you realize it you've blurted out that you don't know a Mary; or that you haven't got a relative named Mary but there is an Aunt Maria; or that you once cheated off the homework of a third-grade classmate named Mary Catherine Gallagher. Whatever the case, you've just given the psychic enough information to continue baiting you for hours.
Sometimes you won't even be asked a direct question. The psychic will simply end a sentence with the upward inflection of a question. "So... I see a BOAT...," she might say. And once again, your conditioned reflex clicks on - verbally or otherwise. Derisive laughter, unconscious head nodding, impatient huffs - all of these are signals to the psychic to change course or continue prodding.
Can You Be Any More Vague?
You'll never visit a medium who tells you that your Uncle Bob hated apple pie, had two tabby cats as a child, and preferred blonds but married a brunette. Instead, you'll get "messages from beyond" that are as clear as tomato soup.
"There's a man behind you," the psychic will say. "He says you'll remember that he always had change in his pockets." Well, that certainly narrows it down.
"I see an elderly woman. She loved you very much. She wears a piece of jewelry she never took off." Hmmm... could that be one of those rare wedding bands I've heard of...?
The truth is, however, that these vague statements have one purpose: to prompt you to provide details that the psychic will then convince you he or she supplied.
There's someone close to you who died of heart disease.
How many times have you heard a psychic say that? And do you know why? Because cardiovascular disease (or related complications) is the number one cause of death in the nation. It's as close to a sure bet as these frauds have.
But some fake psychics go even further in their spiritual malpractice. It's not uncommon for these con artists to actually accrue a bit of medical education. Just enough, for instance, to recognize that a puffy face might indicate kidney trouble or chemotherapy. Or, that profuse sweating may be an indication of thyroid problems. And if you're shocked that someone would use your illness to defraud you, don't be. Contrary to what they tell you, there's nothing personal about your relationship with a psychic. It's just business.
It's Not Me, It's You
In those rare instances where a mark simply refuses to buy into a psychic's bull-shine, the last resort is sometimes, shockingly, aggression. Suddenly it is not the cheater who has done something wrong, but rather the cheated.
"I'm just telling you what my spirit guide is telling me," snaps the psychic. "Only you can make sense of the message."
If confrontation doesn't work, some mediums try emotional blackmail. "She's saddened by the fact that you're not feeling her energy."
Or, maybe you've got a dark secret of some kind. "Would you have blocked out that memory for some reason?"
All of this is an audacious attempt to convince the disappointed client that the problem lies with her, not the crook she's just paid hundreds of dollars.
Everyone wants to know that their loved ones have gone to a better place; that there is something beyond this life. It is natural to seek comfort. But if the person offering it demands money in exchange, walk away. Never allow your grief to make you "dead easy."
For additional reading, this affiliate link may be of interest: