by Detective Bruce Walstad
Fortune-telling scams and swindles have been reported to law enforcement authorities for the past 150 years. What percentage of victims actually come forward is unknown. It is estimated, depending on varying sources, that anywhere from one in five to one in 100 incidents of fraud are ever reported to the authorities. I suspect that the victims of fortune-telling swindles rarely report their losses to law enforcement.
Why victims don't report these crimes is obvious: embarrassment. Imagine having to go into the local police station and explain to a police officer that you just gave a fortune teller $10,000 to have a curse removed that had been placed on you by your spouse's ex-fiancÚ many years ago. When questioned on the details, you would have to explain how you were told by the fortune teller that there is a curse on you.
For instance, as part of the ritual, at midnight on Tuesday you had to go to the local cemetery and pray over a particular grave, with 10 one hundred dollar bills taped to your chest in the shape of a cross. On Wednesday, the 10 one hundred dollars were burned by the fortune teller while your eyes were closed in prayer. The following day you had to spit and urinate in a jar and place it under your bed for three days. On the fourth day you brought the bottle of spit and urine to the fortune teller, who after various prayers and ceremonies discovered some small black hairy creature in the bottle, which you were told was the evil curse passing from your body. This ritual "only" cost you $5,000. Then there was the additional $5,000 you paid to the fortune teller for the disposal of the creature. I suspect the average person may have some reservations in telling this type of story to anyone, much less a police officer.
Not all fortune tellers partake in the type of crime described above, but many of the store-front psychics operate in this manner. The score may not be $10,000, but only be a few hundred dollars. However, in many reported cases, the losses are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is estimated by some in law enforcement that the average store front fortune teller is making about $200,000 annually, convincing victims they are cursed.
The question usually arises here: who would fall for this "You are cursed" routine. There is no actual profile on victims. They come from all walks of life, male and female, young and old. Education seems be no factor, nor does occupation, although it seems that the preferred victims are female, who are going through some sort of crisis in life. It also appears that all victims have a belief in the paranormal to some degree.
I have spoken with several fortune tellers and members of their families who will openly admit to perpetrating these types of crimes. I was told that fortune telling is all nonsense and that the fortune tellers have no psychic ability whatsoever. They even explained that they had no remorse for the victims, as the victims came to them -- they did not go the victims -- and most of the time, the victims left feeling better about themselves and life, even though they were broke. I have also learned from the fortune tellers and police intelligence reports that the fortune teller might go through several hundred clients looking for the right victim to work the "You are Cursed" routine on. Those clients who are passed over are given a quick "cold reading", and shoved out the door.
Law enforcement at this moment has its priorities and, unfortunately, con games, fraud and fortune-telling swindles are not at the top of the list. The Bunco Squad has been replaced by the Gang Strike Force or the Drug Enforcement Unit. The con men and women have figured this out, and, as a result, incidents of fraud are at an all-time high throughout our country.
How can these types crimes be stopped? It is my opinion that it will take a committed, combined effort between law enforcement and the media. We are seeing some steps in the right direction. Many local, county and state jurisdictions have passed laws forbidding fortune telling completely. Occasionally, I see law enforcement, when given the time and resources, investigate fortune tellers by sending in female officers as victims and making arrests when the "You are Cursed" routine is performed on them. Law enforcement training on fraud is becoming more prevalent. Network news magazine type shows, such as 48 Hours and Dateline NBC have recently exposed the "You are Cursed" routine. On the other hand though, I often speak with other police officers who have fortune-telling establishments in their jurisdiction. When I question them about the criminal activity that may be occurring there, the usual response is, "We have never had a complaint in the 10 years they have been there." Then there is the recent rash of television shows that promote and almost endorse the paranormal as being real.
What the future holds for these types of crimes is unknown. Let us hope law enforcement will soon realize that fraud is costing our country losses probably in the billions of dollars annually, and it will take a real effort to combat it. The media also need to realize that they have some sort of commitment to reality and stop airing all those programs on the paranormal.
In a short time, I have an appointment with a fortune teller. Maybe she can predict the future of fortune telling. I'll let you know what she says...
[Detective Bruce Walstad is a Chicago investigator, magician, and President of Professionals Against Confidence Crime. He has previously written for The REALL News.]