Recent Investigations Into Fraudulent Psychics

Psychic Neon Sign with Star and Moon

Author’s Note: the term psychic is not interchangeable with medium. Mediumship is the ability for a sitter to become a conduit between the living and the dead via trances, clairvoyance, clairaudience, cartomancy, et cetera. A psychic has extrasensory abilities such as those that make up ESP (telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition) that allows them to perceive information not readily available to the five senses. There are mediums who have psychic abilities, but the terms are not interchangeable. Due to the terminology used in the media references below, this article uses the term “psychic” as a general term as well.

Over the last week, there have been two major media outlets that have covered the topic of mediums and psychics: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (24feb2019) on HBO and a feature written for the New York Times Magazine (26feb2019).

Both investigations revealed that the psychic industry generates two billion dollars a year in the United States alone. Details were provided on how celebrity psychics are revered for their apparent ability to put people into direct contact with deceased loved ones. The focus of these investigations was primarily upon the psychics who have met with the biggest degrees of success through have television shows, live gallery readings, and a host of books and other merchandise for sale.

Both investigations illuminated a derogatory view of mediums and cast aspersion upon everyone who demonstrates psychical abilities. The crux of these arguments was that there are no genuine psychics and that those who give psychic readings are either giving “cold readings” or “hot readings.”

Hot and Cold Readings

Cold reading is an age-old technique used for psychic readings. A psychic will give a very generalized statement, such as “A loved one wants to communicate with you.” From there, the “contact” will be narrowed down to a male or female, relationship to the sitter, possibly a name, and then a message that seems to come from the other side such as they are happy, forgiving, or offering hope.

Hot reading is a newer technique where ticket sale information is provided to the psychic’s staff before the event for research purposes. This can be done by offering to connect your social media account to the psychic’s discussion group, or by the staff who will pull ticket buyer names and look into their social media profiles. Ultimately, this allows the psychic’s staff to ascertain pertinent information about lost loved ones, deceased pets and other major life events like weddings, work and reasons to celebrate. Of course, when it comes times for a reading or a live psychic gallery, the information from social media profiles will then be used to facilitate a false contact with whomever the ticket holder wishes to contact most.

As someone in the paranormal field, I can see how easily this can be done. Friends rightly grieve about lost loved ones and lost pets. Anniversaries of deaths are often posted along with photos of the loved one. Phrases a dead relative might have said, or things they loved to do are made public. The same people often post when they are going to psychic gallery reading in hopes of getting a reading from a certain relative. Simply put, everything is voluntarily put right there, in open social media, for an incorrigible psychic to commit fraud and profit off grief.

Both Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and the New York Times Magazine focused primarily upon catching out the psychic through hot reading at public galleries. For those who are not familiar with galleries, it is where the public at large attends a group psychic reading. These groups can be really small with local psychics such as a party reading in your living room or a small gathering at a local metaphysical shop. These investigations focus more upon the massive theaters with thousands of paying attendees waiting to hear from the other side with the psychic as the conduit. The psychic will be on stage, sometimes with an ear piece, and the staff will feed him, or her information gleaned from hot readings. The psychic will then be directed towards an area where the hot read is sitting and begin their spiel. Only a handful of attendees are given readings at these events but most everyone in the audience hopes that they will be chosen.

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Skeptical Inquiry Sting Operations

In the paranormal field, the names of the major psychics are known to most of us; and almost all the major psychics who do gallery readings have been subjected to hot read stings. Before social media provided the information for hot reads, members of CSICOP often conducted stings at public galleries. The way this was done was rather ingenious. While waiting in the lobby for the theater to open, those involved in the sting operation would often speak loudly to anyone and everyone about fictitious persons who had died with whom they really needed to speak. This included all the information that was needed to provide a reading such as names, age at death and condition they died from. The skeptics often carried photos of the made-up loved ones on the other side that were either random photos or photos loved ones who are still alive and well.

In several stings that have been subsequently written up, the psychic had crowd listeners who would write down and report this information for the gallery reading which sometimes led to a false reading being given on stage. There are several write-ups and screenshot documentation on various sting operations online.

Playing upon someone’s grief is a terrible thing. Profiting from grief makes it even worse. Hopefully the examination of psychic techniques formulated a salient viewpoint for the general public at large about fraudulent mediums for these mediums do this without compunction.

Are All Psychics Frauds?

Both John Oliver and the NYT painted a canvas using broad strokes with a single color. There was no counter evidence given other than the results of sting operations. In order to balance out the illegitimacy of some well-known psychics, there are some resources that you should look into for a more rounded view of psychical phenomena.

It should be noted here that there are innumerable persons who have legitimate psychic ability and ESP. It is often said in our paranormal field that most everyone has some form of psychic ability, but some have it much more honed than others. I have encountered several who are genuine over the years and I am proud to call them friends. Most are people who shy away from the limelight and only give private one-on-one readings. As an anecdote, I have been told by someone in passing (not during a reading) that my deceased grandmother wanted to talk. This person then told me my grandmother’s name (a very uncommon one at that); she has been deceased for two decades and I’ve never posted about her on social media. Anecdotes aside, we have written about ESP before on this site, and we have posted multiple articles and videos on this topic and a closely related field, remote viewing via our Monthly News Updates.

“Hurrah for positive science! Long live exact demonstration!”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Persons with psychical ability have been rigorously investigated scientifically since before the advent of the Society for Psychical Research (1882). The SPR was, and still is, a group of intellectuals who investigate cases of psychical anomalies with the expressed mission “To examine without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable on any generally recognized hypothesis.” Over the course of its history, the SPR (and its sister offshoot the ASPR) have had Nobel Laureates among their ranks, prestigious men and women of science, doctors, writers, and a cadre of other disciplines that have attempted to arrive at explanations for psychical phenomenon through observation and testing. The case of Leonora Piper is still one the touchstone cases for empirical study of a psychic medium this day.

Outside of the SPR, there is also the Rhine Institute that was founded by Joseph Banks Rhine and his wife, Louisa Rhine, in 1927 as a part of Duke University. Originally designated for psychical research, the Rhines began rigorous laboratory testing of psychic mediums in order to better understand psychology and other factors behind psychical phenomenon. Ultimately, J.B. Rhine’s research focused upon mediums gathering psychic information by non-tradition means such as telepathy and clairvoyance; he created a term for this ability: extrasensory perception (ESP). The Rhine’s also started the Journal of Parapsychology which is still in publication. Over the course of its existence, the Rhine Institute has published several peer-reviewed articles on the methods and statistical probability relevance of both psychic abilities and ESP.

Another place conducting scientific examination of psychical phenomena is the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) in Petaluma, California. Founded by former astronaut Edgar Mitchell, IONS is conducting positive science towards quantifying and understanding aspects of psychical phenomena. More importantly, unlike the SPR and Rhine which have their own journals, the scientists at IONS publish their findings in multiple peer-reviewed journals so other scientists and a studious public audience can access their research.

Specifically when it comes to mediums, the Windbridge Research Center is known for the rigorous protocols they have put into place to certify that a psychic medium actually can obtain information from an unknown source and can do it upon demand in person or remotely via phone upon blind subjects. Although Windbridge does not certify mediums any longer, and over the course of their research, only a handful were certified as legitimate, they have set-up protocols for others to follow should another organization want to continue in this vein of research. You can download and read their methods here.

There is a current group of psychical researchers who are continuing with efforts to certify mediums. The Forever Family Foundation is actively certifying psychic mediums under rigorous protocols set forth by noted parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach.

Sitting With A Medium

There is always the question about the genuine ability of a medium when you pay for a sitting. Most mediums charge because it is a part of their livelihood. Unfortunately, there will always be mediums who put their own financial interests first. There will be frauds who may not have any accurate reading ability whatsoever.

There are also really talented individuals out there who have the ability to connect to an unknown source that relays information that could not be known to the medium otherwise. In almost 140 years of rigorous, modern scientific research into this phenomenon, there are still no answers as to how or why some mediums have such exceptional abilities. What is known is that there is a connection of sorts that that happens between the sitter, the medium and the discarnate source of the information.

With this in mind, here are a few things to consider before paying to sit with a medium:

  • Whenever you go to a medium as a sitter, have no expectations of a result.
  • Mediums cannot always connect at will and disincarnate consciousnesses cannot be willed to communicate on demand.
  • If a medium promises you contact, walk away and save your money.
  • Educate yourself. Seek out the recommendations of friends who have visited mediums with great results or get recommendations from your local metaphysical shop.
  • Make sure that your personal social media profiles are locked down to private and that you are not close friends with the medium who will be reading you. In small communities, this can be difficult.
  • If appointments are set up ahead of time, your name can always be googled to see if you are a survivor in an obituary notice.
  • Cover any tattoos that may have names or dates of a loved one on the other side.
  • Learn the tropes of cold reading. Offer nothing when the medium is fishing for clues.
  • Be prepared to cry. True mediumship sessions are a conduit to loved ones on the other side and when a valid message comes through, it is some of the best grief counseling you can ever receive.
  • Stay away from gallery readings from major mediums as the money you spend for a couple hours watching other people get readings could be better spent with a psychically talented medium in your own local area.

With all this in mind, we recommend that you read the New York Times Magazine feature on fraudulent psychics. It is illuminating for those who may not be well versed in the duplicitous ways of mediumship. We also recommend watching the episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver as it covers a lot of the same material, but with different psychics and in a much more humorous fashion.

Did You Learn Something New?

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About Tim Woolworth 74 Articles
Tim has been educating in the paranormal field since 2010 when he launched the site He is the founder of Paranormal Study (2018), the creator of the Walk in the Shadows podcast (2022), a renowned conference lecturer and author of several articles and book sections. When he isn't enmeshed in the paranormal, he enjoys a career as a professional brewer and spending time with family and his pets.

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