An Arizona woman claims a fortune teller hypnotized her and talked her into leaving $1400. The psychic denied the allegations when confronted by CBS 5 Investigates. But the situation is an example of how difficult it can be for law enforcement officials to investigate accusations of fortune teller fraud.
A CBS News poll conducted in 2002 showed a majority of Americans, 57 percent of those polled, say they believe in psychic phenomena. That translates into big business for psychics and fortune tellers. According to Yelp, there are 139 operating in the Valley. There are likely dozens more whose client base does not rate the services on Yelp or Google.
“She told me, ‘You have an evil in you, and I can help you,'” said a woman, who asked CBS 5 News to shield her identity. The woman says she was directed to a psychic on the Valley’s west side by one of the psychic’s clients.
“I had some personal issues, some financial issues. You know. And I was thinking to check what is going on in my life,” said the woman.
At first, she said everything seemed as normal as it could be while visiting a psychic. The fortune teller simply asked for a donation for her services. The woman says she gave her $25. The fortune teller directed her to purchase candles and to perform a ritual, which involved sleeping with an egg in a folded T-shirt nearby.
It was during the third visit that the woman says things got weird.
“I think maybe it was like hypnosis because I didn’t feel good. I was vomiting and I had a really bad headache. It took me two hours to realize what happened to me. How did I leave more than $1000 there?” said the woman.
In all, she said she handed over nearly $1500 to the psychic and cannot explain why.
Fortune telling is legal in Arizona and most other states. Psychics have argued they have a First Amendment right to do what they do and set up their businesses. But fortune teller fraud remains illegal. It involves an organized “con” meant to take large amounts of money from clients. Those cases are extremely difficult to investigate and prosecute.
“There’s an element of shame involved in most victims who come to us,” said Jay Pirouznia. He is a private investigator who helps victims of scams and cons. Pirouznia said police often view these cases as civil matters.
“You know, I willingly gave you this money. And you didn’t put a gun in my face and take my money at my ATM,” said Pirouznia.
CBS 5 Investigates used hidden cameras and sent an employee to see the psychic who was accused of taking the nearly $1500 from the woman. A woman who identified herself as the psychic’s daughter came to the door and stated that her mother was not home. But she offered to do a reading.
“I see you have a long life to live,” said the fortune teller, while looking at a deck of tarot cards on a counter.
“There’s one person who doesn’t want to see you good. Doesn’t want to see you happy,” she said. She never asked for money and described the $25 the CBS 5 employee gave her as a donation.
Experts say successful psychics and fortune tellers are good at reading people, asking questions that give them insights into personal or professional problems, and relaying that information in a way make sit sound like the psychic came up with it himself or herself.
CBS 5 Investigates went back to the psychic’s home. This time, the woman was there.
“I don’t know why she’s saying that,” said the psychic when confronted with the story about the $1500.
She told CBS 5 Investigates that she’s been in business for years and has lots of repeat clients. She described what she does as “selling lucky charms and giving advice.” She denied taking any money from the woman who spoke to CBS 5, aside from small donations during her visits.
“If she wants to talk to me, tell her to come. If she wants to take me to court, fine. But the thing is, she has to have a lot of proof because then I’m going to put charges on her. Because she is saying things that is not true,” said the woman.
CBS 5 Investigates is concealing the identity of the psychic and the accuser because there is no proof of any wrongdoing in this situation.