The first few months of 2017 have not been good for those who claim to have psychic powers. Between April and August 2015, a Hong Kong taxi driver tricked one of his girlfriend’s daughters into having sex with him, telling her it would help keep evil spirits away from her younger sister. The man, who was not named to protect the identity of his victims, was convicted of several offenses and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. According to an April 10 article in the South China Morning Post, “the taxi driver told the then 17-year-old girl that her younger sister was ‘ill fated’ [cursed]. The victim—referred to as ‘Y’ in court to protect her identity—believed this and had sex with him as she was assured that such contact could ward off the evil spirits harassing her sibling.” The girls said that the driver often referred to gong tau, a form of black magic originating in Southeast Asia, and that he claimed to be performing rituals related to astrological signs “to prevent harm” to the girls. “He said he was reincarnated. He said he used to be possessed by many evil spirits,” the younger girl added. Psychological reports on the defendant ordered by the court stated that he was failing to cope with a midlife crisis and invented his mysterious experiences and psychic abilities to impress women.
It is unfortunately not uncommon for people pretending to have psychic powers to use the deception to sexually exploit others. In June 2012, British psychic and spiritualist Karl Lang was accused of tricking two women into stripping and performing sex acts in order to speak to their dead relatives. According to an article in the Daily Telegraph:
A young woman told a jury today how a psychic tricked her into performing “like a porn star” in the hope of getting in touch with her dead grandfather. Medium Karl Lang is accused of persuading the woman, 26, to strip naked during a séance because it increased her powers to contact the spirit world. . . . The other victim, now 27, said: “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.”
Lang was convicted on twelve counts and sentenced to two years in prison.
In an ironic turn of events, a con woman posed as a famous psychic in order to exploit and fleece her followers. A British woman named Gemma Badley sought clients through a fake Facebook profile using prominent psychic Sally Morgan’s name and photo. Badley admitted to five counts of fraud by false representation but asked the court for leniency, citing her alcoholism and gambling addiction as mitigating circumstances. She was sentenced in February 2017 to six months in prison and ordered to pay about $1,000 in restitution to her victims. In an interview, Morgan complained about being exploited by the fake psychic: “It has been horrendous. What she did to me, I would say, is as bad as stalking. . . . She basically pretended to be me, and it was frightening as I’ve never even met her.”
Becky Ann Lee, a Colorado psychic, was arrested last year for scamming a woman out of nearly a quarter million dollars. The victim, Victoria Lacoste—a member of the family that founded the Lacoste clothing company—began seeing Lee in 2014 for psychic services, including tarot card readings and chakra balancing at her business, Psychic Chakra Spa in Boulder. Lee told Lacoste that the money given to her would be used to buy gold coins, which would in turn be used by Lee in rituals to help Lacoste avoid “evil spirits.” Instead, Lee pawned the gold coins and was evasive when Lacoste asked where they were. Lee was given probation and ordered to repay the $232,667 she admitted to stealing from her victim.
It is not unusual for psychics to receive light sentences. This is in part because bunco artists are not seen as a priority, either by police or prosecutors (see “‘Psychic Swindler’ in San Antonio Convicted of Theft by Coercion,” SI November/December 2005, and “‘Psychic’ Evans Acquitted on Appeal in Swindling Case,” SI May/June 2007). Violent crimes, including rape, murder, and robberies, will always have higher priority than property crimes or fraud, for example. In many cases, the public (and even prosecutors) may feel that anyone gullible enough to be scammed by centuries-old Gypsy curse scams and outlandish claims deserves to be ripped off.
Many victims are reluctant to report out of embarrassment, not wanting friends and family to know they handed over their life’s savings to someone who claimed to perform magic. But those who consult psychics are often emotionally and psychologically vulnerable people who may be dealing with grief or suffering through personal crises; they no more “deserve” to be conned than do cancer victims who seek out alternative medicines or treatments, or anyone else.