Journalists Take A Look Into Toronto’s Fraudulent Psychic Industry
Jack’s life took a turn for the worst beginning in 2006 when his father passed away and he was diagnosed with clinical depression. Two years after that his marriage of fourteen years crumbled and we was faced with a divorce and court hearings for child custody of his two kids. Things were looking a little better four years later when he fell in love with a co-worker and they got engaged, but unfortunately that relationship ended abruptly right before the big day.
Not only did the wedding and relationship get called off but this ex-fiancee also felt that Jack was contacting her too much and he had to spend a night in jail on harassment charges she filed against him. Of course right afterwards he was fired from his job.
Jack felt that his life had hit rock bottom at the age of forty and having been an educated professional in the past, he didn’t know what he could do to turn it all around. He decided that he needed to turn his fortune around any way possible.
That is when he turned to five Toronto based spiritual fortunetellers, but they only made matters worse for him. After all was said and done, he ended up losing $25,000to them and was forced to sell his house.
W5, Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, and The Toronto Star have all been looking into the highly successful fortunetelling scams that are seen so much in Toronto. The industry uses sleight of hand, smooth sales pitches, potions, and spells to keep their customers coming back to their offices where they proceed to rip them off of thousands of dollars.
The three reporting agencies interviewed about a dozen psychic clients, which included a corporate manager, a Bay Street stockbroker, a teacher, a real estate, and a doctor. They also conducted in person visits with psychics while wearing hidden cameras. This all exposed the secrets of Toronto’s billion-dollar business.
Miki Corazza has been in the psychic business for about 42 years and she is getting more and more worried about the future of her field because it has become saturated with frauds. She states that a legitimate, skilled fortuneteller can make up to $500,000 a year.
“There are people in this business who are not legitimate, and there are people- a lot of people like myself- who are legitimate, that have gifts and varying degrees. Part of my service is providing empathy and support to people. I’m not in the business of false hope. I’m in the business of truth, whether you like it or not,” she says.
Very few victims ever contact the police once they have been scammed, mostly out of embarrassment. The ones who do contact police quickly realize that they have no evidence or paper trail because it is usually a cash only business when it comes to scamming psychics.
The psychics who scam have a variety of techniques for getting money. They use a combination of sales techniques and charge exorbitant amounts of money for things, such as charging hundreds of dollars for bath salts and candles that ward off evil spirits. They also convince clients to buy expensive items and gift cards and give them to the psychic so that they can pray over them. They are also very good at making clients believe they have been cursed with “the evil eye” and convince them to pay hundreds of dollars for a long-term cleansing program.
All of these things happened to Jack and he knows how it all sounds to an outsider looking in.
“I know it sounds ridiculous. It’s like how could you fall for such a thing,” says the 46-year-old. “But depending on the stage of your life and the vulnerability and what you’re going through, they’re very good at making you believe.”
Up until his first fortuneteller visit with Marina in 2009, Jack was doing okay financially but that all changed after that encounter. Marina’s shop was located in Woodbridge, in a dark little strip mall. A black bible sat on a large wooden desk, scented candles flickered all around, and pictures of Jesus decorated the walls.
Once he arrived to her shop he relaxed and told her all about his troubles. At the end of the session he was shocked at how much she was charging him- hundreds of dollars for one session. He went ahead and paid her however, and continued paying other psychics that he would visit based on advertisements in the streets.
He would go from one psychic to the next and when it was all said and through, he had been played by every weapon in the psychic artillery box.
He heard it all by the end of it. One ‘psychic’ told him that in order to lift a curse, he needed to sacrifice a pig or a lamb. A different ‘psychic’ convinced him that he needed to purchase a gift card to Best Buy that she could pray over since he had purchased a television for his ex-fiancée.
He never saw those gift cards again but it is safe to say the supposed psychics used them for themselves.
Over the course of ten years, Jack wasted and lost so much money on phony psychics, psychic services, and psychic supplies that he ended up having to sell his house and have it rented back out to him as a tenant.
“It’s not like I have the money to go put on a down payment on another house. I used to own this, and I just threw money away to psychics who were supposed to help me,” he says.
The Criminal Code in Canada has prohibitions against practicing witchcraft, “enchantment”, and sorcery, as well as making it illegal to fraudulently “tell fortunes” for money or to pretend to “use skill in or knowledge of an occult or craft science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found.”
The problem is that fake, scamming psychics look exactly like genuine, legitimate ones with an actual gift so it is hard to prove that they wronged you. Add to that the lack of hard evidence and you’ve got a tough situation to be in.
Toronto police Detective Alan Spratt works in the financial crimes unit and he feels that fraud is already a difficult thing to prove and it becomes even more challenging when spiritual beliefs and the law meet.
“I would be reluctant to charge anyone just solely on the basis that they could tell the future. If that’s their belief system and there is genuine intent and they don’t have criminal intent, I think it would be a difficult charge to prove,” he says.
According to Spratt, Toronto police have charged fifteen people since 2010 with psychic fraud, witchcraft, or fortunetelling.
A large setback to prosecution is all the shame that is involved in the crime by the victims. Most of them feel ashamed of their naivety and don’t feel that the police can even really do anything for them anyways.
Take Jack for example, who says, “Going to the police is probably going to reveal a lot of personal stuff about me. How do I prove that I went there? There’s no receipts, there’s nothing other than some candles, right or some bathing salts…what’s the point?” Jack is so embarrassed about what’s happened to him that he has not told his family about it.
According to the experts, he’s actually right unfortunately.
“There’s no mechanism for getting that money back,” says Richard McEachin, a Toronto private investigator. He states that during the course of his career, he has worked on about 50 cases of spiritual fraud. “For any of these kinds of confidence scams, the people who are victims are seen to participate in their own problem,” he adds.
McEachin believes that in the eyes of the prosecutors, that alone makes them poor witnesses.
“This type of person would be considered the type that would not hold up under cross-examination- he was so easily duped, therefore he would be easy to manipulate, confuse, or get flustered during cross-examination…. Prosecutors only want slam dunks and plea deals and this is a long way from that.”
Spratt is of the same mind that getting recompensed is very rare in these cases.
“The percentage that gets their money back through the criminal justice system is very, very low- and I think a lot of the public knows that,” says Spratt. “It becomes a choice: If I’m not going to get my money back, do I want to go through this process that’s going to take a couple of years? They know it could be publicized… They just don’t want to go through that experience.”
Experts believe that this industry is flourishing because of the social stigma that is aimed at victims.
According to Dr. James MacKillop who is a leading addictions researcher at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, this stigma is unfair for the victims.
“These kinds of behaviors are not to be dismissed simply as crazy, or as character defect, or moral deficiencies. They’re clearly causing people a great deal of distress. Certainly they have some responsibility for their behavior, but also in terms of perspectives, I think we have to try to help people. And both from the mental health community standpoint and also from the legal standpoint, I think we have to minimize the harm that comes from these predatory behaviors.”
Ever since he stopped visiting these scamming street psychics, Jack’s life has started to look up, from his performance at work to his relationship with his kids.
It’s taken him time to get to this point but he know feels sure that he has beat his addiction and feels confident that the next time he has problems in his life, he will be able to take care of it on his own, even if he isn’t sure how to fix it, he knows he will do his very best to take care of it without resorting to anyone else’s help.
“You just let it go, and you start living your life,” he says. “This has been a very tough lesson learned.”