Jack’s life took a turn for the worst beginning in 2006. He was diagnosed with clinical depression and lost his father that same year. Two years after that, his marriage of fourteen years crumbled.
The end of his marriage resulted in a divorce and court hearings for child custody of his two kids. Four years later, things were looking a little better when he fell in love with a co-worker. The relationship seemed promising and they got engaged, but unfortunately, she broke up with him right before the big day.
Not only did the wedding and relationship dissolve, but his ex-fiancee also felt he was contacting her too much. She filed harassment charges against him, causing him to spend a night in jail. To make matters worse, his employer decided to fire him.
Jack felt that his life had hit rock bottom at forty. He was an educated professional in the past, but he didn’t know what he could do to fix his life. He decided he would do whatever it took to turn his luck around.
That’s when he turned to five Toronto-based spiritual fortunetellers, but they only made things worse for him. After everything was said and done, he lost $25,000 and his house to them.
W5, Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, and The Toronto Star have all been looking into Toronto’s successful fortunetelling scams. The industry uses sleight-of-hand, smooth sales pitches, potions, and spells to keep customers returning to their offices. Once in their office, they rip them off thousands of dollars.
Interviewers Begin Their Investigation
The three reporting agencies interviewed about a dozen psychic clients: 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. These actions exposed the secrets of Toronto’s billion-dollar business.
Miki Corazza has been in the psychic business for about 42 years. She’s getting more and more worried about the future of her field because of how saturated with frauds it’s become. 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 contact the police after being scammed, primarily out of embarrassment. Those who choose to contact the police quickly realize they have no evidence or paper trail to back them up, and they have no proof because scamming psychics make sure they run a cash-only business.
Scamming psychics have a variety of techniques for getting money. They use a combination of sales tactics and charge exorbitant prices for things. For example, they charge hundreds of dollars for bath salts and candles that supposedly ward off evil spirits.
They also convince clients to buy expensive items and gift cards to give them so they can pray over them. They’re also very good at making clients believe they’ve been cursed with “the evil eye” and convincing them to pay hundreds of dollars for a long-term cleansing program.
The Victim Knows It Doesn’t Make Sense To Others
All these things happened to Jack, and he knows how it 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, your vulnerability, and what you’re going through, they’re very good at making you believe.”
Until his first fortuneteller visit with Marina in 2009, Jack was doing okay financially. Unfortunately, his finances changed for the worst after that encounter. Marina’s shop was in a dark little strip mall in Woodbridge.
A bible sat on a large wooden desk, scented candles flickered around peacefully, and pictures of Jesus decorated the walls. Once he arrived at her shop, he relaxed and told her 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.
However, he went ahead and paid her. He also paid other psychics he was driven to by street advertisements. He went from one psychic to another, and they’d hit him with every weapon in the psychic artillery box when it was all said and done. He’d experienced it all by the end of it.
One ‘psychic’ told him he needed to sacrifice a pig or a lamb to lift a curse. A different ‘psychic’ convinced him that since he’d bought a TV for his ex-fiancee, he had to purchase a Best Buy gift card so she could pray over it. He never saw those gift cards again, and it’s safe to say the fake psychics used them themselves.
Jack Lost So Much To Psychic Scammers Throughout The Years
For ten years, Jack wasted and lost so much money on phony psychics, psychic services, and psychic supplies that he had to sell his house and have it rented 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. They also made it illegal to fraudulently “tell fortunes” for money.
The code prohibits anyone from pretending to “use skill 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 the same as genuine, legitimate ones with an actual gift, so it’s hard to prove they wronged you. Add to that the lack of hard evidence, and you’ve got a challenging situation.
Toronto police Detective Alan Spratt works in the financial crimes unit. He feels that fraud is already difficult to prove and 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,” said Spratt.
According to Spratt, Toronto police have charged fifteen people since 2010 with psychic fraud, witchcraft, or fortunetelling.
Victims Are Ashamed And Embarrassed To Talk To Police
An enormous setback to prosecution is all the shame involved in the crime by the victims. Most of them feel ashamed of their naivety and don’t feel the police could even really do anything for them were they to come forward.
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 by the situation that he never told his family about it.
According to the experts, he’s right, unfortunately. “There’s no mechanism for getting that money back,” says Richard McEachin, a Toronto private investigator. He states that during his career, he’s 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 agrees that getting recompensed is very rare in these cases.
Victims Don’t Normally Get Their Money Back
“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,” he says.
“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 this industry is flourishing because of the social stigma aimed at victims. According to Dr. James MacKillop, leading addictions researcher at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, this stigma is unfair to 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 now feels sure he’s beat his addiction.
Jack’s confident that the next time he has problems in life, he can take care of them on his own. Even if he isn’t sure how to fix them, he knows he’ll never seek 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.”