Friday, February 19, 2010

Spotting Spiritual Scammers

It can't be denied that there are many charlatans who abuse innocent people's belief in magic as a way to con them out of money or other things of value. Anyone who watched Unsolved Mysteries back in the Robert Stack days saw many episodes where the subject was a call for help after a spiritual scammer had run off with somebody's life savings. Stories of the type still crop up regularly.

The worst scams usually run something like this: a person approaches a witch or fortune teller or shaman (whatever title the con artist is going by) for help with some life problem, or perhaps even to utilize a "free reading" or "free consultation" that the scammer has advertised. The scammer goes out of his way to convince the victim that something particularly terrible is going to befall the victim unless he makes use of the scammer's services -- often this is done by reporting that the victim is "cursed" or that a mysterious enemy is using magic to cause them trouble (the scammer might even trick the victim into blaming a culprit.) The scammer then begins to undertake spiritual work for the victim which they allege will relieve them of this threat. Sometimes the scammer works in gaining small increments of money or goods, convincing the victim to use many spells and buy many services in the name of removing the spiritual ailment. Other times the scammer might aim for one big hit -- often times this involves convincing the victim to present them with a large amount of money that they promise to return after the spell is done or if the spell fails. Of course, the scammer does not return the money and instead skips town, leaving the victim penniless.

There are also many lower-level scams, where the con artist only aims for smaller amounts of money that are unlikely to be pursued legally. Maybe the scammer even stays within the letter of the law by announcing that their services are "for entertainment only." The magical textbook The Petit Albert describes 17th century versions of spiritual scams, and some of the informants interviewed by the folklorist Harry M. Hyatt for his collection Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft admitted to using simple trickery when practicing "magic." A series of jokes in the first known jokebook indicate that even the ancients didn't always trust 100% the words of fortune tellers and magicians, and were aware of fakes and scammers in the art.

Laws designed to protect people from spiritual scams unfortunately also have a tendency to make it difficult for legitimate spiritualists to practice their trade, as magic remains scientifically unproven and there are no unbiased and legally recognized "witch schools" from which a practitioner can gain a skill-proving certification. (The few organizations which try to fill this need are meaningless from a legal perspective and are often run more like clubs and fraternities than actual professional organizations.) Even a genuine spell cast by a sincere practitioner will never be able to be "scientifically proven," which means that there is no easy way to test a practitioner's ability. When there is no reliable way to mark a legitimate practitioner from a fake one, there is bound to be trouble and confusion. There have even been cases where scammers have impersonated actual spiritualists of good repute, and thereby scammed victims who believed they were working with someone trustworthy while simultaneously harming the good name of a legitimate practitioner.

With so many clever and greedy scammers impersonating magic spell casters, it's very natural for a person seeking out spell services to be wary and suspicious of the spiritualists they approach for work. Nobody will ever blame a person for being cautious and trying to protect themselves, and it is both good and wise for you to look to your own self-preservation. 

There are dos and don'ts when it comes to investigating a spellcaster for legitimacy. Approaching them and demanding that they demonstrate their skills to you will usually be unwelcome and, from the spellcaster's point of view, might appear as if you're trying to scam them by making them do work for free. 

Good ways to check a spellcaster's legitimacy include:

  • looking to see how long they've been in business (if they've been around for years, they're probably not a fly-by-night.)
  • checking whether they're accepting payment methods that have some recourse (if they take credit cards or Paypal, they've probably had to be approved by the processing company; and if they really do run off with your money, you can dispute the charges.) 
  • noting what kind of promises they make (once again, remember that magic can't be proven through scientific methods, so someone making big claims such as high "success rates" or that their work is "guaranteed" is less likely to be on the level.) 

While there are many scammers and con artists in the world of magic, there are also many practitioners who truly believe in what they do and who want the best for their customers. Being honest about your concerns with your spellcaster can be a great way to build a favorable working relationship with them -- just don't demand that they show you "proof" that they're real magicians. Doing so ensures that you'll either be disappointed, or worse, taken in by a scammer. 

Hint: the spell caster is probably a scammer if their ritual requires $9,000 to spend at a Polo Ralph Lauren shop.

However, there are other less obvious signs. Now, once in a while a legit person might do one or two of these things for whatever reason, but overall be cautious of casters that do the following:

In the internet world especially, it's important to get your name out or else no one can find you -- but there's a difference between establishing one's business and running constant adverts. You know how much a Google or Facebook Ad costs per click? Usually $1 - $4 if you want good placement, and often it takes more than 20 clicks before you actually make a sale. At best, if you hire one of these folks, you're paying for their advertising, and likely the person is making a profit despite the expense because they aren't doing much. Most real casters seem to have trouble performing more than 1 or 2 spells a day -- they're generally not seeking to drum up a lot of "walk in" business.
(Fortune telling is another matter though, and there are plenty of good fortune tellers that advertise. It's the ones advertising spells you need to watch out for.)

"Buy it Now" spells.
Scammers want to make it as easy as possible for you to give them money, so this is the most sensible way for them to operate. Most real casters need to do a lot of customization to each spell and each case -- plus they usually want to be sure the client is asking for something reasonable before getting themselves involved. I would be very careful about anyone who bases their business on listing a big variety of spells you can buy with just one click without them approving you or consulting with you first -- especially if it's one of the difficult types of spell, such as return lover work.

Failing gross negligence on the part of your caster, virtually no legit workers give refunds. Their time is spent and ingredients are bought, whether or not things work for the client -- doctors and hospitals don't give refunds just because your surgery didn't go as desired or your prescription didn't cure you, neither do "witch doctors" give refunds for failed efforts. Refunds and guarantees are usually promised by scammers as a way to ease your caution about buying from them. Generally they don't really give refunds either -- they just claim to, and will drop off the face of the earth if you ever ask.

Western Union/Moneygram.
Favored by scam artists as there is no way to get a refund or stop payment, and it's relatively anonymous -- they can use a fake name or send a friend to collect the money provided their agent knows the password you have to provide.

Spiritual Cleansings of money.
This is the one people usually fall for when they're taken for everything they own. I have never heard of a legit caster doing something like this -- basically, your scam caster claims that they need to spiritually cleanse your money, and by doing this your bad luck with money will be removed. They tell you to bring money, sometimes a relatively small amount (a few hundred), sometimes a huge quantity (I've heard of people convinced to take out all their savings from the bank.) The scammers then either perform a ritual over the money or tell you to leave it with them, and in all cases they wind up running off with the money (sometimes after switching it out with lookalikes so you won't notice till it's too late -- for example returning a stack of hundred dollar bills as a stack of ones with a hundred on top.) I've heard of some honest casters asking for something like a signed $2 bill from a client for a spell, but that's it; I've never come on a spell where hundreds of notes were needed for "cleansing."

You know, I didn't used to cast spells for clients myself; I only began after meeting so many people who'd fallen for scammers (who, out of the blue, then started coming to me for work even when I didn't offer it -- fate, I guess.) I figured if I didn't take the case, some con artist would. Funny how one falls into things.

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