More Evidence That ‘Psychics’ are a Scam

We don’t really need it, but here’s even more evidence that “psychics” are con artists. Jackie Hong, a writer for Vice, decided to test a group of “psychics” by having them contact her older sister in the afterworld for her. There was just one problem: She didn’t have an older sister and never had. But every one of the “psychics” were happy to contact her — for a fee, of course.

My first reading was via phone call—the ad said the psychic was offering free mini-readings. She asked for my full name and birthday and Emily’s. I gave her the details and almost instantly, she told me Emily wanted me to know that she’s in a good place and that she’s watching over the family. She also wanted me to be happy too, but said that my happiness only seems to last temporarily.

Could she tell me how to be happy? Or at least what’s holding me back from true happiness? No, but she did see a happiness-ripping darkness surrounding me.

But how’s Emily doing?

She’s doing well. She doesn’t want me to worry about her, but there’s something going on here… what’s going on in my love life?

“Not much,” I answered, truthfully…

The second reading, also free, was done over email, which I didn’t know was a thing. I had a response in my inbox within ten minutes of sending out a message with my name, Emily’s, and Emily’s cause of death. Even with the shift in technology, my sister was still doing fine—more than fine, in fact:

“It’s a little different than what she expected on the other side, but she is quite happy and sees things very differently. I get she had a little of a ‘wild’ streak in her,” Psychic Two wrote. She said Emily was mentioning something about clothing and I said she and I had exchanged necklaces.

“She’s saying not to worry about her, she is OK. She says not to worry as she is fine and with you. [S]he wants you to live your life, a happy one,” she wrote back…

To up the difficulty for myself and to make it easier for the psychics (it’s one thing to lie over an email or call, but another to lie to someone’s face), I decided to see my next psychics IRL—who knows, maybe getting readings via email didn’t provide a strong enough spiritual connection or clues to see I was lying. I also looked for people who charged for readings (maybe you get what you pay for?) and settled on one for $20 and another for $40. Both told me to bring a photo, so I pulled one off a (very much alive) friend’s Facebook and, armed with Emily’s backstory and a few years of high school acting/improv experience, headed out for my third reading of the day. At this point, I was almost hoping to be called out soon—it was too easy…

She asked for Emily’s photo. I handed her my phone. She stared at the screen and told me to say Emily’s full name and birthday, then looked up at me. My heart dropped— would my face betray something?—and immediately jumped back into my chest when she told me she could feel Emily’s presence and that she was happy. In a new development, Emily had “passed on” and become my guardian angel.

The fourth “psychic” was the same, plus some really bad music. So afterward, she decided to contact all of them and tell her about the test. They all had excuses for it, of course, and one of them just pretended that the sister was real even though she’d just been told that she never existed. And they’ll just move on to the next sucker. There’s good money in being a fraud.

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  • StevoR

    Whelp, they didn’t see that coming.

    (Hey, somebody had to say it.)

  • erichoug

    I will simply refer you to this

  • Modusoperandi

    Wrong, Ed.

    The author can try to pawn off and ignore their insight, but she now knows that she had a sister she never knew, one who is reaching out to her and who told her when and how she died.

    This is a vindication of psychics.

  • busterggi

    Poor Jackie Hong, still in denial about the death of her sister after all these years.

  • blf

    A somewhat similar incident I (vaguely) recall happened a long time ago here in France. (This is all from memory so I probably have a few details wrong.) Someone sent a number of astrologers the details (birthplace, birthdate, and so on) of a dead person and asked for a horoscope to be drawn up. As I recall, the horoscopes which were drawn up differed, but the amusing thing was: Whilst the provided details were correct (with one exception), they were for one of France’s most notorious mass murders (who had been executed). Not one of the horoscopes even mentioned murder or execution or indeed much of anything resembling the criminal’s actual life, including, as I recall, the fact he was indisputably dead. (The one provided detail that was deliberately wrong was the name, to avoid tipping-off the frauds.)

    (I don’t know recall if the astrologers were asked to explain the discrepancies.)

  • Helge

    I’m thinking these people must know that someone will test their ability from time to time. Wouldn’t they? And they know they’ll fail, right? They’ll also know that they failure, no matter how publicized, will make practically no difference to the people who seek them out. I mean, it’s not as if testing psychics is a new thing we discovered recently.

  • eric

    @5: I think I heard a different version of the same story, only it was James Randi using Charles Mason’s birth date/time. But I could easily be wronger than you on this one. :)

  • eric


  • Die Anyway

    re erichoug@2

    Everything I need to know, I learned from xkcd. 😉

  • gadfly47

    If phone psychics are real, why don’t they call you? –Absolutely Fabulous.

  • gadfly47


    I remember Amazing Randi debunking a couple Russian psychics with a picture of Ted Bundy. They got just about everything wrong about Bundy in their psychic ‘reading’ – especially the fact that he was a serial killer.

  • Rick Pikul

    @blf #5, @eric #7

    The bits you are thinking of, (it’s been done more than once, you are both pointing to actual ones), involved offering people horoscope birth charts then giving them all the same chart, (done for a serial killer). The test was to rate how well it described them, (which they almost always did to a high degree of perceived accuracy).

  • dingojack
  • caseloweraz

    Debunking storefront psychics? Fish in a barrel.

  • Darren VanDusen

    I think we need more people like James Randi and the number of Skeptic associations out there. It still amazes me (no pun intended) that all the psychics, faith-healers, etc that have been shown to be nothing more than scam artists are never brought up on criminal charges.

  • blf

    Rick Pikul@12, Bingo! Yes, that’s right, in the incident I was thinking of, the astrologers weren’t asked to draw up the horoscope of the mass murderer, but to evaluate one that had been drawn up (albeit I don’t recall if the astrologer who drew it up knew whether or not it was for the mass murder). Thanks for flipping a few brain cells back on.

    I’m confident James Randi also had a go at astrologers, probably more once, but have no recollection whatsoever of any astrology debunking he or JREF has presumably done.