Miracles for Sale (LSP #62)

Miracles for Sale (LSP #62) October 1, 2018

Every time I think I’ve seen the lowest that opportunists can go, they reach a new nadir. It’s like they’re all in a competition or something. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the most distasteful grifting attempt I’ve seen lately: the selling of false miracles to desperate people trying to conceive.

a very hairy wizard yar
(Tyler Merbler, CC.) I cropped out the American flag draping the ground at the bottom of the original. WTF.

Probably the Oldest Con in the Book.

Ever since women have been trying to conceive, conjobs have targeted them. I’ve read medieval and Renaissance-era accounts involving written spells, performed rituals, and prayers that women could purchase or try. Women wore all kinds of amulets and charms meant to help them conceive. Potions meant to aid conception abounded–as recipes or finished products. And, of course, women visited various religious shrines, both as part of pilgrimages and to bathe in (probably filthy) waters they thought would boost their fertility. It was a heady time, to be sure.

We’ve gotten a little more sophisticated since then, but not much more. Now the conjobs sell different products. Some sell semi-precious gemstones meant to boost fertility. Other sites recommend complicated layouts of crystals.

this sounds awfully obsess-y.
From this site.

(The shill making this convoluted suggestion helpfully notes that if the person doing it doesn’t relax enough but instead “obsesses” too much, the effort will be “counter-productive.” I’d say anybody playing this game of Twister is already pretty obsessed, personally.)

Christian conjobs got into the act very early on. I’ve already mentioned the prayer scrolls and whatnot, which morphed into cards and books that believers can purchase to totally help them get their god’s attention. But like a lot of the worst parts of Christianity, those parts transcend the religion. We’re talking here about something more universal. When it comes to universal stuff, this kind of scamming is very much equal-opportunity.

Pregnancy Predictions for Sale, Super Cheap.

In the dank world of fertility scams, scammers styling themselves as real live psychics target people who are trying to conceive babies (TTC). People who are TTC tend to be absolutely frantic to get on with it. After all, they face some very serious time limits. These grifters offer promises to predict just when the conception will finally happen–and often many more details besides.

Needless to say, these predictions do nothing whatsoever except lighten the wallets of those purchasing them. Sometimes the predictions never arrive at all. When the victims of the scam object to either case (never receiving predictions or receiving incorrect predictions), the peddlers of this scammery retreat to their Quack Miranda Warning: they remind their victims that the predictions were only ever meant for “entertainment purposes.”

Very occasionally, a psychic lands on one or two correct details by pure random chance. But that’s enough to keep people’s hopes alive.

A Crowded Con.

Charlatans now compete in a very crowded market.

As one representative of the breed, Free Astrology 123 offers paid consultations with their fake psychics at all stages of conception and pregnancy (so yeah, not so free, not so much). They act quite serious about how important it is to choose just the right scammer to guide a person facing pregnancy questions:

You can also consult a rune casting specialist, a medium (who can communicate with your baby’s soul directly), or a crystal ball reader to explore more. You can talk to a reincarnation specialist and learn about your baby’s past lives and why he or she might have chosen to come into your life at this point in time.

It’s like a one-stop shopping destination to relieve customers of their money. And oh my LOL there are so many of these terrible people out there doing their damndest to prey on desperate women.

Bad Psychics linked up a 71-page forum thread full of United Kingdom (UK) women who’d purchased predictions about when they’d conceive. (We’ll be referring to this thread often in this post.) Some of them had purchased several predictions from different scammers. Most ranged from £5 to £10. Several posters mentioned that they’d visited various other psychics in real life; these RL scammers charged between £25 and £30-ish each.

Selling false hope to people TTC is big, big business.

PSYKIK POWAHS.

One self-styled psychic, Paula O’Brien, proudly claims to have predicted “no fewer than 3500 pregnancies.” She even claims she can predict the sex of the baby. And she’s just one of what sounds like thousands of similar quacks claiming similar powers.

Another, Suzy Rayne, shows up in several baby-centric forum sites. Nobody seems terribly impressed with her PSYKIK POWAHS, but a great many people responding on most of the sites mention having purchased her predictions.

And some of these predictions can sound shockingly detailed, if rather mix and match generic (like horoscopes, and probably for exactly the same reasons). At the bottom of page 7 on the forum that Bad Psychics discovered, user millielaura shares one she received that predicts birth weight, curly hair, colic, and exactly when the baby will start sleeping through the night. Many users mentioned getting multiple readings from various scammers–they compared the readings and some wondered aloud why they didn’t match (I could have told them, I think). Others celebrated the few times that the multiple readings did match.

Aww, What’s the Harm?

Most of the women on that pregnancy forum phrased their mass purchases of pregnancy predictions as silly little frivolities. One user of that forum, mylullaby, shares on page 2 that “it’s all about making myself feel better.” Others joke about the relatively low cost of the predictions, saying they’d waste the money anyway on something so it might as well be this little silly thing that lifts their spirits. At first, the women there sound jolly and upbeat.

The problem is, lies don’t really lift most folks’ spirits in the long run.

A couple of forum folks did actually conceive within their predicted timeframe, but as the Bad Psychics guy notes, that’s really expected just through random chance. One by one, as the women passed their prediction dates without a positive pregnancy test, they grew agitated–and then their spirits plummeted. On the bottom of page 13, MrsLM shares that when her prediction proved false, she was “devastated, I really believed in it.”

Many of that forum’s users had received multiple readings promising conception in the month of August 2014; on page 55, we see posts starting to pop up on August 31 lamenting that conception hadn’t occurred. Nicky_25 says she’s “utterly devastated.” Mylullaby declares that the situation “sucks;” on the next page she says she was “absolutely gutted” when none of her many predictions for August turned out. MummyBee similarly declares that she’s “#gutted” when her dates ran out. Lisa1985 felt “pretty gutted” and regretted the waste of money “on something so stupid.”

Balthazar1275 says she’s “upset and disappointed.” Tellingly, though, her response to those emotions is to buy a live webchat with the same scamming “psychic” to get a new prediction.

The Mysteries of Life.

Any time you’ve got a situation that’s mysterious and not completely controllable, scammers will target that situation. It doesn’t matter what it is.

It’s a life rule. Vultures circle above battlefields. Wolves try to hunt where they can find prey. And grifters target the big mysteries of life.

It’s very easy for them to do so. Their victim’s Dear Aunt Sally from the Great Beyond won’t be showing up to correct the fraudster speaking in her name, after all. And if desperate people trying to conceive get the wrong due date, well, what of it? Even if these conjobs’ victims discuss these false predictions, obviously it won’t stop others from buying them.

As the months and years slide past, the people affected by those mysteries can get more and more desperate to find solutions–or even just explanations. The worst part is knowing that a lot of it is just arbitrary. There seems like no rhyme or reason to explain why one person gets what they need, but everyone else doesn’t.

Then someone comes along and declares that hopping six times on one foot every morning will, without fail, result in a remission of cancer/a conception/a sign from a beloved but dead relative/a huge check in the mail to cover the late bills/a good grade on the test.

Before you know it there’s a “Church of Faith, Hop, and Charity” in every city.

Magical Thinking.

The women on these forums live through an emotional pain I can barely even imagine, but which screams from every page of that pregnancy forum. It’d draw tears from a stone to read it all. And I read it all, and I’m no stone. And yet somehow the women posting there celebrate each conception and sound supportive and happy for those who’ve won the baby lottery. My hat is off to all of them. They’re the real MVPs.

The thing is, sometimes nobody has easy answers to offer. If there were any true easy answers for the huge needs people have, nobody’d need deceivers to step in with their false easy answers. The whole reason those mountebanks can exist is that easy answers don’t exist–not yet. These scammers offer something that feels like an answer. If someone isn’t fully reality-focused, they might feel like grasping for those straws is moving forward somehow.

(In similar fashion, that’s why Creationists and apologists must rely on persuasive techniques that operate completely independently of credible evidence. If they had credible evidence, they would use that.)

A False Comfort is No Comfort At All.

It’s just that I saw something on that forum that really struck me. I saw, in realtime, what false easy answers did to those women. It’s a sobering reminder of the cruelty of such predation. And it’s a potent reminder that when I face a similar huge need with no easy answers, that I keep my focus on reality–not magical thinking.

As pleasing as the false answers might sound in the now, they leave most people even emptier in the future. Worse, they can deprive us of the opportunity to make genuine human connections with our fellow world-travelers. And they can take up valuable time, money, and emotional resources that people could use to pursue better avenues of coping or even resolutions of those huge needs.

Someone else’s mileage may vary. And that’s okay. We all do what we think is best to get by. It’s not in me to look down on anybody grasping for those straws. This is just where I’m at these days. More and more, I feel like I’ve just got no time anymore for false stuff no matter how ear-pleasing it might be. Today, Lord Snow Presides over truth even when it’s nowhere near as pleasing as lies.

NEXT UP: A surprising development in the world of wingnuts. I guess it was finally safe for them to do it. See you tomorrow!


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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. I’ve started us off on a topic, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. Pet pictures especially welcome! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.

PS: Next LSP will be a FULL KITTEN UPDATE. Well, they’re not exactly kittens anymore, but still, there shall be updates!

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. You can read more about the author here.
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