Is my hometown a hotbed of psychic fraud? It depends on who you ask.

Psychic Sign

Over the weekend, a friend forwarded me an article in the Toronto Star with a big, bold headline: “Inside the secret world of Toronto’s fraudulent fortune-telling industry.”

“The Toronto Star, Ryerson University’s School of Journalism and W5 (a Canadian news show) have spent months investigating Toronto’s thriving fraudulent fortune-telling industry that uses spells, potions, sleight of hand and smooth sales patter to collect small fortunes from thousands of vulnerable victims,” the article stated.

“Interviews with a dozen psychic clients, including a teacher, real-estate agent, a doctor, corporate manager and a Bay Street stockbroker, and hidden-camera visits to psychics, reveal the secrets of an industry estimated to be worth $2 billion (U.S.) in the United States alone.”

Of course I read the story with interest, and tuned into the broadcast version later that night, which. Throughout the day, friends and colleagues from the industry bounced the link around, along with their opinions and anxieties about the implications of news like this.

Earlier this month, I had started plotting out a blog series about the history of tarot and how it relates to our world today. The goal of the series is to help people get a deeper understanding of what tarot can do for them, but also to make informed decisions when seeking out tarot readers for guidance. But after this story broke, I decided that the series couldn’t wait. I had to start it now.

I have a background in journalism. I used to freelance for the Toronto Star, along with a number of Canadian and U.S. media outlets. I also worked in PR for eight years.

I have seen a lot spin from both sides of the fence. I have been in the room when established, experienced reporters have pressed sources to give them statements that can fit into biased, presumptuous angles rather than simply collecting quotes objectively and building a story from there.

To be up front, I don’t know how the journalistic team who worked on this particular story decided who to talk to, who to investigate, or how they define the word “psychic.”

I also don’t know the ins and outs of how they put this story together. It does generalize the industry and puts intuitive workers in a bad light; not everyone who does readings is out to scam people. I mean, please. There is not even a chance.

So yes, it does smack of sensationalism, which I find surprising given that I’ve often loved the Star’s investigative reporting in the past. Plus, it’s a bit of an ironic tone to take given that they could have offered a much more balanced view on what this industry can do for people.

That aside, the article starts with a man named Jack, who lived through a series of unfortunate events and who consulted a number of psychics for guidance.

Except the reporting is generously sympathetic towards Jack, even though his character and judgement seems questionable. The story shares that he was charged with harassing his ex-fiancée, for example, and his reluctance to take responsibility over his own finances also made me raise my eyebrows.

He repeatedly lays blame on the psychic industry over the costs he incurred in seeking psychic guidance, even though he was the one who chose to do so – even as it added up to the tune of $25,000 and eventually cost him his house.

Yikes.

If I was working on this story, Jack might not have been my pick to make as a main focus, at least not without prodding him more on his sense of ownership over this situation.

But this story overall presents a huge opportunity for consumers and intuitive workers of all kinds to help each other understand what they want and what they offer.

It’s not the first time Toronto’s psychic industry has been highlighted in this way, and I’m sure the same has happened in other major cities all around the world.

Because the reality is, there is some serious bullshit going on out there.

A week before this story broke, I heard from a young woman in an online tarot community. She wanted to alert other women about a male tarot reader who had offered her an online reading. When she expressed interest, this man asked her to submit a nude or semi-nude photo of herself that he could “establish a better connection” with her and therefore give her a better reading.

This is not normal. Yes, some readers will ask for a picture of your face to establish a connection for an online reading, but nude? No, no, and no. If you ever encounter something like this, report and run.

This guy did get reported, but word has it that he’s done this before, and he keeps popping up under new names.

It’s easy to hide online. And what makes this story even scarier is that there are a lot of people out there who might not question what this guy is doing.

Because when you put yourself out there under a certain title – whether it’s as a psychic or anything else – people are going to perceive you as an expert. If they want to believe in what you do, then they will be willing to put their trust in you and let you lead the way.

And this is where things can get scammy in the psychic industry.

Anyone can say that they can predict the future.

Anyone can call themselves a psychic or a seer or clairvoyant or a witch.

Anyone can buy a deck of cards and offer you a reading.

And anyone can put on a spiritual guise regardless of their intentions.

These are psychics who will do a reading for you and say, “Oh, I see something bad coming up next year, but you’ll have to give me another fifty bucks before I can tell you what it is.”

Another tactic – and this one is highlighted by the Toronto Star – is that some readers will say there’s a curse on you, or that you have the evil eye, or there is a dark energy that needs to be removed and that they help – for a substantial fee.

If someone has put their trust into a psychic, and they’re scared or nervous about what they are hearing, then they could easily end up forking over way more than they expected to in a reading.

If someone sees and believes their psychic to be an expert, or they don’t have any other experience with a reader to compare to, then they can easily be led astray by some shady folks.

The day after this Toronto Star article came out, I was working at an event where a young man came up to me to ask about my approach to tarot.

“I’m kind of scared of it,” he said.

He told me that he was new to Canada, and in his home country, it was common practice for psychics to place curses on clients who they felt rubbed them the wrong way, or who wouldn’t pay extra fees if they were asked.

Double yikes.

Of course, a client’s expectations have a lot to do with what they get out of a reading.

Some people see psychics because they are looking for someone to wave a magic wand and make everything better. But there is no such thing. Life hands us challenges because we need to do the work that they bring. We are meant to grow and evolve through our experiences.

And yes, there is something very alluring about thinking that a psychic can be an all-seeing oracle who can get right into your head – or someone else’s – and predict your past, present, and future with 100% accuracy.

But that’s not how most readings work, and I’ll explain why later in this series.

It’s one of the reasons why many readers focus on empowering their clients. There is always a lesson that can be taken from it, and there is always hope to be found. If you feel that a psychic is promising something that is too good to be true – such as help on bringing your ex back home to you, or a lottery win, or fame and fortune – then that’s another red flag to watch out for.

This is why I always, always stress that you take time to find the right reader for you, especially if you are in need of guidance or emotional support at the time. Doing a walk-in with someone off the street can be a toss-up; they haven’t had time to build a rapport or connection with you, and you haven’t time to learn about them.

How do you know what you’re going to get?

I’ve written about this before, but it never hurts to say it again: Unless you are just getting a reading for fun or entertainment, I highly recommend that you check someone out ahead of time.

Don’t make a decision based on price, location, or pressure, especially if you feel you need to know something right away.

And please, be clear on what someone is offering and promising.

Does this person sound like someone who you can trust? Is this person making guarantees that are hard to believe?

Are they selling you on spells or curses when you really just need a reading? Are you just getting a weird, uncomfortable vibe overall?

Listen to your intuition on it. If something looks or sounds like a red flag, don’t do it.

And remember that you are responsible in choosing the businesses and individuals you support, so make sure you find a reader who is going to respect you and recognize the level of trust that’s required in this type of work.

Until next time,

Liz xo

p.s. If you want to know how you can make the most out of a tarot reading, you might like this post here.

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