The Complete Guide to Avoiding Online Psychic Reading Scams

Shani Jay
Skeptical woman looks at phone
Those of us who are open minded and naturally interested in mediums, believe that certain people are born with special gifts. Regardless of your personal beliefs, the psychic industry is huge, and showing no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Unfortunately, the industry is unregulated, which has led to many frauds and scam artists preying on vulnerable people in order to make a quick buck.

If you’re interested in the psychic world, you know that there are many genuine readers out there, including those who offer psychic reading online. The question is, how can you make sure to avoid scammers and have a positive online reading experience?

Step 1: Do Your Research 

To date, people have (willingly and/or unknowingly) spent billions of dollars on psychic scams. Here are just a few of the most famous ones that made headlines. Though these represent just a small number of scandalous psychics, reading about them will show you some of the most successful—and universal—methods faux-psychics use to get your money. Knowing the precedents will keep you informed and on the lookout for these well-worn scams.

Famous Psychic Scams

Miss Cleo - “Call me now”

In the 90s, a late night TV commercial featured a fortune-teller known as “Miss Cleo.” She appeared with her tarot cards spread out on the table in front of her and instructed viewers to call her on the 800 number splashed on screen for a “free” reading.

She said, "The cards can reveal things that you will never see by yourself!"

What callers didn’t realize, was that only the first few minutes were free, and after that they would be charged $4.99 for each minute. The company had instructed their employees to keep people on the line as long as they could. Calls would sometimes last up to an hour.

In 2002, The Federal Trade Commission shut down the operation and sued the owners who were also forced to pay $5,000,000 to settle charges against them.

Maria Duval

Duval would send what appeared to be handwritten notes to people claiming they could win the lottery, recover from illness, or avoid future misfortune - if they received her guidance. For that, she would charge a “small sum” (around $40).

Most people dismissed these letters as junk mail, but emotionally and financially vulnerable people were easily drawn in and taken advantage of by the promise of help or good fortune - particularly the elderly and those who were lonely or depressed.

The United States Postal Inspection Service alleges that this scam claimed over 1.4 million victims in the US alone, and the fraudsters pocketed more than $200,000,000.

Rose Marks of Fort Lauderdale

Rose Marks—the ring leader of a family of supposed psychics—would offer to remove bad luck or reverse curses. She scammed hundreds of clients over decades, amounting a fortune of $40,000,000. She even managed to scam best-selling novelist Jude Deveraux, by convincing her that money is the root of all evil, and took millions of dollars from her.

Marks is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence, and her case was one of the first successful federal psychic fraud prosecutions in the US.

Step 2: Know Which Warning Signs to Look out For

Remember that legitimate psychics, like any other professional in their respective fields, abide by a code of conduct that’s designed to protect both them and you. Here are some examples of practices that fall outside of that conduct. If you see mention of these in a psychic’s advertisement or web page, it would be wise to search elsewhere. And even if you’ve already gone through with a reading, these behaviors should convince you to A) ignore any results you’ve been given, and B) not give them any more of your money or business:

Warning Signs to Look out For:

  • If a psychic claims you’ve been cursed, jinxed, or hexed, and offers to remove this for a fee, or pass you on to someone else who can do this for you.

  • If you’re offered a magic potion, good luck charm, or winning lottery numbers for a fee. No real psychic readings expert will ever guarantee or promise you anything.

  • If you’re asked to describe your personal life, the psychic may be fishing for keywords that are currently significant to you, which they can then repeat back to you later.

  • If the psychic gives you very vague information, where you end up filling in the blanks.

  • If the reader asks why you came in, again the reader is just looking for personal details about your life to then use.

  • If you’re blamed for an inaccurate reading. No professional psychic deals with their clients this way, and this person is simply trying to distract you.

  • If you have any doubts about what the reader is saying, and they tell you you’re wrong. Deep down, you know who you are, but a fraud will try to convince you that you’re simply avoiding the truth.

Step 3: Don’t Do Your Psychic’s Work for Them

It’s easy to do your psychics’ work for them. That is to say, the things we wear, the expressions we make, and in general the way we present ourselves can give a psychic enough information to steer the reading in a seemingly accurate way and convince us of their gifts. While you can’t control every single mannerism or leave every revealing piece of jewelry at home, it’s good to be conscious of how your behaviors and appearance can reveal key information about you. 

Try to avoid being overly emotive 

Oftentimes, our faces respond to questions before our lips have a chance to open. Psychics use this to their advantage in a technique called cold reading. While there are many forms of cold reading, in general it relies on blanket statements that trigger body language, mannerisms, and other non-verbal cues that provide essential information about you. Oftentimes psychics will ask strategic questions in order to elicit specific responses, which can reveal your answers even if you don’t verbalize them. 

Say a psychic asks you about your mother. Before you even speak, chances are you’ve betrayed your feelings somehow, maybe through a pause in speech, a nervous shift in your seat, or by averting eye contact or unconsciously biting a fingernail. These gestures may seem minor, but they can give a psychic valuable information about you, which can be used to steer the reading and convince you of their accuracy. To the best of your ability, try to avoid being overly emotive. Respond casually to questions and prompts, and try to reign in any nervous habits.

Consider what you’re wearing

Sometimes observable evidence is all that’s needed to impart essential information about you. The classic example is a wedding ring. The absence of a wedding ring is an indication that love, failed relationships, unfulfilled dreams, and marriage yearnings are safe bets for a psychic to focus on, while a wedding ring on the finger of a client generally means they’re not there to find a soul mate. 

There are many examples of how your clothing, appearance, accessories, and other accoutrements can express information about you that would be valuable to a psychic. This is to some extent inevitable, so don’t get carried away—there’s no need to analyze everything you’re wearing or don a costume before you go to a reading. Just beware of anything that might be an easy giveaway, and if you feel like it, you can conceal or remove any especially revealing hints like wedding rings, tattoos, heirloom jewelry, etc. 

These ‘give-aways’ can happen in person as well as online or over the phone. The less revealing you are, the better, whether that means removing a wedding ring before a video chat or maintaining a consistent speaking voice over the phone.

Bag of money

Generally speaking, if someone is asking you a lot of questions, and trying to tease information out of you—run. Scammers specialize in using the information you provide to sneakily tell you exactly what you want to hear, so that you’ll keep coming back for more.

True psychics don’t need information from you. They should be able to give you a precise and accurate reading—including dates, names, or a detailed description—without prompting.

With the wealth of our personal details floating around online today, anyone can give you information. What you should really look for is a psychic who gives you insight that can heal you, inspire you, or help you grow in life.

Feel You've Been Scammed? What Should You Do Now?

If you’ve handed over sensitive information or credit card details to a potential fraudster, contact your financial provider immediately. You’re also encouraged to contact your local authorities and make a report so that they can warn others about current scams and potentially disrupt them. Be sure to tell your friends and family about your experience so that you protect them from similar scams.

Don’t settle for a psychic reading experience that leaves you feeling cheated. With the right psychic adviser, you should finish a session feeling uplifted, energized, and enlightened.

Shani Jay
Shani Jay is a bestselling author, and content creator. She's the founder of The Glow Getter Tribe—a self-love movement which helps women worldwide feel happy, confident, and beautiful starting from the inside out. Shani's writing has been featured on many internationally recognized platforms, including The Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, and Thought Catalog.