Friday, June 20, 2014

Fake Shaman Sentenced

When I look at the amount of money some of these fake occultists manage to extort from their clients I occasionally wonder if I'm in the wrong business. A British professional psychic who called herself a "shaman" has been convicted of defrauding clients of more that a million pounds (~$1.6m) and sentenced to ten years in prison. She perpetrated the classic scam of telling her clients that they were cursed or ill, and then requiring large sums of money to remedy these imaginary problems. What always amazes me is how many people go along with it, but then I was raised with a belief in magick and have studied how it works for many years.

Juliette D'Souza convinced a range of people to hand over money to save the lives of loved ones, avoid being made redundant or cure a variety of illnesses. The judge in her trial at Blackfriars Crown Court said that perhaps the "most upsetting" victim was one who gave D'Souza £176,000 over several years to help her get pregnant. When she actually fell pregnant, D'Souza told her to have an abortion as the unborn child would be "deformed" and "ill". Many of her 11 victims were left in financial ruin, with one elderly woman having more than £200,000 "remorselessly extracted" from her over 12 years.

D'Souza, 59, from Hampstead, north London, was jailed for 10 years on Friday after being convicted of 23 counts of obtaining property by deception and fraud between 1998 and 2010. Judge Ian Karsten QC said she had cast a "spell" over her victims and told them to hand over large amounts of money or face "terrifying" consequences.
He said: "It is the worst case of confidence fraud I have ever had to deal with or indeed that I have ever heard of. The most serious aspect of this case is that you wrecked the lives of a number of your victims and you have done it out of pure greed."

Now I do pretty well as a software architect and developer, but it sounds like this particular confidence artist managed to make more doing substantially less work. Then I remember two things. First of all, I don't actually make that much less, as that million pounds was over the course of 12 years. Second of all, I'm too honest to carry out a con like this for very long, or for that matter have any desire to do so. And, of course, there's that whole "going to prison" thing, which I'm happy to avoid.

As I've commented before, people like D'Souza prove that the world really does need debunkers, no matter how annoying they might be under different circumstances. But magical education is another area that would cut into the supply of available marks, since anybody who knows how magick works is probably not going to fall for one of these schemes.

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Scott Stenwick said...

Wow. All I have to do is put up a post about a scammer going to jail and more of them show up trolling for marks.

For anybody who still doesn't know the Illuminati thing is fake:

+234 is the country code for Nigeria. This is most likely some sort of identity theft or advance fee scam inspired by all the pop culture Illuminati bullshit that's been in the press recently.

ethnobotanywallum said...

I think that the debunkers should be qualified, with experience in the field in which they are debunking. Not just uneducated skeptics.
I could guess that something might be off in an industrial manufacturing company, but it would take an expert to discover the details, and be taken seriously, for example.

Thanks for regularly providing interesting news which I would otherwise never find myself :)

Scott Stenwick said...

Yes, that would be a very good thing. One of the episodes that made me lose a lot of respect for the Randi crew was that back in the 1980's a bunch of scientists who were working on studying psi phenomena contacted him and asked if his group would train them in stage magic methods that could be used to fake tests. To me they sounded completely reasonable, far from the credulous advocates the Randi foundation makes parapsychologists out to be.

But Randi refused! He told them that the only way they could have access to his expertise was to hire one or more of his people as a consultant and pay his rates, because stage magic tricks were trade secrets. Far from wanting to support legitimate skepticism, it became clear to me that the whole thing was about getting paid. Stage magic was on the decline, after all, and people in the trade were looking for a new stream of revenue. Why not license themselves as debunkers?

The plan never went anywhere because nobody wanted to pay those rates just to conduct their research. But the skeptics spun it as parapsychology being hostile to skeptical inquiry and have been flogging the concept ever since.

SeekInfinity-ICTX said...

A strong peer review system along the lines of conventional science would work a lot better than debunkers since it would come from essentially within the community, rather than being an external imposition that makes peoples tribal "us vs them" instincts rise. "Obviously they're going to say that, they hqate the subject and have spent their whole lives trying to discredit it"... especially with, as mentioned with Randi, the financial incentive goes in that direction too.

Scott Stenwick said...

A peer review system would certainly be superior, and I hope that we will eventually get to the point where our scientific knowledge base regarding paranormal phenomena is on par with that of the more established sciences.

Some of the work in neuroscience on altered states of consciousness is going in that direction, but consciousness itself is still a contentious topic. Once we get that problem worked out, I expect that much of the rest will prove easier to unravel.