Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Psychic Mail Fraud Shut Down

A long-running phony psychic operation that swindled its customers out of nearly two hundred million dollars was recently shut down by federal authorities. The company operated through the mail, sending fake seemingly personalized messages to millions of people. The letters claimed that a psychic had personally seen that the individual targeted would come into a large sum of money so long as he or she purchased products from the scammers.

A federal judge has approved a consent decree that bans Montreal’s Infogest Direct Marketing, Hong Kong’s Destiny Research Center Ltd and six individuals from using the U.S. mail system to send ads, promotional materials and solicitations on behalf of alleged psychics, astrologers and clairvoyants.

In a scheme dating to 2000, the defendants were accused of sending seemingly personalized form letters in which French psychics Maria Duval and Patrick Guerin predicted great wealth, such as winning the lottery, for people who bought products and services to ensure their good fortune came to pass.

One such letter touted how Duval and Guerin shared “clear visions” that recipients would come into “massive sums of money on games of chance,” so long as they paid $50 for a “mysterious talisman” and a copy of “My Invaluable Guide to My New Life.”

Authorities said people who bought products or services would be “bombarded” with additional solicitations. More than 56 million pieces of mail were sent in the past decade, they added.

One of the interesting points about this case is that this is the exact same method used by many "Prosperity Gospel" evangelists, as John Oliver uncovered in his epic takedown of the movement. If federal authorities want to crack down further on similar scammers, it should go after some of those ministries.

It's completely legal to tell someone that if they donate money, they will be seen more favorably by God and/or will be rewarded in the afterlife. There's no way to prove or disprove either of those claims. But when an evangelist tells you that when you donate money you'll get back a lot more money, the whole thing becomes a scam.

Ministers who do that should not be able to hide behind "religious freedom" laws to keep their operations going as they enrich themselves at their followers' expense.

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