Psychics like Sylvia Brown are immoral frauds

In the wake of the dramatic events surrounding the discovery of three women including Amanda Berry, being held captive for a decade by a monster, it’s important not to forget another sociopath played a role in this drama. That sociopath is the psychic who told Amanda Berry’s mother that her daughter was dead:

Her mother, Louwana Miller, never gave up hope that the girl known as Mandy was still alive, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The case attracted national attention when Miller went on Montel Williams’s nationally syndicated television show in 2004 and consulted a psychic.

“She’s not alive, honey,” the psychic said. “Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call.”

After Berry’s mother died in 2006, there were occasional clues in the search for Berry, and police have conducted a number of searches over the years. All proved fruitless — until Monday night, when Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were rescued from the house in Cleveland.

As Ben Goldacre reminds us, that psychic was Sylvia Brown, speaking out of her ass, surely “just for entertainment purposes” when she told Louwana Miller her daughter was dead. As the Wiki shows, her predictions aren’t reliable, and not surprisingly, she has a history of criminal behavior, including indictments and convictions for fraud and grand theft.

Psychics are by definition frauds. They don’t have magic powers. No human has the ability to read minds or see into the future. If you then take money under such known false pretenses that is the definition of fraud. If they truly do think they have magic powers, they should submit themselves to James Randi’s 1 million dollar paranormal challenge to determine if they can perform in a blinded, controlled test (which none of these frauds has ever come close to passing). Not surprisingly, Sylvia Brown has refused, many times, to take this challenge. This is because psychics know they’re frauds. Worse, Brown has even been previously convicted of fraud but sadly not for giving psychic readings. As a criminal, I guess she smartened up since 1992, the question is, why don’t we treat all psychics as criminals all the time? The burden of proof should be on them to prove they have this exceptional ability under controlled circumstances. Until then, we should simply arrest people that take money from others on the basis of such lies.

Psychic Sent to Prison for 5 years for Fraud – So can we jail them all now?

Via Ed I find out about a Psychic in Colorado sentenced to 5 years for fraud.

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4)- A woman claiming to be a psychic has been sentenced to five years behind bars for stealing more than $300,000 from her clients.

Nancy Marks told her victims she needed their cash and credit card numbers to “draw out bad energy.”

In Dec. 2010, a jury in Boulder found Marks guilty on 14 counts of fraud and tax evasion.

Now here is what I find confusing. How is this woman different (other than the tax evasion) from other psychics who claim to be able to predict the future, talk to ghosts, or otherwise lie in order to extract money from their victims?

“One of our victims had a son who was thought to be dying within less than a year. All of them were desperate. She in particular was desperate to find some way to save him,” said Deputy District Attorney Mike Foote.

Foote said Marks’ fraud was deliberate. She groomed their victims, he said, and then ruined their lives. She convinced them to turn over cash, bank account numbers and credit cards so she could “scare the evil out of them.”

Foote told the judge the only way to protect the community from Marks was to put her in prison.

I agree, the only way to protect the community from fraud is to imprison the fraudsters, but I’m still confused. How is this different from 1-900 numbers? Palm readers? Tarot readers? etc? Her victims were just more gullible? She took more money under false pretenses than is standard? Isn’t this really just a matter of degree?

Her lawyer’s defense seems particularly poor:

Marks’ attorney believes the sentence is too harsh and that the victims the jury believes she scammed, kept returning to her for advice.

“I think the sentence is over the top because I really think that the victims in this case were complicit,” said Defense Attorney Stanley Marks.

Marks said the victims may have been duped but no one held a gun to their head. He argued for probation in exchange for restitution.

This is a weak argument. Fraud, simply, is lying to someone in order to extract money or otherwise take advantage of or harm the victim. Just because it doesn’t involve guns doesn’t make it any less criminal, or any less wrong.

I know inevitably people will show up in the comments and say the victims deserved it, or that it’s Darwinism in action. But blaming the victim of fraud is pretty low. Just because someone is stupid, or gullible, does not make it OK to steal their money. And it isn’t Darwinism unless it prevents them from passing on their genetic material. No one has demonstrated to me that the stupid are any less fecund than the smart. If anything the opposite is the case.