17 July 2024

What should you do to avoid Psychic and Clairvoyant Scams

By Jon Donnis

Bromley Trading Standards has issued a crucial warning to residents, urging them to remain vigilant against scammers posing as psychics or clairvoyants. This alert follows a recent incident where a local resident was deceived into sending several cheques totaling over £100 in response to a fraudulent letter promising good fortune. Fortunately, the money was successfully recovered.

The following advice is not just for people of Bromley though, this advice should go to everyone in the UK so read carefully.

According to the Action Fraud website, psychic and clairvoyant scams typically involve fraudsters claiming to foresee either wonderful or terrible events in the victim's future. They then demand payment to provide a full report or to offer charms that purportedly ensure good luck or ward off bad luck. These charms, however, are worthless, and victims are often asked to keep the interaction confidential, which further isolates them and prevents timely intervention.

These scammers can make contact through various channels, including phone calls, emails, or letters. Regular payments may be solicited, and responding to such requests can result not only in financial loss but also in personal details being shared with other scammers, increasing the risk of further targeting.

Protect Yourself from Scams
Residents are advised to adopt the following protective measures:

Do Not Respond: If you receive unsolicited communications from individuals claiming to be psychics or clairvoyants, do not respond. Refrain from sending money or sharing personal or financial details.

Report Phishing Attempts: Forward any suspicious emails to report@phishing.gov.uk and then delete them.

Seek Advice: If uncertain about the legitimacy of a communication, consult a trusted family member, friend, or advisor.

Report Scams: Contact your bank immediately if you've shared financial information. Use the dedicated Stop Scams UK hotline by dialing 159.

Get Help: Reach out to Citizens Advice at 0808 223 1133 or visit their website for assistance. - citizensadvice.org.uk

File a Report: If you have been scammed or have lost money, report the incident to Action Fraud at 0300 123 2040 or via their website. - actionfraud.police.uk

Stay Informed: The Metropolitan Police website offers resources, including guidebooks and videos, to help prevent fraud and cybercrime. 
Stay Updated and Find Reliable Traders
Residents can stay informed about the latest scam alerts and warnings by signing up for updates from Bromley Trading Standards. The service also maintains a fair-trader directory, ensuring residents can find trustworthy and reliable traders. For more details, visit bromley.gov.uk/tradingstandardschecked

And perhaps the most important advice you will ever received, NEVER GIVE A PENNY TO A PSYCHIC. They are ALL frauds, no exceptions.

16 July 2024

The Rise and Fall of Miss Cleo

Miss Cleo

By Jon Donnis

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the name Miss Cleo became synonymous with psychic readings and late-night infomercials. Known for her thick Jamaican accent, colourful attire, and the catchphrase "Call me now!", Miss Cleo was the face of the Psychic Readers Network (PRN), a widely recognized yet controversial psychic hotline service. However, behind the vibrant persona lay a tale of deception, legal battles, and the ultimate fall from grace. This article delves into the rise and fall of Miss Cleo, exploring the dynamics of her fame, the intricacies of the fraud allegations, and the aftermath of her downfall.

The Rise of Miss Cleo

Early Life and Beginnings
Born Youree Dell Harris on August 12, 1962, in Los Angeles, California, Miss Cleo's early life bore no signs of the persona she would later adopt. Before becoming the infamous psychic, Harris pursued a career in theater, working as a playwright and actress. Under the pseudonym Ree Perris, she was involved with the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center in Seattle, where she authored plays and performed.

Transformation into Miss Cleo
The transformation from Youree Dell Harris to Miss Cleo began in the late 1990s when she joined the Psychic Readers Network. The network, which operated a pay-per-call service, featured psychics who provided advice and predictions over the phone. Harris adopted the character of Miss Cleo, claiming to be a shaman from Jamaica with mystical powers and a direct connection to the spiritual world. Her engaging persona, complete with a convincing accent and a commanding presence, quickly made her the star of PRN's advertisements.

National Fame
Miss Cleo's commercials became a staple of late-night television, drawing millions of viewers with their promise of insightful readings and life-changing advice. Her catchphrases, particularly "Call me now!", became part of popular culture. The combination of her vibrant personality and the public's fascination with the supernatural propelled Miss Cleo to national fame. She was not just a psychic; she became a cultural icon, recognized and imitated across various media.

The Fall of Miss Cleo

Controversy and Legal Troubles
As Miss Cleo's fame grew, so did scrutiny of her and the Psychic Readers Network's practices. In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint against PRN, accusing the network of deceptive advertising, billing, and collection practices. The FTC alleged that PRN had misled customers by promising free readings that were, in fact, charged at exorbitant rates. Many customers reported unauthorized charges on their credit cards and difficulty in canceling services.

Unveiling the Deception
The legal battles revealed that Miss Cleo was not Jamaican and had no special psychic abilities. Her background as Youree Dell Harris from Los Angeles came to light, and her entire persona was exposed as a fabrication. The FTC's investigation concluded that the Psychic Readers Network had defrauded customers out of millions of dollars. In 2002, PRN agreed to a settlement, which included forgiving $500 million in customer charges and paying a $5 million fine to the FTC.

Media Backlash and Public Perception
The revelation of Miss Cleo's true identity and the fraudulent activities of PRN led to a significant media backlash. Satirical shows and comedians capitalized on the scandal, further tarnishing her image. The public, once captivated by her charisma, turned against her, seeing her as a symbol of exploitation and deceit.

Aftermath and Legacy

Life After the Scandal
Following the downfall of her Miss Cleo persona, Youree Dell Harris largely retreated from the public eye. She made occasional media appearances, including participating in documentaries and interviews where she discussed her side of the story. Despite the scandal, Harris maintained that she genuinely believed in her psychic abilities and that she had helped many people.

Cultural Impact
Despite the controversy, Miss Cleo's impact on popular culture is undeniable. Her character has been referenced in numerous TV shows, movies, and parodies, cementing her place in the pantheon of late-90s and early-2000s pop culture. The phrase "Call me now!" remains a recognizable catchphrase, often used humorously to evoke the era of TV psychics.

Death and Reflection
Youree Dell Harris passed away on July 26, 2016, from colon cancer. In the wake of her death, reflections on her life and career were mixed. Some viewed her as a charlatan who exploited vulnerable people, while others saw her as a talented performer caught up in a larger fraudulent enterprise. Regardless of one's perspective, the story of Miss Cleo serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of deception and the consequences of mixing entertainment with exploitation.

The rise and fall of Miss Cleo is a complex narrative that intertwines elements of performance, deception, and media influence. From her meteoric rise as a beloved TV psychic to her dramatic fall amid allegations of fraud, Miss Cleo's story is a compelling example of how quickly public perception can shift. Her legacy, marked by both notoriety and nostalgia, continues to be a topic of fascination and caution in the realm of pop culture and beyond.


1 July 2024

The Mechanics Behind Seance Room Tricks: A Skeptical Examination


By Jon Donnis

The seance room has long been a place of intrigue and mystery, where spiritualist mediums claim to bridge the gap between the living and the dead. Despite the dramatic and often convincing displays of supernatural phenomena, a skeptical examination reveals a range of tricks and illusions that explain these occurrences without invoking the paranormal. This article will explore some of the common techniques used by mediums to create the illusion of spirit activity, such as making spirit trumpets fly, manifesting apparitions, and creating the effect of disembodied hands.

Spirit Trumpets and Levitation
Spirit trumpets are cone-shaped devices purportedly used by spirits to amplify their voices during seances. Mediums often claim that these trumpets levitate and move around the room on their own, guided by supernatural forces. However, the mechanics behind this phenomenon can be explained through sleight of hand and simple physical principles.

Invisible Threads and Extendable Rods: Mediums often use fine, nearly invisible threads or wires to control the movement of the trumpets. These threads can be attached to the trumpet and manipulated by the medium or an accomplice to create the illusion of levitation. The threads are typically made from materials like nylon, which are difficult to see in low light conditions. Sometimes however it is even easier than that, a simple extending rod, connected to the "Trumpet", can make the Trumpet appear to fly high to the ceiling, and at fast speeds, in a pitch black or near pitch black environment, the Trump will have glow in the dark tape attached to it, which further enhances the illusion. 

Darkness and Misdirection: Seances are typically held in dimly lit if not completely pitch black rooms, which makes it easier to conceal the use of threads or other mechanical devices. The darkness also allows the medium to use misdirection to distract participants' attention away from the true source of the movement.

Mechanical Devices: In some cases, mediums use specially designed trumpets with hidden mechanisms, such as springs or small motors, to create movement and sound. These devices can be activated remotely or through subtle manipulations by the medium.

Apparitions and Manifestations
The appearance of ghostly figures and apparitions is one of the most dramatic elements of a seance. While these manifestations can be highly convincing, they are often the result of clever stagecraft and illusion.

Pepper's Ghost: A classic theatrical illusion known as Pepper's Ghost involves projecting an image onto a transparent screen, creating the appearance of a ghostly figure. This technique can be adapted for use in a seance room, with hidden mirrors and light sources projecting an image of a supposed spirit, although in the modern era this is quiet a rare trick.

Costumes and Props: Mediums or their accomplices may don costumes and use props to create the appearance of a ghost. They may enter the room silently and position themselves in a way that makes them appear to materialize out of thin air. The dim lighting and participants' heightened suggestibility make it easier to pull off this illusion.

Smoke and Mirrors: Using smoke or fog to obscure parts of the room can enhance the illusion of an apparition. Mirrors strategically placed around the room can reflect light and images in ways that make it difficult for participants to discern what they are actually seeing.

Disembodied Hands and Touches
The sensation of being touched by invisible hands or seeing disembodied hands moving objects is another common feature of seances. These effects are typically achieved through physical manipulation and sleight of hand.

Accomplices: Hidden accomplices can be positioned around the room to touch participants or move objects. These individuals are often seated in places where they can easily reach out without being seen, taking advantage of the darkness and participants' focus on the medium.

Fake Hands: Mediums may use fake hands or gloves filled with a lightweight material to create the illusion of disembodied hands. These props can be moved using invisible threads or by the medium's own hands, concealed under a table or behind a curtain.

Psychological Suggestion: The power of suggestion plays a significant role in creating the sensation of being touched by invisible hands. Participants in a seance are often highly suggestible and primed to believe in supernatural phenomena. The medium can exploit this by subtly suggesting that a spirit is present and will touch someone, causing participants to interpret any light touch or breeze as a ghostly encounter.

The Psychic Escape:
One popular seance trick involves the medium being tied to a chair and placed behind a screen or curtain, sometimes this is done to convince the people present that the medium is not the one creating the movement of the spirit trumpet, or manipulating other effects, sometimes the escaping of the bonds and "matter through matter" is done to convince people the psychic has certain powers. Here's a look at some of the techniques that may be used to achieve this illusion.

1. Preparation of the Bonds
The ropes or bindings used to secure the medium are often prepared in advance with subtle modifications. These can include:

Slip Knots: Knots that appear secure but can be easily undone with a quick pull.
Hidden Loops: Extra loops or slack hidden within the bindings that allow the medium to free themselves with minimal effort.

Gimmicked Ropes: Special ropes with internal mechanisms or elastic properties that make them appear tight but can be stretched or manipulated easily.

2. Sleight of Hand and Misdirection
Magicians and mediums alike rely on misdirection to draw attention away from their escape methods. During a seance, the room's lighting, the medium's assistants, or even sudden noises can serve as distractions.

Assistant's Role: An accomplice might create a diversion at a critical moment, allowing the medium to slip free unnoticed.

Subtle Movements: The medium might use small, inconspicuous movements to gradually loosen their bonds without attracting attention.

3. Hidden Tools and Gadgets
Mediums often have access to concealed tools that aid in their escape.

Concealed Keys or Blades: Small, hidden cutting tools or keys can be used to free themselves from handcuffs or ropes.

Fake Chairs or Screens: Specially constructed chairs or screens with hidden openings or compartments can facilitate a quick escape. Ever wondered why the medium likes to sit on an old wooden arm chair? Those arms come loose you know!

4. Manipulating the Environment
The seance room itself is often arranged to support the medium's illusion.

Controlled Lighting: Dim lighting or strategically placed candles create shadows and reduce visibility, making it easier for the medium to move unnoticed.

Sound Effects: The use of sudden noises or music can mask the sounds of the medium's movements.

While the phenomena witnessed in seance rooms can be captivating and convincing, a skeptical examination reveals that these effects are typically the result of clever tricks and illusions. By understanding the techniques used by mediums, we can appreciate the skill and ingenuity involved in creating these supernatural experiences, while also recognizing that they are firmly rooted in the realm of human ingenuity rather than the supernatural.

26 June 2024

Harry Houdini: The Magician Who Exposed Psychics and Mediums

Harry Houdini

By Jon Donnis

Harry Houdini, born Erik Weisz on March 24, 1874, was a Hungarian-born American illusionist and stunt performer, widely known for his sensational escape acts. While Houdini's contributions to the world of magic are well-celebrated, his fervent crusade against psychics and mediums, particularly those claiming to communicate with the dead, remains a remarkable facet of his life.

Early Life and Rise to Fame
Houdini was born in Budapest, Hungary, and later immigrated with his family to the United States, where they settled in Appleton, Wisconsin. Showing a keen interest in magic from an early age, he began performing professionally in the 1890s. His unparalleled skills and innovative escape acts quickly garnered attention, making him one of the most famous magicians of his time.

The Shift from Performer to Skeptic
In the early 1920s, Houdini shifted his focus from performing to debunking fraudulent spiritualists. This transformation was partly motivated by personal grief. Houdini's beloved mother, Cecilia Weisz, passed away in 1913, and he was deeply affected by her death. Despite his hopes of communicating with her, he found that many mediums were exploiting the bereaved for financial gain. This realization ignited a passionate mission to expose their deceit.

Watch In Search Of Houdini's Secrets ... With Leonard Nimoy (1981)

The Rise of Spiritualism
The early 20th century saw a surge in the popularity of spiritualism, a religious movement based on the belief that spirits of the dead can communicate with the living. This period was rife with seances and mediums who claimed to bridge the gap between the earthly and the supernatural. Many of these mediums employed various tricks to simulate ghostly encounters, such as hidden accomplices, special effects, and sleight of hand.

Houdini's Investigative Methods
Houdini approached his investigation into spiritualism with the same meticulousness and dedication that characterized his magic career. He attended seances incognito, often disguising himself to blend in with the participants. Armed with his knowledge of magic and illusion, he was able to decipher the fraudulent techniques employed by mediums.

Exposing Tricks: Houdini exposed numerous mediums by replicating their so-called supernatural feats using mundane methods. For instance, he demonstrated how mediums used concealed wires, hidden chambers, and ventriloquism to create the illusion of ghostly presences.

Public Demonstrations: He held public demonstrations to reveal the tricks used by mediums, thereby educating the public about how easily they could be deceived. These demonstrations often attracted large audiences and media attention, amplifying his message.

Writing and Lecturing: Houdini also wrote extensively on the subject. His book "A Magician Among the Spirits" (1924) detailed his encounters with fraudulent mediums and his methods for exposing them. Additionally, he lectured widely, sharing his findings with both the public and law enforcement agencies.

Buy from Amazon at https://amzn.to/3VWopK5

Notable Cases
One of Houdini's most famous debunking efforts was against Mina Crandon, known as "Margery," a popular medium of the time. Margery claimed to communicate with her deceased brother, and her seances were attended by many influential people. Houdini attended her seances and demonstrated how her supposed manifestations of the spirit were achieved through trickery, such as the use of hidden tools and accomplices.

Source: "Margery" the Medium, Small, Maynard & Company, 1925.

The Scientific American Contest
In 1923, Scientific American magazine offered a cash prize to any medium who could produce a supernatural phenomenon under controlled conditions. Houdini was one of the judges. Despite numerous attempts, no medium was able to claim the prize, thanks largely to Houdini's expertise in detecting fraud.

Houdini's crusade against spiritualism left an indelible mark on the movement. His efforts helped to diminish the credibility of many fraudulent mediums and raised public awareness about the ease with which people could be deceived. While his primary legacy remains his incredible feats as a magician and escape artist, his work in exposing charlatans played a crucial role in protecting vulnerable individuals from exploitation.

Houdini's battle against spiritualism also established a legacy of skepticism and critical thinking that continues to influence modern approaches to paranormal claims. His dedication to the truth, even in the face of widespread belief in spiritualism, exemplifies the importance of questioning and investigating extraordinary claims with rigor and integrity.

Harry Houdini was not just a master of illusion and escape; he was also a fierce advocate for truth and a defender of the gullible. His relentless campaign against fraudulent psychics and mediums showcased his commitment to debunking deceit and protecting the public from exploitation. In doing so, Houdini transcended his role as a performer and became a pivotal figure in the history of skepticism and critical inquiry.

Check out more of Harry's books and writings at https://amzn.to/3xoYx07

19 June 2024

Who is Banachek?

Image: (banachek.com)

By Jon Donnis

Early Life and Background
Banachek, born Steven Shaw on November 30, 1960, in Middlesex, England, is a renowned mentalist, magician, and skeptic known for his work in exposing fraudulent psychics and his contributions to the field of mentalism. Banachek moved to the United States at a young age, where his interest in magic and mentalism began to flourish. Fascinated by the mind's potential and the art of illusion, he honed his skills and developed a reputation for his incredible ability to create seemingly impossible mental feats.

Rise to Fame and Project Alpha
Banachek's rise to fame began with his involvement in Project Alpha, a landmark experiment in the field of parapsychology. In 1979, at just 18 years old, he teamed up with fellow magician Michael Edwards and prominent skeptic James Randi to challenge the credibility of paranormal research being conducted at Washington University in St. Louis. The project aimed to demonstrate how easily scientists could be deceived by individuals claiming to have psychic powers.

Over the course of two years, Banachek and Edwards convincingly posed as psychics, performing a variety of supernatural feats, such as bending spoons, moving objects with their minds, and reading hidden information. The researchers, unaware of the deception, accepted their abilities as genuine, bolstering the credibility of parapsychology at the time. In 1981, James Randi publicly revealed the hoax, highlighting the necessity for stringent scientific controls and skepticism in paranormal research. Project Alpha became a seminal case study in the field, underscoring the ease with which even trained scientists could be misled.

Exposing Fraudulent Psychics
Banachek's commitment to exposing fraudulent psychics did not end with Project Alpha. Over the years, he has been instrumental in uncovering numerous cases of deception. Using his extensive knowledge of magic and psychological manipulation, he has debunked various claims of supernatural abilities. His efforts have not only protected the public from fraud but also emphasized the importance of critical thinking and scientific rigor.

One notable instance was his involvement with the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), where he participated in investigations and tests designed to challenge the claims of purported psychics. Banachek's expertise in mentalism allowed him to replicate the effects produced by these individuals, demonstrating that their "powers" were often nothing more than clever tricks.

Watch as Banachek performs Psychic Surgery On Houdini and Doyle Ep 5 Apr 27, 2016

Career as a Mentalist
Parallel to his work in skepticism, Banachek has built a successful career as a mentalist. His performances, characterized by their sophistication and psychological depth, have captivated audiences worldwide. He is renowned for his ability to read minds, predict outcomes, and influence thoughts, often leaving spectators in awe of his seemingly supernatural talents.

Banachek's approach to mentalism is deeply rooted in his understanding of human psychology and the art of illusion. He combines observational skills, psychological techniques, and misdirection to create effects that appear impossible. His performances are not only entertaining but also intellectually stimulating, often challenging audiences to question their perceptions and beliefs.

Contributions to the Magic Community
Beyond his performances, Banachek has made significant contributions to the magic and mentalism communities. He is a prolific creator of mentalism effects, many of which are used by magicians and mentalists around the world. His work is known for its originality and impact, pushing the boundaries of what is possible within the art form.

Banachek has also shared his knowledge through books, lectures, and workshops, educating aspiring magicians and mentalists on the principles of deception and psychological manipulation. His teachings emphasize the importance of ethical considerations in performance, particularly regarding claims of supernatural abilities.

Legacy and Influence
Banachek's influence extends beyond the realms of magic and mentalism. His efforts to expose fraud and promote skepticism have had a lasting impact on the scientific community and the public's understanding of paranormal claims. By demonstrating the ease with which the mind can be deceived, he has fostered a greater appreciation for critical thinking and the scientific method.

As a performer, Banachek continues to inspire and amaze with his mind-bending feats. His dedication to his craft and his unwavering commitment to truth and integrity have earned him a place among the most respected figures in the world of magic and mentalism.

Watch as Banachek, along with Jamy Ian Swiss and D.J. Grothe, test psychics on NL  for the JREF Million Dollar Challenge.

Personal Life
Despite his public persona, Banachek maintains a relatively private personal life. He is known for his humility and dedication to his work, often emphasizing the importance of skepticism and rationality in everyday life. His journey from a young magician fascinated by the mysteries of the mind to a renowned mentalist and skeptic is a testament to his passion, perseverance, and integrity.

Banachek's life and career are marked by a unique blend of performance artistry and scientific skepticism. His contributions to exposing fraud, his groundbreaking work in Project Alpha, and his exceptional talents as a mentalist have left an indelible mark on both the magic community and the broader world of science and critical inquiry.

Check out Banachek's website for details of upcoming performances https://banachek.com