How Modern Fortunetellers Pull Off Their Scams

How Modern Fortunetellers Pull Off Their Scams
Illustration by Stephanie Hans

The voice on the other end of the phone, spiky with trans-Atlantic static, told Iiyah that if the curse were lifted, one day she'd be worshiped like a god. The key step now was to build a temple in Egypt that would clear out the dark energy.

Sitting in her bedroom in Luton, 30 miles north of London, Iiyah, 27, was getting used to such advice. In the four months she'd been swapping calls with the American psychic she knew as Sienna Miller, news flashes from the spirit realm had been reliably weird. But deity status didn't sound too bad.

"Bloody hell, who wouldn't want something like that? It was like a dream come true," she says today. "You're going to be like a god? It was going to be an end of all my suffering."

Iiyah, born in Bangladesh but raised in England, was a pretty, moon-faced accountant living a steady middle-class existence until the summer of 2006. In swift succession, she lost her job, and her four-year marriage snapped. She and her soon-to-be ex still shared the same house. Their fighting was constant. The only guy Iiyah felt tugging at her heart already had a girlfriend. She also felt lingering sadness from the still-unexplained death of her father when she was 13. "I was just stuck," she recalls. "I was scared as well. I didn't want the rest of my life to carry on as it was."

One day, she happened upon a website — 1masterpsychic.com — that promised a free reading from a psychic. "Will you revitalise your love life? Change your job or get a promotion? How will your finances grow and develop?" the crudely designed page asked. Iiyah dialed the 888-number.

Miller "said that me and [my crush], we were soulmates, and we were really meant to be," Iiyah explains. "It was really rare." But the psychic also sensed negative energy. She'd need $200 to scout the ether for an answer. Iiyah wired the money.

Miller reported that in a past life, Iiyah had killed a woman to be with her soulmate. The woman retaliated with a curse that kept the lovers apart in future lives and also blocked Iiyah from realizing her full potential. Only serious work could lift the spell.

So began a three-year ordeal. The lonely English woman funneled funds to Miller to pay for candles, quartz crystals, oils, and figurines. She remortgaged her house, took out loans, and borrowed from family. The money was wired to Miller's "assistants" in Hollywood, Florida.

Every time cash vanished from her accounts, Iiyah felt bad. But weekly phone conversations with Miller propped her up. When Iiyah fought with her family, Miller attributed it to "a manifestation of dark energy." If she complained about money, Miller said that in the future, she'd make more than she knew what to do with. Like a one-woman cheering section, the psychic constantly promised that a grander life was coming.

By mid-2009, Iiyah was dry. After she stopped paying, the waits between phone calls stretched. It was like the end of a long romance, death by small, painful degrees. "I just want to tell you that I am still here working for you and I have been kept away and only able to speak with the spirits," Miller wrote in a final kiss-off email. "Please stay strong and keep faith."

Then, radio silence. Iiyah had handed over more than $140,000. "I hated myself. It was just the worst," she says today.

Iiyah's self-loathing is the standard fallout from a run-in with a psychic scammer. Armed with impressive magic acts — a modern-day fortuneteller might wield a combo of internet savvy, Eastern mysticism, and/or freaky rituals with fruit — bogus psychics tell victims they're cursed, then fleece them for money. Law enforcement sources say many such scammers are Gypsies, or American Romani, operating out of South Florida. "It's something that appeals to the culture because it's such a lucrative way to make money," says Gregory Ovanessian, a former San Francisco Police Department detective and director emeritus of the National Association of Bunco Investigators, a trade association for fraud cops. "A good fortuneteller can make $200,000 to $300,000 a year easily."

In August, Fort Lauderdale psychic Rose Marks is scheduled to go on trial in federal court for her role in a record-setting alleged $25 million fraud perpetrated against best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux and other clients. Besides the high-profile names involved, what really distinguishes the Marks case is that it was prosecuted at all. Fortuneteller scams happen all the time here. They just rarely see the inside of a courtroom.


Until summer 2011, the Marks family ran the Fort Lauderdale arm of its business from a charmless one-story storefront near Federal Highway and Davie Boulevard. Clients were a mix of curious entertainment-seekers and genuinely fragile people hoping to patch up emotional damage.

That August, Rose Marks and eight other members of her family were arrested in a sting dubbed "Operation Crystal Ball." Authorities allege the clan used its spiritual hold to squeeze $40 million (later discounted to $25 million) from clients. The state's key witness, Jude Deveraux — author of bestsellers such as Scarlet Nights, Days of Gold, and 35 other books that together have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide — first fell in with the family in 1991 after walking into a Marks-owned shop in Manhattan. Over 20 years, Marks leveraged Deveraux's marital problems, pregnancy fears, and grief. Large sums of money and valuables passed between the author and the psychic, all to be used in rituals to clear out curses. Deveraux allegedly lost $17 million. (Marks and Deveraux both declined to be interviewed for this article.)

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12 comments
Exiliado
Exiliado topcommenter

What these fortune tellers A.K.A scammers do is despicable and disgusting, but some people need to grow up. Anyone who spends more than 50 cents on "psychic services" is just proving to be a gullible sucker. Gullible suckers usually end up being ripped off. It's in their nature.

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

.


as for the BSO being any assistance in prosecuting frauds,  let me remind you that BSO was bought by SCOTT ROTHSTEIN, so because BSO is "for sale" and the biggest scammer used the ft lauderdale based LEOs to "serve and protect" HIM ....................... what do you expect of the BSO ?

its' the FOX gaurding the HEN house here in broward county

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

.


i guess BERNIE MADOFF is the KING of all GYPSIES

...........a fool and his money is soon parted

whether its GAMBLING or SHOPPING or HOBBIES or RELIGION the money lost/spent/donated is typically IN EXCHANGE FOR something....and that something can simply be puffery

MADISON AVENUE ADVERTISING depends on puffery as do gypsies

desperate people will do desperate things and pissing MONEY away is the least of it, some commit suicide or do drugs or fall into the bottle or pursue other dangerous outlets, so going broke it low on the list HOWEVER despicable it is morally and ethically to dupe vulnerable people


fetishmaster24
fetishmaster24

No offense, but I happen to know Gypsies and not all are mystics, most in fact assimilate to whatever culture they're in and become a part of the most popular religion

And the Gypsies that use magic charge only $10 a reading. I know, I study with some of them.

junebug01095
junebug01095

Kyle, 

I want to congratulate you on a very fascinating article.  It's hard to believe that fortune tellers can make so much money.  On The Twilight Zone many years ago, there was an episode about a couple who were in a diner, and at their table was a "fortune telling machine." After depositing a quarter, the machine would predict  the future..  At first, the couple thought this was fun, but as they kept depositing money, the machine told them very accurate things about their lives.  In the end, the couple could not leave the table.  The machine told them that if they did, they would die.  I saw that as a child, and it still haunts me.  Who knows, maybe the couple is still in the diner.

run.randrand
run.randrand

AWWWW -BARRY TOLD YA ABOUT LEAKING ALL HIS SECRETS ON THE INTERNET, NOW YA KNOW WHERE HIS INNER STAFF GOES FOR PROPRIETARY ADVISEMENT AND COUNSELING'---AND WHY IT ENDS UP A CACOPHONY OF FUBAR'D MAYHEM IN PRACTICING APPLICATION!!!

teachintv
teachintv

For the deep background on this story, read Jan Yoors' famous sociological study of the Rom called "The Gypsies." It's kind of old (1960s) but totally valid. 

Rabbi_Pedro_Goldstein
Rabbi_Pedro_Goldstein

Please explain to me how the Gypsies are different than the Catholic church? I don't see a bit of difference between the two other than Gypsies  don't molest little boys.

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

@Rabbi_Pedro_Goldstein 

being a GYPSIE designates an unwelcome and uninvited OUTSIDER and any inclusion signifies an illegitimate purpose - to EXCLUDE gypsies is cleansing

being a CATHOLIC means you have to be at the table in any major discussion for that purpose to be legitimate - to EXCLUDE catholics is typically illegal and socially questionable and not PC

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

@Rabbi_Pedro_Goldstein

mystical faith-based organizations are the SAME in that they value continued survival including financial support from congregants and believers

the GYPSIEs take advantage of desperate people in a surreptitious way and makes people PAY to obtain their salvation

the CATHOLIC CHURCH uses the interpretations of text as a basis for its faith and salvation is earned by following a certain path and requests donations to continue funding the resources required to maintain the organization infastructure (until MARTIN LUTHER the CHURCH and GYPSIEs were similar in demanding MONEY to effect change (indulgences))

the GYPSIEs get people to FALL PREY while the CHURCH requires members to BE FAITHFUL

greeneyerish
greeneyerish

@Rabbi_Pedro_Goldstein Truth be told, all religions are nothing but superstition, designed to psychologically control the masses, and enrich those in charge

 
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