‘Blessings’ scams preying on vulnerable guidance-seekers

Don't fall for phony fortune tellers seeking to fool you out of valuable items and money

In an uncertain world, it can be reassuring to ask for advice to help avoid the pitfalls that life inevitably throws at you. In many cultural traditions, people seek out such advice from spiritual guides, seers, gurus, or others who are thought to have special knowledge or abilities. People find comfort and guidance in a variety of ways that are personal to them--but unfortunately, this natural human tendency to seek spiritual advice often makes people a ripe target for fraudsters.

Scams of this type come in many forms--blessings scams, fake fortune tellers, phony psychics--the list goes on and on. What all of these scams have in common is the fraudster’s goal to gain the victim’s confidence and, ultimately, get them to hand over cash or other valuables in exchange for supernatural “help.” What’s worse, many of these scams prey on members of particular ethnic, national, or religious groups, and seek to exploit victims’ trust of members of their communities and the mistrust for traditional institutions like banks or the police.

A common scenario involves a “chance meeting” with a “spiritual healer” who says there is a curse on your possessions that must be removed. The healer will tell you all you need to do is bring your valuables so that he can bless them and remove the curse. When you bring your items to him, you close your eyes as part of the ritual and he takes your bag of items and replaces it with a bag filled with paper. At the end of the ceremony he instructs you not to open your blessed bag for a month or the blessing will be undone. By the time you open the bag and realize your valuables are not there, this “spiritual healer” will be long gone.

Imagine another fortune-telling scam:

You walk into a fortune teller’s business and they peg you as someone who is genuinely troubled, not someone there for fun. The fortune teller informs you that a curse has been placed on you and that she may be able to remove it, over time, for a fee. After you pay for the service, you come in for an update on the curse’s removal. The fortune teller informs you that while she tried her best, she was unable to fully remove the curse. She needs more money for an even more elaborate ceremony to try again. Unfortunately for their victims, perpetrators of the “curse” scam will continue “trying” until their victims catch on that they are being duped.

Fortunately, you do not need a crystal ball to identify some of the telltale signs that you may be getting scammed. To steer clear of scam artists, follow these four steps:

  1. Be very skeptical of a fortune teller who informs you that you have been “cursed” and that you can pay a fee to have the curse removed. Ethical fortune tellers will always disclose the cost of their services up front and will not uses gimmicks like curses to coerce additional money from you.

  2. If you bring valuables to be blessed, keep your eyes on them at all times. Many scam artists will instruct you to place your belongings in a bag to be blessed, and then swap out the bag once they are able to distract you.

  3. Never accept financial advice from a fortune teller or spiritual healer. Be very wary of phrases like, “tomorrow you will receive a financial opportunity of a lifetime.” Scam artists will often use phrases like this to set their victims up to fall prey to an “investment opportunity” their partner will pitch to the victim tomorrow. If you are interested in investing, check out websites like this one to learn how to start saving for the future.

  4. Never accept medical advice from a fortune teller. While you are free to consult spiritual or holistic healers, all fees should be disclosed up front, and you should always continue to take any prescribed medications and remain under the care of a licensed medical professional.

Sometimes it may feel like you need to be a soothsayer to identify a fortune telling or blessing scam. If you think you may have come across spiritual scam, let us know! File a report at Fraud.org via our secure online complaint form. We’ll share your complaint with our network of law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can investigate and help keep other consumers from falling victim to these scams and put fraudsters behind bars.