Fake psychics are almost as compelling as the real deal. Being a psychic, medium, or other afterlife mediator is rarely a lucrative career, but the flash-in-the-pan attention it can garner has drawn many aspiring supernatural superstars to the field. Fake mediums and other supernatural frauds have a long history in America and beyond, inspiring figures like Harry Houdini to dedicate their lives to exposing the hoaxes.
When it comes to supernatural phenomena, the burden of proof always falls on the person who claims that they can communicate with the dead or banish bad spirits. If you say that's what you can do, then that's what you're expected to do - but these fake psychics and other charlatans instead prey on the fear and grief of others to make their tricks seem believable. Here are just a few of the trickiest psychic frauds who have been making the rounds.
The most common depiction of a medium often includes a group of people sitting around a table watching a crystal ball, waiting to hear rapping sounds indicating that someone is trying to communicate with the leader of the séance.
Those rapping sounds, however, can be directly traced back to the Fox sisters - Leah, Margaret, and Kate - whose antics shaped the future of American spiritualism. As religious movements were gaining strength, the sisters discovered that they could make rapping sounds by cracking their joints, which they used to convince others that they were communing with the dead. Eventually, Margaret and Kate confessed to their trick, though Margaret recanted her confession when she hit a period of poverty later in life.
Miss Cleo was once a mainstay of the late-night infomercial circuit, promising that she'd reveal the future to callers using tarot cards and other psychic methods. In actuality, Miss Cleo was Youree Dell Harris, a woman from Los Angeles who joined the Psychic Readers Network in the late '90s. The network was later fined for fraudulent claims and billing deception, and ultimately revealed to not even be filmed live - they were delivered from a script. Though Harris herself was not indicted, she was the face of a company with serious lapses in ethics, making her one of the most visible fake psychics in history.
Sylvia Browne was one of the best-known television psychics, especially for her work with police in finding missing people. Unfortunately, most of her predictions were revealed to be completely wrong - on more than one occasion, Browne said that missing people were dead when they were later found alive.
In one particular case, she told the mother of missing girl Amanda Berry that her daughter was dead. The mother died two years later - seven years before her daughter was found alive. In fact, according to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, of the cases with conclusive endings, none of Browne's predictions were actually correct.
Uri Geller is one of the world's most famous (or maybe infamous) psychics, best known for his apparent spoon-bending ability. However, during a 1973 appearance on The Tonight Show, the host coerced Geller into using objects he selected rather than Geller's usual equipment. After spending some time contemplating the objects, he claimed that he wasn't feeling strong enough to perform his feats and called it off. Carson, the host that evening, was familiar with stage magic and had set the situation up to prevent Geller from using sleight of hand or other trickery. When Geller declined to perform without his own spoons and other objects, it was a pretty clear signal that when he wasn't in control Geller's powers seemed to mysteriously vanish.