11 Famously Dubious Mediums, Psychics, And Supernatural Investigators

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.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

  • The Fox Sisters Kicked Off Victorian Spiritualism

    The Fox Sisters Kicked Off Victorian Spiritualism
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    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's High-Cost Deceptions Were Discovered By The FBI
    Video: YouTube

    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's False Predictions Leave Parents Grieving
    Video: YouTube

    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's Spoon-Bending Exposed On Late Night TV

    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.

  • Mina Crandon Exposed By Famed Magician Harry Houdini

    Mina Crandon Exposed By Famed Magician Harry Houdini
    Photo: S. R. Morgan. / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Harry Houdini, the famed American magician, began his investigation into the supernatural shortly after the death of his mother in the 1920s. Consumed with grief, he attended numerous séances in an attempt to contact his mother; however, with each one he attended he quickly discovered the tricks and sleight of hand being used by the self-proclaimed mediums. 

    From that point on, Houdini made it one of his life goals to discredit and debunk exploitative mediums. Then, in 1923, he encountered Mina Crandon - who was being considered by Scientific American magazine to be a true medium. To test her skills, Houdini developed a fraud-proof cabinet for her to perform with, and promptly discredited her when she failed.

  • Tyler Henry Recounts Wikipedia To Celebrities

    Tyler Henry Recounts Wikipedia To Celebrities
    Photo: Matthew Libassi / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Hollywood Medium's Tyler Henry gets by with his youthful good looks and odd habit of scribbling on paper to focus his psychic energy, but this modern-day medium is merely a skillful cold-reader and, most importantly, a Google-fanatic.

    Though Henry claims to know nothing about the celebrities whose deceased loved ones he calls upon, almost every fact he reveals on the show can be easily searched for. And if it isn't easily searched, the celebs in question often don't know what he's talking about. We have only Henry's word to go on that he doesn't use Google, and with his predictions always involving celebrities who are under significantly more public scrutiny than the average person, it's hard to believe that he's the real deal.