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Religious and Supernatural Frauds

If someone can convince us they have supernatural powers or some privileged connection to God, they are very dangerous, since this gives them great leverage in acquiring our money by playing on our fears and emotions.

Houdini and mediums who claimed to contact the dead

Houdini, the famous magician and escape artist was very interested in the possibility of contacting the dead, especially after his mother died. Mediums who performed sťances to contact the dead were common at that time, so he tried many of them in hopes of contacting his mother. Unlike most people who went to mediums, Houdini was an expert in magic and the techniques for fooling people. Although he searched far and wide, every medium he encountered turned out to be a phony.

Fortune tellers

Fortune telling of various sorts has been a popular way for the unscrupulous to make money. If a client is wealthy, a popular ploy is to tell them they are in grave danger but there is a way to avoid it, although there are expenses involved, such as extra sessions and magical candles that must be burnt. Naturally they are strung along as long as possible with the price increasing to ever higher amounts.

Fortune telling techniques

People are often amazed at the knowledge of palm readers and others who claim to have psychic powers. Typically these people are skilled at making vague suggestions, often in the form of questions, and being very attentive to pick up clues about their client. They might ask "Are you fond of pets?". If the client says yes, they reply "Yes, I could sense that.", while if the client answers no, they might say "I didn't think so." An unsuspecting client might not realize that there was no prediction made here at all. Other techniques involve noticing details of clothing, speaking style, and the nature of friends that may accompany the client in order to improve the likelihood of impressing the client with correct statement about them.

Faith Healers: The Wheelchair Trick

Some dishonest faith healers will invite people in wheelchairs to stand up on the stage to show a miracle of healing. When they successfully stand, the crowd understandably believes the healer has demonstrated healing powers. One way this can be accomplished, as observed by the magician and debunker James Randi, starts off with careful preparation as the crowds arrive at the meeting place. Anyone who actually arrives in a wheelchair is directed to a location in the back of the auditorium, well out of sight of most attendees. When someone arrives who has a limp or other minor walking problem, the healer's assistants insist that they take a wheelchair provided by the healer and sit near the front. The healer knows that those in the specially provided wheelchairs are actually able to walk, and that they will be able to stand when he asks them to. Those who do the standing aren't given an opportunity to say they were able to walk beforehand. They assume the healer has made an honest mistake, while the rest of the crowd is amazed by his healing power.

Faith Healers: Divine Knowledge

Healers sometimes like to amaze their audience by knowing information about selected individuals, like name and address and the nature of an illness, that seems like it must have been received directly from God. Typically the information is gathered by the healer's assistants beforehand, perhaps by asking them to fill out "prayer cards" which are then collected. The healer, who has been trained in memorization techniques, is shown the necessary information which he later uses to wow the crowd. In one case, James Randi exposed such a healer who was receiving radio transmissions to a fake hearing aid he was wearing. An accomplice was sending him detailed information that had been gathered from people in the audience.