Clairvoyance: The long road to bankruptcy
Translation by:Lara Bullens
They call themselves clairvoyants, marabouts or even healers. Behind their array of descriptions, though, is something much shadier: tens of thousands of fraud victims. An investigation of people who have got balls of crystal.
It’s 1986 in Paris, and Christine has finally decided to go for it. For the first time in her life, she’s going to see a clairvoyant. Mother of four, she has just bought an apartment with her husband, but he has just left their marital home. The situation still makes her sick. With her stomach in knots, she walks down the Rue Faubourg Saint-Martin to meet the man whose practice was featured in an astrology magazine.
A marriage, a debt
The clairvoyant takes out a tarot card deck and asks her to pay 300 Euros to guarantee the “return of her loved one.” Unable to imagine a life without a partner, she pays the amount in cash without hesitating. Like clockwork, she returns to the practice every three weeks. Be it fate or coincidence, her husband comes back on the 7th of September. The clairvoyant omits a small but important detail: Christine’s husband completely disregards his wife. “I was nothing but a stranger for him and my children,” Christine reveals. Her clairvoyant’s working method has always been a bit of a mystery. “He always said that he worked in a team, and that one day I would meet them. That never happened.” Still, the clairvoyant reassures her and repeatedly tells her that her husband’s feelings are still there. A change takes place in the beginning of 1987: “He was much more affectionate,” Christine confirms. But years go by and her financial situation intensely worsens. Somehow, she still manages to pay each consultation. She ends up filing for divorce in 2002.
Like Christine, they hoped to find the perfect partner, to see their loved ones return, or even get rich. Instead, they found themselves with empty pockets. Still, seeking help from clairvoyants is nothing out of the ordinary. On the contrary, they often unfold in the same way: creating anxiety in the patient, persuading them that they’re under a spell, camouflaging the financial compensation as an incantation and that’s that. Nowadays people have lost count of how many victims of this practice there actually are. If the INSEE [NB. National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies] “only” managed to identify 2 300 divinatory arts companies, there must be tens of thousands of clairvoyants in France taking advantage of lonely or psychologically vulnerable people.
“Imposters make up 70% to 90% of clairvoyants,” the president of the INAD [NB. National Institute of Divinatory Arts], Youcef Sissaoui, estimates. He spends his days in his huge office, making lists of all the fraudulent cases linked to the divinatory arts. Sissaoui counted over five million cases in France between 2010 and 2014. “The first victims are lonely, sick or retired people,” the 50-year-old continues. The technique is often the same: suggesting a phone consultation for a symbolic euro, and later asking for the client’s bank details. “The phone is the most favourable means of manipulation, especially for carrying out ‘ceremonial magic’, many marabouts insist.” In Africa, a marabout is a person known for their healing powers. According to Sissaoui, a consultation shouldn’t last longer than 10 minutes since the marabout already knows why the client is there. “It’s important to be wary of those that insist on taking money. It’s against their ethics,” the president of the organisation warns.
Marie-Ange, Channel and Canal +
These “brouteurs” (meaning “grazers” in French), as he calls them, can be found en masse on online platforms such as marabouts.com, Wengo or Cosmoplace. The prices can reach 700 Euros per month for private consultations. “Which doesn’t prevent people from becoming addicts,” Youcef Sissaoui explains. Platforms like Wengo earn impressive amounts of money, and this specific site offers both consulting and clairvoyance services. “After a painful emotional separation, I fell for Wengo’s ‘trap’. This addiction cost me over 5000 Euros, not to mention the false hope they gave me,” this type of criticism can be found in the ‘comments’ section of the company’s website. You can also find testimonials from past collaborators: “When I was working on this platform, I was disgusted by their system, which takes advantage of the consultant’s distress,” a clairvoyant on the INAD website said, claiming she quit her job because she didn’t want to be seen as a crook. “Wengo is a cash cow. It belongs to the Vivendi group. It acts like a realy lobby,” Youcef adds.
Online clairvoyance is not the only place for imposters, there are some amongst the clairvoyants who offer consultations in person. Sonia*, victim of a fraud that cost her 19,000 Euros, agreed to bear witness for Cafébabel. It all started on the 29th of April, when she was walking around a mall in Créteil: “A woman came up to me and told me that a curse had been put on my mother,” the young woman explains. Intrigued, she pays 30 Euros to know more.
The clairvoyant, who pretended to go by the name of Marie, tells Sonia that she has a mental block when it comes to men. Unmarried and without children, Sonia thinks it’s a sign. In the middle of the conversation, the clairvoyant announces that it will cost Sonia 1000 Euros to lift the curse on her mother. “She won my trust and reassured me by taking my phone number. She kept telling me not to worry, and that she would call me soon.” Sonia wasn’t entirely convinced, but ended up giving her 400 Euros. That same evening, the clairvoyant calls her client and puts her in touch with a colleague–Marie-Ange–whose French is more advanced. She suggests a phone consultation to start with. The three women decide to set up meeting for the next day. They ask Sonia to bring a list of all her valuables so that they can carry out a ritual with these belongings. At this point, no financial demands were being made.
A few days later, the two clairvoyants announce that someone wanted to hurt her mother and has buried something in a cemetery. What’s more, this person has been sleeping on their own valuables. “That’s when they asked me how much I would give to save my family,” she confesses. Marie-Ange takes matters into her own hands and tells Sonia that she’s used to collaborating with Lourdes (the town) and Father Antonio “who later told me, when it was too late, that he never did this type of work,” the young woman says regrettably. But she trusts them. “They are clairvoyants and they are elderly women. I can trust them,” she tells herself, before announcing to the two women that she has 19,000 Euros in her account. It’s from this day on that the harassing began. “They would call me every day and ask me if I had taken out money, forbidding me to speak about it with anyone until the ‘healing’ process was complete,” she says.
Once the money was paid in cash, a trusting relationship was established between the three women. “They even took me to a restaurant,” she says, surprised. The clairvoyants even ask her for her bank cards. Sonia gives them one. Much to her surprise, her account is littered with payments made in stores that are atypical for clairvoyance: Yves Rocher, Chanel and Hermès. A few payments later the young woman decides to make a complaint. “I stayed in touch with the women, because the police asked me to. Today I am banned from opening a bank account and have 20,000 Euros in debts,” Sonia admits. She never managed to reveal the scammer’s identities. Judicial proceedings are therefore impossible.
“There are no check-ups or security measures when it comes to the divinatory arts,” Youcef Sissaoui confirms. Until the 1st of March 1994, clairvoyance was seen as a criminal offense. Since the law was abolished, clairvoyance is no longer controlled. “Clairvoyants use fake names to avoid being tracked.” The president of the INAD is referring to countless cases in which the government tried to intervene. Not knowing what to do, Sonia decides to contact INAD and ask for help. The organisation, having many lawyers at their disposal, helps victims find solutions and take legal action. “We write a report to the prosecutor and hand the case over to our lawyers. There is a legal procedure that begins if the the swindler refuses to reimburse the victim,” Youcef explains.
Strangely enough, when taking a look at the INAD website in detail, you see that there is a directory for professionals in the divinatory arts recommended by the organisation itself. You can find clairvoyants, psychics, healers, numerologists and tarot card readers. “Here, fraud is impossible. Each practitioner is committed to honour and has signed the ethical charter,” Youcef explains, saying he has no connections to these people. The charter was officially recognised by the Finance Minister, even if they don’t receive subsidies. “We do our work voluntarily. The only money we get is from donations,” he explains.
After the death of her ex-husband, Christine decided to take action. She turned to Youcef Sissaoui’s organisation. “I kept all of my bank statements and handed them over to INAD,” she says proudly. The president of the organisation got in touch with the swindler and encouraged the victim to file a complaint to get reimbursed. Christine just recently sent 1060 Euros to INAD to try and defend her case. In total, she spent close to 20,000 Euros for consultations since 2002, and 50,000 since she met the clairvoyant 30 years ago. Although he is used to seeing the future, the clairvoyant didn’t see this coming; he is now being tried for fraud.