Psychic Scams Can Constitute the Criminal Offence of Fraud

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Psychic reading Scams

ScamWatch, a division of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), has announced that ‘psychic scams’ are on the rise, with a reported $555,240  extorted from Australians in 2022.

Individuals purporting to be psychics or clairvoyants will often prey on vulnerable members of the community ,including the elderly and people living with mental illness, utilising a belief in mysterious powers to defraud people out of cash.

Here’s what you need to know.

How Do Psychic Scams Work?

According to ScamWatch there are a variety of psychic scams operating Australia, all involving a ‘psychic’ or ‘clairvoyant’ approaching a person via post, email or phone, promising winning lottery numbers, a lucky charm, the removal of a curse or jinx, or ongoing protection.

The scammer promises to provide the person with psychic services for a fee or with a lucky charm or other item to ward off bad magic. This is all a facade for the scammer to convince the target to send money.

Once a person has been scammed once, they will often be put on a victim list to be approached by other scammers in the future.

The Offence of Fraud in NSW

Section 192E of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) outlines the offence of fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

To be found guilty of this offence, prosecutors must prove beyond reasonable doubt that a person, by any deception, dishonestly:

  • Obtained property belonging to another, or
  • Obtained any financial advantage from another, or
  • Caused any financial disadvantage to another.

Section 192B of the Act defines ‘deception’ as any intentional or reckless  deception, by words or other conduct, as to fact or as to law, including a deception as to the intentions of the person using the deception or any other person, or conduct by a person that causes a computer, a machine or any electronic device to make a response that the person is not authorised to cause it to make.

A deception will be ‘dishonest’ if it is dishonest to the standards of ordinary people, and is known by the defendant to be dishonest to to this standard.


Is Ever Legal To Be A Psychic?

Whilst the circumstances of most psychic scams clearly indicate both that a scammer knowingly deceived the victim, and that their behaviour is dishonest, it’s unclear whether these elements would apply to a self-described psychic who genuinely believed in their abilities but charges a fee for services.
It would be for a court to determine whether the psychic genuinely believed they were providing or service or they intentionally or recklessly deceived those who purchased the service.
Certainly a person purporting to be a psychic or clairvoyant who does so without obtaining any property or financial advantage, or causing a financial disadvantage to another would not fall within the scope of the criminal law.
Many Australian jurisdictions, including NSW, used to have a seperate criminal offence for “fortune telling” which have subsequently been repealed. These offences remain on the books in the Northern Territory and South Australia, although are unlikely to be enforced.
NSW has never been much of a safe haven for the occult-inlined. Rosaleen Norton, the infamous ‘Witch of Kings Cross, was often the target of NSW police for offences ranging from obscenity to unnatural sex acts.

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Jarryd Bartle

Jarryd Bartle is an Associate Lecturer in Criminology and Justice Studies at RMIT University and a consultant for the Bridge of Hope Innocence Initiative, which investigates claims of wrongful conviction and advocates for systemic reform to protect against miscarriages of justice.

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