It's one thing to dabble in tarot cards and another to make full-blown claims that you have psychic powers and start selling fortune-telling services to paying customers. The existence of psychic powers has yet to be proven by science but that hasn't stopped a number of people claiming to be psychic mediums and clairvoyants, selling services from reconnecting with dead loved ones to predicting the future. But how is all this even legal in Australia? If it's legal, does that mean anybody could set up shop as a psychic for hire? Read on to find out more.
I used to stay up very late and would often see TV ads from psychics who claim they can give me insight into my future, and they'd want to deliver it through premium charge phone calls. Besides some curious fun with tarot cards as a youngster, I've never really believed in fortune-telling and I had assumed anybody with a brain wouldn't be fooled by these charlatans.
That was until recently when I found out a good friend of mine visited a clairvoyant. She was down about her love life and wanted to find out what the future had in store for her. This is a woman who is a lecturer at a prestigious university. It made me realise psychic services had a broader appeal than I had previously imagined.
According to Anisimoff Legal, there are no legislative restrictions in advertising occult services. That's unless it involves charging fees through premium phone calls, in which case the advertiser has to "provide clearly readable information about the cost of the call, as per the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice".
The International Psychics Association, formerly known as the Australian Psychic Association, has a self-regulated Code of Ethics that specify that members are expected to abide in the code, part of which states that they shouldn't promise that they'd be 100% accurate when providing their services. However, none of this is legally binding.
You don't even have to join the association to become a psychic for hire. Currently, there are no regulations that stops anybody from claiming to be a psychic or a clairvoyant. Some occult professionals prey on vulnerable and insecure individuals by earning their trust then convincing them to hand over cash or property. In 2013, a woman lost $90,000 to a fake clairvoyant and she was just one of the many victims of the scam. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) received 125 reports of fortune-teller scams in 2012. Of those, 41 people were fleeced almost $445,000.
There has been calls for psychics and fortune-tellers to be regulated in the past few years but it seems there has still been no movement on that front. Wali Shukoor, senior criminal lawyer at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, recently looked into the legalities around the occult profession in NSW.
"[A]bsent any verifiable scientific evidence to support claims of supernatural powers, a question arises as to whether these self-proclaimed psychics are committing fraud by offering their services for a fee," he said in a blog post.
Shukoor noted that to prove fraud under section 192E of the Criminal Act 1900 NSW in court, you need to show beyond reasonable doubt that a psychic is willfully being deceptive and dishonest when providing their services or "[o]btained property belonging to another, or obtained a financial advantage, or caused financial disadvantage to another". Proving that these occult professionals are have engaged in "deception" is difficult because, according to the law: "A person does not commit an offence under this Part by a deception unless the deception was intentional or reckless".
The keywords here are "intentional" and "reckless", which are both hard to prove in court:
"On the other hand, if the prosecution were to uncover evidence to the effect that the psychic did not have a genuine belief, or at least had doubts about their powers, it may be possible for the prosecution to prove dishonesty. The difficulty, of course, is obtaining such material, and unless the psychic admits they do not have supernatural powers, prosecuting them for fraud will always be an uphill battle."
There doesn't seem to be any specific laws against psychics making unproven claims in any other states either. In Queensland, the laws around fraud contained in the Criminal Code 1899 and in the Western Australia's Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 focuses more on people who actively scam people out of money and property. Victoria has similar laws around fraud and touches on deception that is "deliberate" or "reckless".
The bottom line is, you can really only rely on yourself to ensure that you're not being taken advantage of by purported psychics and clairvoyants. If you believe in their supernatural powers, that's your prerogative, but just make sure you're not falling for a scam that will leave you out of pocket.
Scamwatch, which is run by the ACCC, has some advice on how to avoid unscrupulous psychics and clairvoyants:
- If you are approached by a psychic or clairvoyant and they tell you that you are in danger, have bad luck or are cursed, be very cautious — their solution is likely to be a scam.
- Never send any money, credit card or other personal details to these scammers, and never by email. Responding for any reason only indicates you're interested and you could end up with many more potential scam letters and emails in the future.
- If you want to engage the services of a psychic or clairvoyant, ensure you know the total cost of anything you order and exactly what you will receive. Ask if there are any conditions and ongoing or hidden costs.
- Never call a telephone number that you see in a scam email.
Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.