Scams and con artists exist in many fields.
Unfortunately, ghost hunting is especially attractive to people whose primary interests are financial gain, celebrity status, or power. (As of 2017, the same is true in all fields of paranormal research.)
I’m not talking about people who mistakenly think they’re more skilled than they really are.
I mean the people who look you straight in the eye and tell you lies for personal or professional gain. They smile and they’re charming, but they’re not really your friends.
If you join a group with a self-styled guru, or a con artist works his (or her) way into your circle of friends, here’s what to look for.
The first rule is: Never give or loan money to anyone without getting a signed, dated receipt. (It’s a good idea to have a long-time, trusted friend as a witness, as well.)
I don’t care how nice the person seems. If it’s a loan, have the terms in writing before you give the person anything.
And, never give or loan money that you can’t afford to lose.
Keep your money safe. Then, look for other signs of a scam or a con artist.
Signs of a Con Artist
- Con artists are charming.
They’re usually fun to be with. They tell great stories, and seem to have lived the kind of life you’d like to live. They appear to be successful or they look like rising stars. Around them, you may feel like you have a connection with greatness.
- Con artists collect friends as quickly as possible.
This is partly because they’ll lose so many friends, as people become suspicious. But, the larger their apparent entourage or fan club, the more you’re likely to believe their extravagant claims. You won’t know that dozens (or hundreds) of friends and fans have been deceived, too.
- Con artists seem to have dazzling credentials.
Their friends are famous people. Their degrees (or titles) are impressive. They talk about their past experiences and celebrity connections, pending TV shows, and events they’re planning. Their claims are so extravagant, you think, “Who’d make this up?”
- Con artists separate people so they don’t swap notes.
A con artist leads you to believe that you’re one of the only people he likes and trusts. He says he doesn’t trust this person and then that one. Following his advice, you’ll stay away from them, even if you used to be good friends. The con artist knows that, if you all got together and exchanged stories, his lies might be exposed.
The con artists’ larger-than-life claims lead to their downfall. They simply can’t stop lying for very long… and they’re often lying on a grand scale.
Verify Their Claims
It’s vital to check the person’s claims and credentials.
Check all of them, not just the first few that he or she mentions. (In this article, I talk about the con artist as if the person is male. However, female con artists can be just as prevalent as male con artists.)
Types of claims
Let’s say that he claims a degree or a title, such as ‘doctor’ or ‘reverend’. Ask what kind of degree (or title) it is, and where it came from. Anyone can become a legally ordained minister, for little or no expense, through the Universal Life Church and similar organizations, such as http://www.themonastery.org/?destination=ordination
Some mainstream universities give honorary doctorates, etc., as well.
I’ve been awarded a few of those, myself. It’s flattering. (I mean, really, would you turn down that kind of recognition…?)
There’s nothing wrong with having that kind of title, and some do require actual work to achieve the degree.
However, when that kind of credential is represented as a formal, years-of-study degree… that can be a problem.
If it’s a degree from a university, check the university’s alumni records office. Ask if the person is a graduate of the school, college or program. (Many schools proudly post an online list of some of their former registered students and graduates. In some cases, you can also use classmates directories, online, for more information.)
Please note that many universities offer extension school courses, online study, and other legitimate educational opportunities that can lead to a degree.
However, to receive a degree from that institution, most (not all) students must be formally accepted to a degree program. If it’s a real degree, a paper trail exists.
But, it can be more difficult to verify a student’s participation in alternate study opportunities, if a degree has not yet been awarded.
If someone claims a British (or other) hereditary title, check Wikipedia. It lists the qualified holders of hereditary titles, including their actual surnames, and when the title was created.
People in the U.S. — and other countries where formal titles aren’t awarded — can be dazzled by claims to a real title. Always check the person’s credentials, no matter what their IDs say.
Fake IDs are available everywhere, and con artists know that a convincing fake ID is a smart investment.
So, if the person claims to have a title, look it up.
For example, here’s one page at Wikipedia, listing people who hold the British title of Marquess: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_marquessates_in_the_peerages_of_the_British_Isles
If the person’s title is vague but you know their legal surname, David Beamish maintains a list of members of the United Kingdom peerage from 1801 to the present day, and he has indexed it.
It’s online at http://website.lineone.net/~david.beamish/peerages_az.htm and other pages at that website. You’ll also want to check Wikipedia’s list of the Peerage of England.
You’ll find similar lists if you search using phrases like “list of [country] nobility.” Here are a few: French nobility – Lists of French noble families (in French) – Lists of nobility (at Wikipedia)
Also, even on a real ID card, you may see a fake title. The person may have changed his name, legally, to “Lord ______” or “Duke ______.” (Yes, I know someone who actually did that.)
So, check public records. Real titles are recorded, not just as a name, but with the honours bestowed.
If the person claims to have worked with or for a celebrity, confirm that. Find the official website of the celebrity, and contact the person’s manager or press agent. Ask if the celebrity has worked with the person who’s making the claim.
If the person claims to have been a paranormal investigator for many years, there should be clear evidence of that, online. Even if the person didn’t have his own website, other people will have mentioned the person, at least in reference to a case, a “ghost story,” or an investigation.
You can see how long ago they registered their domain name by using a WhoIs lookup.
(I’m not being critical of people who are new to the field; many are excellent researchers. This article is about lies that reveal a con artist.)
If someone suggests that they’ve been on a TV or radio show, or appeared on stage, check that online. Go to the show’s official website and search for the person’s name.
(Remember that anyone can add a comment after an article or in a forum, making it appear that someone was in a show. You’re looking for official cast lists and official lists of guest stars.)
A claim may seem harder to verify if the show was cancelled years ago. It’s not that difficult. In most cases, show information remains online for years, even decades after the show is all but forgotten.
The following are a few older ghost-related TV shows sometimes used as references. This kind of “reality” show became so popular, a complete list would be very long.
Some con artists prefer to claim they were on shows so old, it’s difficult to find a reliable list of cast, crew, and guest stars. The following links may help, and some shows include full cast lists at IMDb.
- Ghost Hunters. (See TAPS official website.)
- Ghost Hunters International (includes a full cast list).
- Most Haunted [UK] (The cast list is also at Wikipedia.)
- Paranormal State.
- Dead Famous.
- MTV ‘Fear’ (different from ‘Fear Factor’).
- VH1 ‘Celebrity Paranormal’.
Every major ghost-related TV show and movie is represented by at least one webpage or website. If all else fails, check IMdB and Wikipedia, or contact the original production company.
The truth will set you (and maybe a few other people) free.
These are just a few claims that people make, seeking a shortcut to fame or fortune… or plain old control over others, aka a “power trip.”
Thanks to the Internet, almost any person’s claims and credentials can be verified using independent sources.
Don’t assume that the person is “too nice” to lie to you, or their friends are too bright to be conned. The more impressive the person’s stories and claims, and the more convincingly they tell them… the more you must verify them, independently.
If the person is a con artist, it’s better to find out early. Thankfully, scams and con artists are a tiny minority. (To quote the movie, Grease, “They’re amoebas on fleas on rats.”)
Avoid them when you can.
Though it’s important to be watchful for scams and con artists, it’s also important to keep things in perspective.
The vast majority of people who work in paranormal fields are like you. They’re kind, sincere and genuine. You’ll meet many of them at events, investigations, and in the field. They deserve your friendship and admiration, and they make ghost hunting even more personally rewarding.
This article is part of my free, four-part course, Introduction to Ghost Hunting.
And yes, I was conned. I wrote the original version of this article in 2009. It was shortly after some painful truths came to light.
It was fun-fun-fun working with an apparently gifted psychic… until I started questioning some of his team’s claims.
To my absolute dismay, I learned that at least two of the guys were lying. (I’m still not sure how many people were involved.)
It was a clever ruse, and I fell for it. At the time, their claims were so extravagant — about money, celebrity connections, TV appearances, and more — I thought no one would make that up.
Then, one of them went too far.
He took one outrageous story to the next level. As soon as he made the comment, I knew it wasn’t true. I quizzed him further, expecting him to correct the obvious error.
He didn’t. In fact, he doubled-down. He dug himself in, even deeper. That’s when I began looking into his other claims… and everything unraveled.
I’m still sad about what happened. I had to speak up.
The team members’ reputations were destroyed, and those of us who’d trusted them… we looked foolish.
As time went on, I learned that a few others in their circle had shady backgrounds. (One of them was the person who delivered the most damning evidence against the guys who’d been lying… and then that guy turned out to be a con artist and cheat, as well.)
Along the way, many good people had been deceived. Some had lost thousands of dollars. Charges were filed against the con artists.
The tragedy is, the highest-profile member of the team was truly gifted. He didn’t have to fake anything, to impress me with his psychic abilities. He made poor business choices, and that brought him down.
Since then, I’ve learned about convicted sex offenders and other criminals in the ghost hunting field.
(Sex offenders can take advantage in dark locations, even if you’re part of a team or tour. If you’re touched inappropriately, or someone seems predatory, speak up immediately.)
Be cautious, even when the individual or team seem bright, fun, and on the brink of becoming celebrities.