Con artists in ghost hunting
Other Topics

Scams and Con Artists in Ghost Hunting – What to Look for

Is that a real ghost hunter… or have they been pretending, perhaps for years?

It’s a legitimate question.

Some people look at ghost hunting, and they see gullible people. Con artists see an opportunity for financial gain, celebrity status, or power.

Sure, some people think they’re more skilled than they really are.

They’re not con artists… or they don’t start out that way.

When I talk about scammers and con artists, I mean the people who look you straight in the eye and tell you lies.

All they care about is personal or professional gain.

Here’s what to look for.

The Biggest Cons Are About Money

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, also 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.

Know the Warning Signs

  • Con artists are charming… sometimes too charming.
    They tell great stories, as if they’ve lived the kind of life you’d like to live. They seem to be successful or they look like rising stars. You 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. The larger scammers apparent entourage or fan club, the more you’re likely to believe their extravagant claims.
  • Con artists seem to have dazzling credentials.
    Their friends include famous people. Their degrees (or titles) are impressive. They talk about their past experiences, pending TV shows, and celebrity 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. The con artist knows: if you got together and exchanged stories, his lies might be exposed.

Lies Are Their Downfall

Con artists get a thrill – an adrenaline rush – each time they lie and get away with it.

They can’t stop lying for very long… and they’re often lying on a grand scale.

Check the person’s claims and credentials.

Check all of them, not just the first few that he or she mentions. (I’ll talk about the con artist as if the person is male, but there are no gender limits on scammers.)

Check These Types of Claims

Ministers

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.

Here’s one resource: the Universal Life Church

Certified

As I mentioned in my article about certified ghost hunters, “certification” only means someone or some organization issued the person a certificate.

For example, students of my free Introduction to Ghost Hunting course offers a certificate on the honor system. Anyone can print that certificate and claim that it means something… but really, it’s only as good as their sense of integrity.

Higher Education and Degrees

Some mainstream universities give honorary degrees. I’ve been awarded a few of those, myself.

It’s flattering.

There’s nothing wrong with having that kind of title, and some do require actual work to achieve the degree.

However, it’s not really a formal, four-year+ degree.

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.  A paper trail usually exists.

Diploma Mills

Some “diploma mills” offer degrees (for a fee), too.

If you’re not sure about the college or university, research them. Even if they claim to be accredited, their accreditation may be fake.

Hereditary Titles

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.

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 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.

In many countries, someone can legally change his first name to “Lord” or “Baron,” and so on. So, don’t be too impressed if the person’s driver’s license, passport, or library card shows that kind of name.

You’ll find other legitimate lists of hereditary titles if you search using phrases like “list of [country] nobility.”  Here are a few:  French nobilityLists of French noble families (in French) –  Lists of nobility (at Wikipedia)

Celebrity Connections

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.)

Cast Members and Media Appearances

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.

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.

If You Find a Con Artist, Tell Others

Fortunately, few people in ghost hunting seek a shortcut to fame or fortune… or plain old control over others, aka a “power trip.”

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. Report them to law enforcement if they may have committed crimes.

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 just 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.

19th century divider - leaf

Yes, I Was Conned

A little over 10 years ago, I was conned. I wrote this article shortly after that painful truth came to light.

Even now, I’m not sure how many people were involved.

It was a clever ruse, and I fell for it.  At the time, the guys’ claims were so extravagant. They talked about money, celebrity connections, TV appearances, and more.

I thought no one would make that up.

Then, one of them went too far.

He mentioned a connection to a noted family and – instantly – I knew he was lying. (That family was associated with a couple of families from my hometown.)

I quizzed him further, expecting him to correct the obvious error.

He didn’t. In fact, he dug himself in, even deeper. That’s when I began looking into his other claims… and everything unraveled.

In fact, one associated con artist gave the most damning evidence against the guys who’d conned me (and too many others.)

I’m still sad about what happened, but I had to speak up.

Those of us who’d trusted them… we looked foolish.

Some had lost thousands of dollars. Charges were filed against the con artists.

The tragedy is, the highest-profile member of the team was a truly gifted psychic.

He made poor personal and business choices, and that brought him down, at least in ghost hunting. (He and his partner have since reinvented themselves… twice, as of 2020.)

Since then, I’ve also learned about convicted sex offenders (be careful around strangers in dark settings) and other criminals in the ghost hunting field.

And Other Ghost Hunting Professionals Were, Too

A few years ago, professionals revealed alarming financial issues with my former manager. Thank heavens I’d stopped working with him long before his problems came to light, but I feel so very sorry for friends who lost money to him.

Please be cautious, even when the individual or team seem bright, fun, and on the brink of becoming celebrities.

Be especially wary if your “gut feeling” tells you that something’s not quite right with that person.

7 thoughts on “Scams and Con Artists in Ghost Hunting – What to Look for

  1. I found more information this morning, at the Wikipedia entry for author and researcher Robert Cialdini:

    Cialdini defines six “weapons of influence”:

    * Reciprocation – People tend to return a favor. Thus, the pervasiveness of free samples in marketing. In his conferences, he often uses the example of Ethiopia providing thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid to Mexico just after the 1985 earthquake, despite Ethiopia suffering from a crippling famine and civil war at the time. Ethiopia had been reciprocating for the diplomatic support Mexico provided when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1937.

    * Commitment and Consistency – If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement. For example, in car sales, suddenly raising the price at the last moment works because the buyer has already decided to buy. See cognitive dissonance.

    * Social Proof – People will do things that they see other people are doing. For example, in one experiment, one or more confederates would look up into the sky; bystanders would then look up into the sky to see what they were seeing. At one point this experiment aborted, as so many people were looking up that they stopped traffic. See conformity, and the Asch conformity experiments.

    * Authority – People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable acts. Cialdini cites incidents, such as the Milgram experiments in the early 1960s and the My Lai massacre.

    * Liking – People are easily persuaded by other people that they like. Cialdini cites the marketing of Tupperware in what might now be called viral marketing. People were more likely to buy if they liked the person selling it to them. Some of the many biases favoring more attractive people are discussed. See physical attractiveness stereotype.

    * Scarcity – Perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying offers are available for a “limited time only” encourages sales.

    So many of these points apply to tactics I’ve seen and heard about, lately… it’s chilling. By being aware of our vulnerabilities, we can protect ourselves from the occasional person (or people, since some of them work in tandem) who may try to take advantage of how welcoming, inclusive and supportive we are in the paranormal community.

  2. Awsome article Fiona! It’s getting really sad for paranormal researchers right now. I emailed a very popular theater near-by about an investigation. They were all for it, and I wanted to meet with the director to discuss a schedule. He didn’t reply for about a month. When I got one, he claimed he and his staff discussed that they were going to start charging 30 bucks per person as a “ghost tour”. He also made sure to include the link to the page discussing it. Ironically, it made sure to mention that the concession stand would be open. Go figure!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Scott. The combination of a difficult economy and the fact that ghost hunting is a fading fad… too many people are trying to squeeze every last cent from it. Unfortunately, that’s driving people away from ghost hunting even faster. Even some serious researchers are taking time away from this work, until the madness subsides.

      Regarding the theater: $30 a person is far better than the $1500+/night that I’ve heard requested by some locations. That said, the shoe seems to be on the wrong foot.

      If they’re putting on a show, it’s fine to charge for the entertainment. (Opening the concession stand..? That sounds like a performance, to me!)

      However, if they want serious researchers to investigate and confirm (or refute) the hauntings, the sites should be paying the researchers, not the other way around.

      It’d be like charging an entertainment fee for a doctor to examine someone, to diagnose symptoms.

      I’ll be glad when this silliness concludes, and people once again regard parapsychology as an important field of study, not a fast route to fame and fortune.

  3. Very well written ! I wish there was more info for the general public on this topic and the paranormal .People are falling victim and it makes us that have a passion for this hard to expose the field to the skeptics.

    1. Thanks, Rich!

      I wish more people would speak out about this, too. But, in some cases, they may not realize what’s going on. And, when they do figure it out… they’re embarrassed to admit that they were fooled.

      The cons can be clever. I recently read an autobiography of an aspiring ghost hunter, who may have written his story to create an authentic-sounding resume. In one chapter, he talks about his dramatic encounter with a ghost in 2001. However, when I checked his story online… well, the encounter took place, but according to others who were there, it happened in 2004. (When I see one attempt to enhance a CV/resume, I suspect that there may be others.)

      That’s the kind of subterfuge we have to look for, now. Parts of the stories will ring true, but others won’t. All I can recommend is: Check every reference, and every aspect of it.

      As of late 2009, con artists mistakenly think that there’s a lot of money to be made in this field. (They’re wrong. Those of us who are serious about paranormal research generally rely on alternate income sources, so we can provide help free of charge.)

      Once the con artists realize that this ghost hunting isn’t a get-rich-quick opportunity, they either move to another area (where their reputations aren’t so tarnished) or they leave the field altogether.

      For as long as ghost-related TV shows remain popular, I think we’ll have to deal with this kind of nonsense. It’s not just the opening that this gives to skeptics, but the number of people who lose their faith in the entire paranormal field. Too many good researchers walk away from this work, disgusted.

      Those of us who are legitimate paranormal researchers must take extreme measures to distance ourselves from those who are in the field for money, power or both. And, I think we need to speak out about it, so more people realize that many of us are sincere.

      In time, the worst of these problems will fade away. They’ll leap on the next popular trend.

      I think many of us are looking forward to that day.

  4. Fiona – Realty TV is a genre of a television show and they are filmed a certain way. Most are scripted in some form or another because the alternative is not good – leaving people to their own devises to say whatever they want. That would never do – IE: JON & KATE PLUS 8 – that memory leaves scars. But in this case of all these paranormal shows – I have grown fond of saying that they are “para-sites” and the amount of crap shows out there – Ghost Hunters included is overwhelming. We’ve stopped watching especially since some of these shows are staging their paranormal events. Money is the root of this evil – sad but true.

    1. Hi Cathy,

      It’s good to see you here! As always, your phrasing is clever; “para-sites” is a brilliant term for what’s going on with many ghost-related reality shows.

      I’m not sure what to say about some aspects of the “Ghost Hunters” show. Have you spent much time with Jason & Grant? If you have, you know they’re 100% on-the-level, so if anything is being faked for their show, they’re not part of that scam.

      But, this all adds up to why I don’t watch the ghost-related TV shows very often, except to see how bad they’ve gotten, now & then.

      The love of money — as well as greed of any kind, including just the need for attention or power — can cause people to make lesser choices. With the amount of money involved at the top of the food chains that produce TV shows… well, that’s a lot of incentive to produce popular — not necessarily good — TV shows.

      Sincerely,
      Fiona

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.