Certified? What does it mean?

Certified ghost hunter? Licensed? Competent?  How do these terms affect us as ghost hunters?  The following include my answers to a reader’s questions on these topics.

The reader asked why my free Introduction to Ghost Hunting course issues a certificate.  Here’s my reply:

A certificate is just that… a certificate. It’s a piece of paper (or a digital certificate) that indicates something, usually that the person has completed a project or course of some kind.

Anyone can be “certified” if we’re talking about earning a certificate. That’s different from being licensed.

My courses include certificates of completion. If the person chooses to say that they’re “certified,” that’s is correct.  In fact, anyone can claim to be a “certified ghost hunter” if they have some training and earned a certificate.

Don’t confuse that with approval from any official board of licensing and certification… that doesn’t exist in the paranormal field.

Until paranormal expertise can be determined in a truly scientific setting, we can’t license or broadly certify someone’s skills as a ghost hunter.

In spiritual fields, dealing with subjects that — for the present — can’t be quantified.

Here’s an example: Legally speaking, someone is an “ordained minister,” whether they printed out their certificate from the Universal Life Church or graduated from Harvard Divinity School.

I’ve met devout spiritual people with certificates from the former, and nasty cynics who’ve abandoned their beliefs after graduating from Harvard.

In paranormal research, we don’t have annual licensing reviews. We’re not required to complete X number of hours of continuing education or in-service training.

However, the sooner we understand what people call “ghosts” and “hauntings,” the sooner some standardization might be possible.

Can someone be taught to find ghosts?

The reader asked if someone can be taught to find ghosts.

The answer is, no. At this point, no one can say with confidence that any ghost can be found, period.

However, we tend to use the word “ghost” when we actually mean “phenomena that many people believe may be caused by the spirit of someone who once lived.”

It’s just easier to say “ghost” so most people know what we’re talking about.

People can be taught to find and identify that kind of phenomena, but only charlatans will claim you’re actually finding ghosts.

Ghosts are different from demons

The reader asked who can tell a spirit to cross over, except experienced exorcists.

I replied:   Some exorcists may help a spirit “cross over.”I think that’s rare.

In most cases, exorcists are dealing with demons, not ghosts. They don’t care if the demon “crosses over” or crosses the street, as long as it leaves people alone.

I believe that many exorcists won’t say they’re qualified to banish ghosts or release them from this plane of existance.

Helping a “trapped” ghost involves empathy, patience, a strong sense of spirituality, and — above all — time. It involves education and a lot of experience in the paranormal field.

Do all ghost investigators want to help the ghosts?

Another reader commented about my introductory course, “I would hope that you are trying to help someone or help the ‘ghosts’.”

Not all ghost hunters are interested in actually helping clients. (From my experience, many teams are interested in studying ghostly phenomena. A few are thrill-seekers.)

Few teams pause to help ghosts, unless a team member insists on it.

hh-eastern_state_penitentiary3In a beginning ghost hunting course, your first step is to find a haunted place. Then, determine if you believe any of this, and what your specific interest are.

For many professionals, this is a scientific pursuit. It has nothing to do with “helping” ghosts.

For others, it may be entertaining. They’re playing “How many famous ghosts can you witness?”

My courses help people learn enough basics to determine if they’re truly interested in ghost hunting, after they’ve visited a few haunted places.

Should we always warn people not to trespass?

The reader suggested that I should put a warning about trespassing at the top of the first lesson.

I have a different outlook. In my course, I mention the private property issue.

A warning about trespassing appears on every page of this website, and in my ghost hunting rules/guidelines.

It’s also common sense and the law.

I’m not sure that repeating it will make much difference.Do you have an opinion about these issues? Leave a comment, below.

Scams and Con Artists – What to Look for

Scams and con artists can be in any field.

Unfortunately, ghost hunting is especially attractive to people whose primary interests are financial gain, celebrity status, or power.

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.

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.

  • Con artists are charming.
    They’re usually fun to be with. They tell great stories, and they 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.

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. (I’ll 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, four-year+ degree… that can be a problem.

Some con artists claim far loftier credentials. 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.  While that sometimes happens within weeks of when the degree is awarded, a paper trail usually exists.

It can be more difficult to verify a student’s participation in those kinds of 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.

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 nobilityLists of French noble families (in French) –  Lists of nobility (at Wikipedia)

If the person claims to have worked with or for a celebrity, you can 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.

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.

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, just so you know:  Yes, I was conned.  I wrote this article shortly after that painful truth came to light.

I’m still 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 — 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 step. 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 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 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.

Then there’s my former manager, Marc Tetlow of Ideal Event Management. Thank heavens I’d stopped working with him long before that problem came to light, but I feel so very sorry for friends who lost money to him.

(But, to be fair, I’m pretty sure I understand why Marc did what he did. That doesn’t make it okay, but… well, seeing what unfolded after Marc took off, his actions make more sense to me.)

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.

Getting Permission to Ghost Hunt

bw-pantheon-150hHere’s some advice before you ghost hunt in an apparently deserted or empty building.

What can you do when an empty home or building seems haunted?

Ghost hunters should never trespass. But, not everyone knows how to get permission to visit an empty site, and what to ask for.

EMPTY HOMES

If a home is empty, it may be owned by a ‘snowbird’. That’s slang for people who spend chilly winter months in warm locations, and return north when summer heat becomes unbearable at their second homes.

Or, the home may be for sale. If it’s been on the market for a long time, it may be neglected by the owner. Often, those owners live out of state and don’t realize how dilapidated their former home is.  Or, it might be a repossessed home, owned by a bank that just hasn’t listed the property yet.  Look for a realtor’s sign somewhere around the property.  If you don’t see one, call any local realtor and see if the house is listed by anyone.

The house may be owned by someone elderly living in a retirement community, who is unable to maintain the home but doesn’t want to let it go, either.  That’s not uncommon, especially if the house had been in the family for generations.

So, how you you get permission to investigate an empty house that seems haunted?

1. Ask the neighbors. They probably know who owns the house. A neighbor may even have contact information and a key to the house, to check on it regularly.

2. Ask the homeowners’ association. If the home is in a subdivision, there is probably a homeowners’ association. They almost always have a list of the houses, who owns each one, and complete contact information for every homeowner.

3. Ask the police.  Many ghost hunters feel intimidated by the police. This is generally a needless worry. In fact, many of my favorite haunted locations were recommended by police who’d been called to those sites repeatedly… and couldn’t figure out what caused the noises, lights, or other signs of ghosts.

If a home has been empty for awhile, the police probably know about it… and its history. They may be able to tell you who owns it, or point you in the direction of someone with that info.

4. Ask the reference librarian at the nearest public library.  He or she may know all about it.  Reference librarians are wonderful resources.

EMPTY BUSINESSES AND COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS

If a store or commercial building looks empty, look for a realtor’s sign. Do an Internet search on the exact street address; it may reveal who was there last. Check for their current address and phone number, and they may provide contact information about the landlord or the new owner of their old building.

If that doesn’t work, the research process is about the same as for an empty house.

1. Ask nearby businesses. In some cases, landlords are waiting for all of the tenants’ leases to expire, so that they can tear down the building and replace it with something better or larger.

2. Ask the Chamber of Commerce, or Convention & Visitors’ Bureau. They often know every neighborhood in commercial districts, and who owns which blocks.

3. Ask the police. Empty storefronts can be targets of vandals, and homeless people can try to use them as temporary shelters. So, the police may have information about the owners.

IF ALL ELSE FAILS

Sometimes, no one has a clue. I’ve never encountered that kind of problem, in over 30 years of research.

If a site is that difficult to research, find somewhere else to ghost hunt. Trespassing is never an acceptable alternative.

But, if you’re absolutely fascinated with an empty home or business, start with old, published “reverse” directories. They will probably turn up someone who was in the building in the past, and they may have information for you.

You can also go to the courthouse and research civil records, including tax histories, liens, and probate records. (In some areas, recent records are closed to the public unless you can prove a specific and compelling reason to access that information.)

Some courthouses charge a fee for this, some have indexed records, and some require you to contact them by mail (not email) and wait for a reply.  Call ahead. You’ll probably reach a recording telling you how to access their records.

WHAT TO ASK FOR

In most cases, you’ll want the homeowner or landlord to let you into the building and remain there while you do your research. That prevents lawsuits, especially if the site has been vandalized while it was empty. Never risk being blamed for damage that you didn’t do.

If the owner simply hands you the key, have them sign a brief permission form, along with the date and time.

The permission form should list the address being investigated, the names of the researchers who are allowed into the premises, and the date and exact hours that you are allowed to be there. The owner should sign and date this form, and you should carry it with you.

When you return the key to the owner, have him or her sign the permission form again, noting that the key was returned, and when. It’s just a receipt, in case questions are asked, later.

Never make a copy of the key. Never let another team member borrow it. Use the key for your investigation, and — if possible — return it that same day, in person.  Don’t just drop it into the mailbox at the owner’s home.  (If the owner isn’t available when you want to leave the key, take the key to the nearest police station and ask if they’ll hold it for the owner.  Do not mention ghost hunting. Say you were “interested in the building.”  They’ll assume you were looking at renting or buying it.)

There are many liabilities connected with researching in empty buildings. Generally, I advise against that kind of research. There are plenty of other, more accessible sites for investigations.

But, I have never run into a stone wall when researching an empty home or building. Usually, the neighbors are the best resource. If you knock on enough doors and talk to enough people, you’ll generally get the answers that you need.