Susan Gerbic POI

The Secret Sting Operation to Expose Celeb Psychics with Susan Gerbic

April 04, 2019

On this week’s episode of Point of Inquiry, we are thrilled to have friend of the Center for Inquiry, Susan Gerbic to talk about the recent New York Times featured story that detailed Gerbic and her team’s work exposing celebrity psychics. Kavin Senapathy and Gerbic also explore why exposing fake psychics and mediums is important, the methodologies Gerbic and her team employ in these kinds of sting operations, how psychics performed hot reads before the days of the internet (and exactly what a hot read is), and the issues that arise from companies giving mediums and psychics platforms.

Susan Gerbic is the cofounder of Monterey County Skeptics and a self-proclaimed skeptical junkie. Susan is also founder of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project. She is a frequent contributor to Skeptical Inquirer (CSICOP) and Skepticality Podcast. She is the winner of the CSI In the Trenches Award from 2012, James Randi Award for Skepticism in the Public Interest 2013. In 2018, Susan founded and manages About Time a non-profit organization focusing on scientific skepticism and activism.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

Hi, everyone. It’s me, your PMI co-host, Kavin Senapathy. We have a special episode this week. I talked to a longtime friend of CFI, Susan Berbick, about the sting operations. She’s led to expose celebrity skeptics. 

A couple of the more interesting questions we touched on include what the goals and intentions are when it comes to exposing these guys. Is it to educate the public or the sheer satisfaction of holding quack’s feet to the fire? And what do Facebook stock accounts have to do with all of it? The answers might just surprise you. 

Hi, everyone. I’m super excited to be speaking today with perhaps the biggest skeptical junkie I know. Susan Gerbi, thanks so much for joining us, Susan. 

Oh, it’s so great to be here in point of inquiry. I’m a longtime listener. 

Right. Well, Susan is the founder of the Gorilla Skeptics on Wikipedia project. She’s a columnist and she’s a very active, skeptical activist. So she’s got a whole lot going on. But today in particular, we’re talking about an amazing feature story that just came out in New York Times magazine. And the story takes us inside the secret sting operations to expose celebrity psychics. And we’ll link to all of this in the show notes. 

But, Susan, first, congratulations on the successful sting operation that we’ll get into here shortly. I know you’re a longtime listener and this is, of course, the Skeptics podcast, but some of my listeners aren’t necessarily diehard skeptics. So could you briefly talk a bit about how psychics use cold reading and compare that to the newer hot reading? 

Terrific. Well, we’ve always been doing hot readings, but I can explain how that’s changed over time. Cold reading is when you are meeting face to face with someone or maybe over the Internet or over the phone with someone and you’re making assumptions about that person. So we always cold read. You know, there’s always been a there’s never been a time where we’re not cold reading somebody. We’re just meeting your or even a friend of ours. You’re looking at them and you see that they look depressed or you look like they have their hair. It’s just been done. And those are all kinds of cold reads. You’re learning things about them while looking at them and making assumptions. The idea behind Cold Reads is, is that we’re all more alike than we are different and generalities about us are all very similar. So if I was to look at a woman who was in her 60s, I can probably assume that her grandmother is or at least one of her grandparents has died, if not all four of them. We also know they have four grandparents. We all have that kind of simonet similarity. So if I was to meet with somebody and do a cold read, I might say I’m getting an older father figure. Does that mean anything to you? And then what I’ve just done is I’ve opened up the door to not only the grandparents, but to the great grandparents, to other father figures who could be in your life like a teacher, an uncle, a step parent or something of that sort. So a hot read is whenever we have information about them ahead of time. And that is very easy to gain. One of the things that people tell me all the time with the work that I do with the psychics and the mediums is they say there’s no way they could have known that about me. And I look at them and I say, if I only had a dollar for every time somebody who said that my house would be paid off and I’d be living in a mansion, because there’s many ways that people can know about you. And just because you personally don’t know how it was done does not mean it wasn’t a trick. So a hot read would be something like. Maybe somebody has told somebody about you, like you’re going to go see a psychic and you’re going to go see a psychic that your sister normally goes to when your sister is recommending, she’s totally unaware of the fact that she has given that psychic a bunch of information about you already. She’ll say, you know, my sisters are going to come and see you. Oh, she is just she’s just devastated. Because her husband, she thinks her husband’s cheating on her and she’s got four kids and she doesn’t know what to do. So when you sit down in front of that psychic. Well, the psychic certainly knows you. You knows a lot more about you than than you realize. You think they don’t know anything about me. Another thing I hear a lot is people say, well, none of this information about me is on Facebook. So therefore, he could not have been looking at my Facebook page because I’m not on Facebook or whatever. It’s like there’s so many other things by the information. They don’t have to be on Facebook. Somebody goes to read with a person and then they go back a few weeks later and then they get more information of the psychic. Well, you’ve just been hot read the first time. The first they’re reading, they’re just repeating back to the things they found out the first time. The psychic probably went off to the side and made notes and said, OK, this person said that they had this and they had that. So let me quickly mentioned that we’ve been doing hot reads in the psychic world for years, while not me. But for example, before we had the Internet, before we had computers, people may have a psychic performer. Well, a psychic medium would come to a town, a small town somewhere. And before that psychic medium got to the town. Well, maybe they would send somebody out who would come to the town, sit around in the pub, listen to the gossip, you know, look at the obituaries in the paper, go out to the cemetery, see who had recently been buried, and then they would go back, give the information to the medium. And then the media would come to town and be able to get all kinds of information about the tragedies, the gossip and so on. That had happened in the town where we’re talking, small towns, few hundred people. And so if even if the widow wasn’t in the the auditorium during the reading, it would get back to her. And everybody in the audience obviously knew what we’re talking about. So there’s many, many, many ways to do it. And it’s been done for four since men tried to take advantage of another man. 

Right. So I guess Facebook is just one of the newer, newest, little easier. Yeah. So I, of course, want to get right into the sting operation. But can you first give us a quick overview of Thomas John? 

This is the medium that that was exposed by the sting operation that was covered in New York Times magazine. Now, I’ve seen his lifetime show, which is called Seat Belt Psychic. Described as, quote, Cash Cab meets Long Island Medium. And they’re from the producers of Carpool Karaoke, which I didn’t realize I was. I was shocked to read that he is Thomas. John is booked for over a year out. And for the low, low rate of eight hundred dollars an hour for reading. So, I mean, it’s clear that this isn’t just benign entertainment, right? 

Absolutely. What I that’s the first I’ve heard that he was with cash, that it’s the same people who do the cash, quick cash cab, karaoke or whatever. You decide to carpool, carry on. 

Yeah, I guess I don’t follow the Tsingtao. 

I guess I just learned about Lip-Sync. 

Some panel that I just learned about that the other day that I watch that while I work out. Oh my gosh. 

How funny. So let me just also clear something up. So these these lines that they have of over a year, that may not necessarily be true. What happens is people, you know, because, of course, who you’re hearing it from the media. So what they do is they they inflate their list of how long the list is to be on. And there’s you get on the list. And then you’ll get a call somewhere. You know, when that when the psychic needs to pay his rent and heels and somebody will tell you his assistant will tell you, you know, we’ve got an opening. We got to cancel later today or tomorrow. Did you want to talk to your your son this week? If so, we can move you up and line. It’ll just be an additional two hundred dollars from the reading. And this happens all the time so that they can. They can. 

There’s no real long list. It’s as you know, they just got to get to. You know, it’s all it’s all a con. And we have to remember the source they’re giving you. This information does not mean it’s actually real, but it makes them look better, makes them look. I mean, if somebody said, oh, I’m a psychic medium, I’m amazing. I charge eight hundred dollars an hour and nobody’s in line to where I could get you in this afternoon. 

I can get you in this afternoon. 

Absolutely. So, you know, he may have a your waiting. I don’t know. He works very hard. I get an e-mail from him every day giving me a discount if I was to to sign up with one of his readings or his shows or his TV or, you know, whatever, he’s got lots going on. He seems to be very busy. 

Well, that’s interesting. I didn’t even consider that. See. Anyway, so the sting operations, the Times journalist Jack Hint followed you and your team. Right. And your team scattered all across the country and across the world. Yes. And the journalists followed you on to sting operations, right. Which you dubbed Operation Peach Pit and Operation Pizza Roll. He was only in Peach Pit. He was only a Peach Pit. OK. The story does go into pizza roll. But he he was only observing you during Peach Pit, right? Absolutely. And it all started with the cultivation of a handful of Facebook stock accounts. And I have one stock account myself. And after hearing about yours, like, I know she’s totally mediocre, but I use the stock account primarily to observe old men and alternative parenting groups on Facebook to see what’s going on and what the trends are. But your team’s SOC accounts, just like I said, blow mine out of the water. So how did how did all of this go down? Tell me how it happened and how you how you cultivated these accounts. 

So we’ve had talk puppet accounts for years. We used to try to get into ghost hunting groups. And I think we’ve also used him to look at anti-tax groups and so on. I’m I’m sure that everybody’s probably who’s an activist like you or I would be using these things. I mean, it’d be silly not to. And we don’t even have to just use Facebook. You can use Twitter or Instagram or all other kinds of social media to do that. Well, and I you know, I personally have probably only 10 emails that I can use for various purposes as well that can’t, you know, if somebody is going to normally trace back to Susan Gerbi. And so we brushed off these Facebook groups we’ve been using for years. So they have a long history and we have a bunch of them and we keep getting more people will donate them. I mean, golly, you know what? I’ve got an account. I haven’t used it in years. You know, it’s got a long history. Do you want it? We’ll take it. And we just clean off the information we don’t want. We change the photos. We change the person’s name. We’re at a new. We have a new Facebook page. So we’re really invisible, although it’s not like we’re going to be the spammers that come up on your your account. Looks like they’ve just been existing for, like, you know, a week and then they fringe, you know, hours or you can’t tell us apart from my normal Facebook page. So what happens? What happened was I Mark Edward, who’s my partner, he and I have been really active in the skeptic community, especially in psychics, because he’s an expert on psychics or I should also call mediums. A medium is a person who claims they can speak to the dead psychics. Psychic is not necessarily a medium. Those are more like people who do tarot. Who do palmistry, you know, crystal ball reading. Those are psychics. 

But whenever they go into the medium area, that’s whenever they claim they can speak to the dead. So what Mark Edward is an expert on mediumship. He’s an expert on science. And he’s a performer, is a mentalist. So he knows all the tricks. And mentalism is very similar to the medium world in the psychic world. So, you know, having him on the team, we kind of really know how it’s all done. And so we let’s see. So we started Operation Bumblebee, which is a sting. I tried to catch Chip Coffey in Who’s the psychic kids guy. He goes way back. So we tried to catch him on a hot read and we went to a show in Santa Fe and L.A. and that was Operation Bumblebee. All of this, you guys, is on my Web site. Suzanne Gribbin, dot org or R.G.. So all of everything we’ve done, we’ve written up about and it’s all on the Web site with so you can look at it. We were really detailed. So it is much as you want to know, it’s all there. OK. So then we couldn’t catch Chip coffee. We caught him cold reading. We did catch him hot reading, but we don’t have it on audio. So we did to be fair, we couldn’t really. It’s our word against his. Right. Then we went and we took the Facebook pages and we used moved him over to do a phone reading. And we picked a person who is endorsed by James Bond prog. Now, if somebody is indorse, if a psychic’s endorsing another psychic, then that kind of says that, you know, he should know better. So we were trying to catch this one person. We we it was Operation Pizza Roll. It was a paid reading over the phone. We created fake Facebook pages that look absolutely real back and forth, put together a Lobert story of a woman who wanted to see her son speak to her son, who died when he was 13. And we contacted the psychic over the Internet to get a phone reading and, you know, make sure it’s OK to record. And and each time we’re doing that, we’re putting the Facebook page in front of the psychic so he can click on our Facebook page and read about the history of this woman and all her friends and all the things they’ve been talking about for for a while. Mm hmm. And we did a phone reading with him and turns out he was a cold reader. He didn’t touch the Facebook pages, which was really strange. Oh, that must be his thinks. And some people don’t. They just cold read. And he was he just cold read like crazy. It was crazy the stuff he came up with, but they were it was nothing to do with the the person who was being read. And I need to point out this. This is blinded. So the person who was being read for which is hit, Heather Henderson, she had no idea what was on that Facebook page. It that the access to that the psychic had access to. His name is Tim B are a u h in. I think so. That’s Operation Ice Cream Cone. And it’s also up on the on my Web site. And you can listen to the full audio of the full reading if you’re interested in. OK. So fast forward. I said. All right, let’s try another one. And we pick Thomas John because he came up on somebodies Facebook page as an advertisement in L.A. and I just she said, how about this guy? He’s in L.A.. I said, OK, let’s try him. Now, Mark has been working with Jack hit on in the past, and Jack had his own New York Times magazine writer. And he’s also a prolific writer. He’s a wonderful writer. And he had told Mark a long time ago, if you ever catch a psychic and a hot sting. I want to do a story on it. So we said. Well, hacked, get into The New York Times, I’ll put together another one. 

So. We put together this sting. 

Thomas, John, I didn’t know anything about him. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time because he was in L.A. and I knew that I was going to go down to L.A. and we only had 10 days for when I found out about him to the time we went with Chip Coffey. We spent maybe six months prepare while ice cream cone. We spent several months preparing also. Those are very time consuming endeavors to do because it’s not just about your Facebook page looking, having all the information on it, but the information about wanting to go to a psychic or about the things you want to know has to be at the top of your feed. So I can’t write about, you know, my dear brother who I want to reach out to or my son who I want to reach out to. I can’t have that at the very bottom of my Facebook feed. It has to be at the top. So you have the time it so that it appears right at the time you’re going to go see like it. 

And it’s really it’s really time. So it’s like dangling a carrot right before you go. Yeah, right before you go. But you have to have a history. So the page has to look active all that time. 

So you got to be talking about your your life and keeping the page active up until the time you plant the bait. 

So. So with Thomas John. 

We created these fake but fake Facebook pages a lot, and we already have, we just cleaned them off. Change pictures. And I said, Mark and I’ll go to this one because Mark and I hadn’t done one of these for a while, so. And Mark, Mark is kind of known. He’s a famous person. 

So he he was known. And I thought, well, I don’t know if I should let Mark go to this. They might catch him. I mean, Chip Coffey knows who he is and other people know who he is. He’s been on TV many times concerning psychics. I said, all right, let’s go as husband or wife will go as Susanna and Mark Wilson. And we I told the group I called it Operation Pizza Roll, and I asked people on Facebook who wants to help out. And some of the people who were already on the other stings helped out. And they’re all over the world. And we formed a fake faith enough fake, a secret Facebook group, and we talked about the rules and my goals. And I said, we’re not going to reveal ourselves at this at the event. We’re going to be giving the psychic money. And it might be a lot of money. We may even make the people in the audience believe more because we’re going to go along with whatever the psychic says. So it’s going to look like we’re really accurate. And those people in the audience may just go, oh, my gosh, he’s really the real deal. And I said, we’re going to lie. 

And a couple of the other operations before Operation Bumblebee, an ice cream cone, some of the skeptics in our community were very upset and very uncomfortable with us lying to us like, believe it or not. So we’re here, like, really? You’re upset. They were lying to a psychic. Okay. You don’t understand that they’re lying to. Right. OK, well, they said there should be more ethical ways of going about it, OK? Have lied. And we’re like, will you try that? I’m going to do my thing and let me know how your event goes. And we’ve not really heard from them. They’re not doing anything, obviously. OK. So I made that all clear to the team and then I said, all right. Mark and I are going to be the ones they’re going to attend this event. You already know who we are. So I want you to create characters that are nothing like us. In other words, I have two sons. So we didn’t want them to create characters. The my character, to have two sons, that kind of thing, because we don’t want to be too close to our own personality. Right. So they created these fake pages and wove a story together, checking into different places in the L.A. area because that’s where we knew we were going to go to see this psychic, Thomas John, and talking about their day at work and oh, God, I’ve never even really looked at all the pages in depth. I haven’t looked at them because Mark and I were locked out of that secret secret group where they were discussing this. OK, so we don’t know what they were doing. We really had no information whatsoever. But they interacted with each other for about eight days or so. And really, you know, going at it. And they created personas for us and we gave them some photos of us that weren’t really Google global, you know, and they were kind of of a sort of not super clear, you know, maybe at a distance or something. 

And then they wove the stories together. And then on the day before Mark and I went, they told us who we want our identities and what we were looking for. 

And what they did is they I bought the tickets to go see Thomas John as VIP tickets. One hundred and sixty one dollars a person. You have to get VIP. If you’re going to do these things, you’re not going to get anywhere if you’re paying 50 bucks in the back row. He wants to hook you. He wants to get the people who are already who have the money. So Rohit Marken I did is we came as husband, a wife with fake wedding bands, and we dressed like we were had a little money, not, you know, completely cheap, but like we had some cash. Not like we were destitute or anything. And so we wore things that would make us look like we could beat Cold Red because we didn’t know if he was going to hot Ritas or cold Redus. So, for example, I have no real ties to Scotland. My family’s from Slovenia. And what we did is I wore a big pin with a thistle on it. So it looked like I was from Scotland or had something to a Scotland. And Mark were up, Ken from the Marines. And he has nothing to do with the Marines. He has nothing do with the military. He’s kind of a hippie kind of guy. So it would have been opposite of his personality if the psychic had picked up on his his military career. So. So we go in. As soon as I walk in the building, I’m wired to everything’s recording. And as soon as we go into the building, I let the pizza rollers who are the people who are running the fake Facebook groups that I have no access to a mark has no access to. We led nowhere in the building. And so what they did is they turned around and checked to sin. 

They said all the Facebook check and gotcha. 

So say Sassoon’s. So there’s an event page created for Thomas John’s event for that day ends March 2017. And so what he we went to the event page. They’d been there before and they’d posted, oh, this is great. We’re here. You know, maybe we should get something to eat before it starts. I think we have time. And then Suzanna said, you know, I’m too nervous to eat. You know, something like that. 

You’re there and you’ve checked in and you’re not sure if he’s going to hot read, so you’re checking in. Just just just see later on, it’s all part of the experiment. Right? So. So you’re doing all this. I mean, what were what were your intentions? You got this this really intricate and interesting stories and New York Times magazine. So, I mean, are you. Were you out there to expose these guys or to educate the public about. About what’s happening or what was your objective really? 

And then also, since we were talking about entering the building and donning these identities, I mean, are you nervous? I mean, donning an identity online is one thing, but doing it in the real world sounds like a whole other level. 

Mark was cool as a cucumber, but he’s a stage magician. So he’s fine with being in public. We were a little more worried that somebody might recognize him. In fact, one person did in the audience turn to him, say, are you a medium? And Mark goes, No, no. And Mark is a public persona in the psychic world. So we’re like, oh, I was excited. You know, I’m an outgoing personality, but I’m not really a great liar. I had a lot of Kleenex in my in my pocket just in case that I could pretend to cry so that I would be able to hide any problems I might have if I was giggling or something. 

And I was more nervous that I that the wire was not picking up correctly in it or was going to slip down into the back of my outfit. And, you know, not record well. So I was more nervous about that. And my intention, no, absolutely not. We’re not there to educate people we have. Our goal is not to educate the world about psychics necessarily. I mean, that’s that’s a byproduct of what we’re doing. But we have to clear goal. I have to clear goals. And I make that extremely clear. And whenever we do these stings. In fact, I have a mission statement because I have a nonprofit that covers a lot of the things. Well, everything that I do called about time our mission statements only. It’s really short. It says The mission of about time is defined. 

Mentor and train people to educate and promote science and scientific skepticism through crowdsourced and educational activities worldwide. This is done through conference attendance, lectures, videos, podcasts and interaction on social media and in-person attending skeptical workshops and in participating in Hands-On as well as online instruction are all encouraged. So that’s our mission statement. It’s all about you guys. That’s that’s my number one focus, is to build our community and get you guys people listening point of inquiry and all those people who are sick to death of all the lies and all the all the drama and all the infighting and everything else. I want you guys to say. OK. I can do this. Let’s join Gerlof skeptics or anybody else who’s doing any kind of activism and let’s make a difference and see where I can help out because I’m tired of this. And, you know, we don’t want you arguing in social media. You’re just you’re just talking to trolls. And every post you put up, they’re not reading. Yeah. 

So we try to get them to come. I mean, it’s just frustrating. Why do we waste. Stop it, you people. 

It is frustrating, you know. And I think my listeners know this about me too. I think. I certainly do think that some of the what we call inviting in the skeptics community is totally warranted. And it kind of depends because, yes, I’ve seen a lot of kind of worthless stuff going on in terms of Internet arguments. So so I should say that I think sometimes the infighting is important and worth it. 

How ever. 

Just being able to take action and do something and affect the community in the in a positive way is absolutely needed. So I hope I wish the best with that organization will also link to you said about time. Right. I didn’t hurt a bit. So you said it’s new. 

Well, we’ve been around two years. Oh, OK. We’re we’re about to get it. Well, not quite two years where we’re about to get our nonprofit paper filed completely. It’s a it’s a long process to become a nonprofit. 

So that was our main goal. And I I’m not going to agree with you on that. But I thought the infighting, I almost I think it’s almost never a good idea because we need to support each other. And if it’s somebody who’s doing something or saying something, we probably should just kind of go pick up the phone, let’s talk. And I don’t know. Yeah, I’m not getting involved with that because we really need to support each other and as best we can. And I, I do my best to just have those people in our community that I am not happy with. And they’re usually people who are trying to divide us more. And I I’m I’m sick of that. Most of us are gone. But anyway, anyway, the second that’s a whole other conversation. 

It’s an interesting one and maybe we can have it another. Let’s put it this way. 

I stay I stay off of Twitter. I don’t know what’s going on Twitter half the time. In fact, I rarely know it’s on Twitter. So you got I get a lot of stuff done. 

So the second call was that not only to build up our community, because what I’m doing are all the things that you all could do. I mean, trust me, it’s I’m not a scholar or an academic or anything like that or some super duper, whatever it is, activist. This is all things that can be done by most people. And I went, you guys see yourselves through the thing, the actions that I do. The second goal was to get to the psychic or the con man or a con woman because they’re performers. And we’ve known this for years. Mark Marcus, explain this to us, that when you get somebody raveled, you know, it could be somebody from the anti-tax community or homeopath or especially if they’re about to do a lecture, if you can get them rattled where they think that maybe there’s skeptics in the audience. Yeah, something might happen. Even if nothing happens, then they’re going to be off their game unless these mediums really, really if you shake them up. We’ve done this several times with Chip Coffey and Sylvia Browne and different people in the past. When they know John Edward to you and they know we’re around or they think we’re around, then their game drops. And the same with this Thomas John. I mean, I’m not going to take him out. That’s how I was. It was not my goal. But I guess if in the future is his readings are going to be completely different because, you know, how can you hot read off of Facebook now if you know that there’s a possibility. Yeah. Somebody else could be watching somebody looking. I mean, it’s he’s already been busted once or twice, so hit out. So his game’s gonna be not as good as it was in the past. People are going to start saying, oh, I didn’t used to be really good. But, you know, it doesn’t seem to be hitting very good these days. And I think I’ll go to another medium or whatever, and there’s more. So, yeah. Anyway, so those are our goals. OK. So where do you want me to go from. 

So yeah, it seems like these. It’s similar to what, what I deal with in, in the ultimate althouse of these movements like that. They seem like a game of whack a mole. Right. Like if you take one side kick out another one’s gonna take its place is and isn’t like that. I mean it’s never gonna go away is it. 

No, I don’t think it’s gonna go away because people are always grieving and you know, there’s always somebody who’s gonna be a taken advantage of. 

So, you know, I don’t think we’re going to be able to do it just like we’re going to always have some kind of medical quack there. There’s nothing we could do. But we can we can like it, say we can try to knock them off the game, maybe get some handle not to want to go up and and try this for living themselves or it you know, maybe maybe it’ll get to a point where people will say. Oh, that’s nice. But, you know, it’s more for entertainment. I think I’ll just go and listen to him. But I it’s real. 

You said that your team. You always carry tissue’s with you to sort of help you blend in, but also make it seem as if you’re an easy target, right? 

Yeah, that helps. 

I saw the Times piece described like being in one of these rooms and I’m quoting here, While a while a reading is happening, describes it as grief being one of those emotions, that doesn’t happen publicly too often. So when it does, the mood easily dominates the room. You playing this role and being in this room and being who you are. What thoughts and emotions are going through your head while you’re undercover at these readings? 

Are you just are you on edge or does the grief ever rub off on you? 

Well, I didn’t experience the feeling of grief at Thomas John or readings at all. His seemed to be that the audience was in a jovial mood and they were excited and it was fun and and I was more disgusted with the things I was hearing and I could not vote. It was really hard for me to believe that the things he was saying people were falling for that just really blew my mind that he would say something. And they well, it was accurate because at least in several cases that I know of. He was hot reading them, but it felt wrong. When I went to go see Chip Coffey, it was really disgusting. The things he was doing and saying that were there were egregious, that were just like a woman. Was there a young woman whose whose fiancee had died a few days before? And it was fresh, raw grief, and I felt like I was gonna just barf. I mean, we were just like I feel sick to my stomach. Some of the things he’s saying and and I was cruel. I thought it was cruel, even though he said it and everybody else was applauding and crying. But and to see I saw a man stand up and he started bawling after Chip Coffey gave him some information. And I thought, this guy doesn’t realize that it’s a lie. And how dare he manipulate this man’s emotions, raw, raw emotions. And he’s bawling in front of all these people. It’s just disgust, disgusted me. 

Well, it seems I mean, it seems more, at least to me. I don’t know if I would be comfortable doing it personally, although who knows? I would. I might. But, I mean, it seems more than worth lying to the psychic when they’re doing such disgusting. I mean, they’re just. Yeah, they’re being cruel, like you said. And what role or what do you have to say to companies and networks that give these people platforms like Lifetime and TLC? 

Right. It’s not entertainment and you really need to knock it off. I mean, we’re really dumbing down society. There’s a whole generation of people that are around right now who don’t know that reality television is not real. I mean, that’s what we finding Bigfoot and ghost hunting. And and I just saw one the other day was haunted renovations, whatever that. Wow. 

You know, it’s like no guys like you TV. It’s that HDTV. Was that where. Haunted houses. I don’t know. Or somebody. You think everything trendy like Yoky and HDTV and turn it into psychic’s. 

Oh my gosh. It’s ridiculous. It’s so sad. And they are responsible. Of course, the media the audience wants more of this. I mean, I get that they’re just feel fueling a need like we used to watch the old Jerry Springer Show and, you know, who’s who’s cheating on who and who’s babies born by who and who’s throwing chairs, you know? Of course, we do that as entertainment, maybe at the gym or whatever. But, I mean, we we should be risk. We’re responsible for people not realizing that that was all fake, you know. Right. So it’s fake. It’s like it’s like professional wrestling. But we shouldn’t blame these people because they never have thought about it before. It’s never dawned on them that that ghosts aren’t real. What do you mean? Ghosts are real way. Come on. No, man. My brother had that happen to him. You know what? I saw this shadow. Of course, ghosts are real. I had this freaky noise. It’s like think people. And I really don’t think that we really do a great job with education either. I really don’t think so. We get rote memorization and we talk about the Constitution, which is Corson’s important, but we’re not really teaching people how to think critically, at least not in the lower grades. 

I mean, I don’t think I took my first critical thinking class and it till I got to college. And before that, nobody really talked to me about advertising and how it manipulates you. And and and, you know, just because you see it on TV doesn’t mean it’s real. 

And, you know, now that you see it on the Internet, does you see it everywhere. The Internet does. Yeah, it’s real. 

So it’s a long story short, he did it too late because it’s such an it’s such an intricate story. 

So I. Oh, yeah, too. There’s not coming at all, this is just a teaser, so you’re gonna have to go on Susan’s blog. 

You’re gonna have to go read this New York Times magazine article. But so you didn’t know that he was hot reading as he was hot reading you. Right. But you pretty much caught him red handed. 

We were given very, very basic information. I was told that I was going to see my twin brother, Andy, who had died of pancreatic cancer a couple years ago, and Mark was going to hopefully reach out. His father would reach out to him and his father had had died years ago of heart disease and that now Mark is getting to the age that his dad died. He’s starting to worry that he’s going to have heart disease also. And he had gone to the doctor to be checked out for his heart. So that was all we really knew. So when the psychic on the stage is standing there with his eyes closed, he never could cold readings because he didn’t look at us at once. You know, we were we were in the third row of a room of about 50 people in the VIP. And he said after reading a couple other people hot reads, by the way, he came to us and he said he he reached out. Well, he said, I’m getting a twin brother who wants to reach out to his sister. 

And so that’s my cue. So I raised my hand and he went on about multiple things that while he talked about the things I did know that he died of pancreatic cancer and he was my twin. And we had and then he started getting into things I didn’t know. And I had to just wing it and agree. And then he went over to Mark and started talking to Mark about his father having heart conditions and that they had a emotional distance and a physical distance. And Mark was like, yeah. Huh. And he asked Mark if he’s been tested, had any tests done or is going to have some test tests done, medical tests. Mark said, no, I’ve already had him done. And he goes, oh, OK. Well, you know, you know, always listen to your doctor. But and then he starts telling Mark things, you know, I think everything’s gonna be OK and just, you know. And so then he starts in on things that Mark had no idea about. And at one point, he he argued with us a bit because he said, well, who is it? Smoke, smoke, smoker, smoker, smoker, smoker and quit. Mark and I are looking each other. We don’t know anything about that. So, Mark. So I think that’s my brother. And Thomas John said, no, no, it’s your twin. It’s the twin brother. And Mark’s like. And I go, oh, my my brother. And he’s like, Yes, your brother is with me. And I said, Oh yeah, my brother quit smoking. And he goes, Yeah, he quit smoking. And so we didn’t know what the heck was going on. We just claimed everything is real. And, you know, I don’t know what he’s talking about. So, OK. 

So to make it a long story short, after hour reading, which was 15 minutes long and Thomas John since has done a live video saying that the reading I got was actually for a woman who was two rows behind me. It was supposed to be for her brother, whose name was Michael, but his real name, Andrew. She said, we never called him Andrew. So this is how he’s explaining it? Yeah, that’s. Well, it’s but it’s bullshit because. No, I don’t. Does that woman have a twin brother? And why would her twin brother, whose official legal name was Andrew? Why would he reach out to her as Andrew? Well, why would he reach out as Andy whenever they only call him Michael? So, you know, and then she says he also died of cancer. And I’m like, well, so did half this rooms, you know, relatives to you. So it was just silly. So he’s just trying to grasp at straws. And there’s no way because he went on and on and on my Web sites isn’t Verbeke dawg. You can see the screenshots and the audio’s up there, too. So you can listen to the audio and you can follow and you can look at the screenshots and you can see it’s like verbatim almost, you know. So he says, after I left, after I finished with the reading, I texted the pizza rollers and I said, OK, it’s all done. And we’ve got audio. The second thing is, is they told me I could record because when the manager got up on the stage before the the it started, she said, oh, look at all the familiar faces. So great to see you here. And Mark and I are like familiar faces are that interesting. Those are all hot reads, you know. Yeah. And then she said, make sure you record your reading. So I said, OK. So I pull out my phone and I’m hit record. And I was public about it so I could get the best audio I could. But I mean, I was recording already, but still. So after that was done, I text to the pizza rollers. I said, OK. Reading’s done. Who quit smoking? And what’s that all about? And so they said, I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re talking about. And they come back and they they didn’t know. So they went and scrolled through the Facebook page. And there was a post from 2013 that Andy had quit smoking. And nobody on the it was just an old post from ages ago. 

So they don’t even remember anything about that. 

They scrolled that far back when when they were looking at my Facebook and his Facebook page. Wow. 

Wow. So it just didn’t. So you were there in that momentous as they’re scrolling through Facebook and you and you guys are realizing that, yes, he did this. 

And I mean, usually we don’t know for sure. We know that he got the right at the beginning. You know, knew my brother was Andy, who was a twin who died of pancreatic cancer, Mark and the heart disease, everything else. We don’t know if if he’s reading Facebook or not. We don’t know. Right. How would we know? Because we don’t know what’s going to. Right. So we’re just agreeing to it. Yeah. When it’s over, we start finding out. Buddy was your dog. And I’m like, oh, my buddy was my my brother’s. Wow. 2013. 

That’s. That is something. So like I said earlier, the story is really intricate and it’s fascinating and it’s exciting. 

And I’ve just been I’ve been going down the rabbit hole of everything that happened. 

So I’m just I’m really, again, excited that I had the opportunity to speak to you today because, like I said, it just came out in print. And York Times magazine. Yes. So only two million people will. Oh, my gosh. So congratulations again. 

Have fun dealing with all of those media requests that you’re about to get. And we will talk to you soon. 


This has been your host Kavin Senapathy it’s been great hosting point of inquiry so far. So I want to say a big thank you to our listeners. Want to help spread the word. You can visit us at point of inquiry, dot org. There you can listen to all of our archived episodes, learn about me and my co-host Jim Underdown, and support the show and CFI, a nonprofit advocacy work. And please remember to subscribe. We’re available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and your favorite podcast app. Oh, and remember to share episodes on social media, email or whatever app you’re into. Thanks again, everyone, and talk to you again in two weeks. 

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin is an author and public speaker covering science, health, food, parenting and their intersection. Her work appears regularly at various outlets including Forbes, SELF Magazine, Slate, her "Woo Watch" column for Skeptical Inquirer online, and more. When she’s not writing and tweeting, she’s busy being a “Science Mom”—also the name of a recent documentary film in which she’s featured. Follow her on Twitter @ksenapathy and Facebook.