A look at the claims, predictions and behavior of a media "psychic".

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Email: “Duped by Sylvia Browne’s Son, Chris DuFresne”

An email from a woman who believed that Sylvia Browne and her son were authentic psychics - until she got a “reading.”

"I'm sure I'm not the only one who saw through the scam. Why aren't more people speaking up? I don't want this to happen to anyone else."

- Email author

Background

To all appearances, it would seem that Sylvia Browne is grooming her son, Chris DuFresne, to be her successor in the “family business.”

He has co-authored books with her (such as Animals on the Other Side and Christmas in Heaven), as well as having written some on his own (such as My Psychic Journey: How to be More Psychic and My Life With Sylvia Browne), all of which are sold on Sylvia Browne’s web site.

He also performs psychic phone readings, advertised on a page on her site. A 20-30 minute phone reading with Sylvia Browne currently costs $750, while one with Chris DuFresne costs $450.

On that same page, his psychic abilities are described as follows:

“Chris is an authentic psychic from birth. Being Sylvia's son he shares in her genetic predisposition to psychic excellence. Chris is the only other psychic recommended by Sylvia. He has been a working psychic for 15 years now, and has built his own clientele from thousands of satisfied clients. Chris is a superb reader and the best alternative to Sylvia.”

The Email

On November 22, 2006, even though the StopSylviaBrowne site had not yet opened, I received an email from a woman who had, up until recently, believed that Sylvia Browne and Chris DuFresne were true psychics.

Here is that email, shown here with the author’s permission (I have blacked out woman's name and email address.):

Subject: Duped by Sylvia Browne's son, Chris Dufresne

From: "xxxxxx xxxxxxx" [xxxxxxx@xxxxxx.com]

Date: Wed, Nov 22, 2006 1:52 pm

To: webmaster@stopsylviabrowne.com

Two days ago I had a reading with Sylvia Browne's son, Chris Dufresne. I feel stupid and devastated. I truly did believe in what they did. I read Dufresne's book prior to the phone reading and it said it was better for him to give the reading first before asking my questions, so I was taken back when one of the very first things out of his mouth was if I had any questions. I told him yes, but preferred for him to go first. The reading was very short and very vague. He did not pick up on my debiliatating illness whatsoever (he told me I had good overall health). It wasn't until I went into detail about my illness that he basically repeated back to me what I said. It was very obvious that the whole thing was a scam. At the end of the reading when it was obvious that it had not gone well, all he could offer me was defensiveness and talking down to me. He accussed me of only wanting a free reading and told me I would get a refund and hung up on me. Five minutes later his "Office Manager" called and tried to bully me. When that didn't work she told me that I would get a refund and that basically I should be grateful for getting a free reading. (I'll believe the refund when I get it). At no time was I angry or rude or demanded a refund, I only expressed my disappointment and I think it was obvious to them that I saw through the scam. The whole experience was demeaning and devastating. They must be running the biggest scam in America. How can they continue to get away with this? I'm sure I'm not the only one who saw through the scam. Why aren't more people speaking up? I don't want this to happen to anyone else.

Analysis

To anyone familiar with cold reading (a technique used by stage magicians and mentalists - and phony psychics - to fool an audience into thinking the performer know things which they don't), some statements in this letter will stand out as blatant indicators of this particular type of trickery:

“…I was taken back when one of the very first things out of his mouth was if I had any questions.”

A cold reader will try to get information out of the person being read.

“The reading was very short and very vague.”

If the person being read does not supply the cold reader with information, it limits what the cold reader can come up with, particularly if they are not a very adept cold reader.

“…he basically repeated back to me what I said.”

This is cold reading at its most basic. If the cold reader is good at what they do, or the person being read less observant than this woman was, it isn’t obvious that this is what is happening.

So, was this a “cold reading?” There is no way of proving that it was, even if we had a recording of the entire conversation.

But it certainly has the earmarks of a badly-done cold-reading. And if it was a “true psychic reading” (assuming such a thing exists), it certainly sounds like a very poor one.

A Second Email

In obtaining this woman's approval for my publishing her email on the site, I received a second email from her. Here are some excerpts:

One thing that I didn't add in my original post, was that I was told that I would not receive a tape because I was getting a refund. So, unfortunately, I won't have the tape to back up anything that I said. I suspect that is what prompted his rude behavior - because he knew he messed up with me big time he didn't want me to have the tape. Because AT NO TIME did I ask for a refund. Then when the Office Manager called me she tried to convince me that I should be grateful to get a free reading. I did not give her any feedback expressing any kind of gratitude. It is my feeling that I am not the first person they have run into with this situation and they first try to bully the client into feeling guilty about speaking up and then if that doesn't work they try to convince you that you should be grateful for a free reading.

It would be interesting to find out if this is indeed typical of how dissatisfied customers are treated.

Something else I didn't elaborate about because I didn't think anyone would believe me (because the statement was so absurd) was that the Office Manager tried to explain to me that Sylvia and Chris can only pass on the information that "comes" to them. That their heads would explode if they had to hold all the psychic information at once. Also, that was the excuse for them needing questions from me. This is what I couldn't believe that the Office Manager gave me as an example: she told me that they do better with specific questions such as if I had a bald tire and needed information on if it was safe to continue using it or for how long. At that point, I was speechless. I think any body with common sense could give advice about a bald tire. I really couldn't believe that she used that as an example.

Again, saying that the "psychic" would do better with specific questions is classic cold reading.

Speak Up!

The woman asks an interesting question in the first email (emphasis mine):

“I'm sure I'm not the only one who saw through the scam. Why aren't more people speaking up?

I think that one reason more people haven’t spoken out is a fear of looking foolish. It can be difficult to shout to the world “I’ve been duped!” This of course plays into the hands of the person who did the duping.

A person not only has to be outraged, but to have enough courage and caring for others to come forward in an attempt to help others from being duped.

Another possible reason there has not been more emails like this one out there: up until now, there was no place on the Internet focused solely on examining what Sylvia Browne does.

Now there is.

I would imagine that there are many others who have come away from a reading with Sylvia (or her son) less than impressed. I have already been promised an audio tape of just such a reading. Expect an article about it in the upcoming weeks.

If anyone else has had a reading with Sylvia Browne or Chris DuFresne – whether you were satisfied or not – I would be interested in hearing about it. I will not publish your comments (or any recordings/transcripts you send me) without your express prior permission to do so.

Any such emails, tapes or letters would be greatly appreciated, and can be sent to me via any of the means listed on this site’s Contact pages.

My thanks to this woman for sharing her experience with me, and for allowing me to post it here.

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