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

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Email: A Request For a Refund

A woman requests a refund for a disappointing reading with Chris Dufresne.

'Re: Request for Refund' letter from Sylvia Browne Corp.

'Re: Request for Refund' letter from Sylvia Browne Corp.

Background

On January 2nd 2007, a woman had a phone reading with Chris Dufresne, Sylvia Browne's son.

Here is a transcript of one of the questions asked and answered during that reading:

Client: In May, I lost probably the one I loved almost most of anything in this world. Can you tell me anything about him?

Dufresne: Well, I believe you were married to him before, I think you were brother and sister before, and I think that when it's your time, I think you'll be back. But I think that's pretty much the gist of it, dear.

Client: Okay... [pause] Okay.

At this point, the client decided that Dufresne was not psychic.

This had been a test question, one which the client hoped Dufresne would answer correctly, so that she would know for certain that he was truly psychic.

Dufresne had not answered her correctly.

The client reasoned that were Dufresne really psychic, he would have known who the one who she "loved almost most of anything in this world" was. And she knew that, even in Sylvia Browne's philosophy/cosmology of reincarnation, she (the client) could not have been married in a previous life to her much-loved, recently deceased, pet dog.

This article describes the process the woman went through in an attempt to get a refund.

The Emails

The First Email

Later that same day, she sent the following email to me:

Subject: no subject
From: [name] [email address]
Date: Tue, Jan 02, 2007 4:38 pm
To: webmaster@StopSylviaBrowne.com

I had a reading with Chris today. Unfortunately I had never read your site so actually went into this really hoping for a positive experience but still a skeptic. You can print my result, just please don't include my name or email address. I hope your site helps other people from being ripped off. I intend to write a letter to their office requesting a refund, not that I expect to get it but it's worth a shot.

Okay, I'm one of those idiots that paid the money to have a reading with Sylvia's son Chris. I just had to find out for myself if I thought they are legit. I just wanted to hear one thing that no one could know but me. He told me NOTHING specific, everything was very vague and could have applied to anyone. I asked a vague question regarding the loss of my little dog (didn't tell him it was a dog) and he told me that in some previous life I had been married to him or he was my brother bla bla bla. If I remember correctly Sylvia said animals don't reincarnate and people don't come back as animals so...I can't express how disappointed I was with this reading and even though they say the readings will last 20-30 minutes, mine was maybe all of 5-7 minutes and I felt like he was just trying to hurry up and get off of the phone. Oh yeah, the other final thing was my father has Stage 4 cancer so I asked what he saw with my Dad's health. He said a few things but he never once touched on the cancer and he told me because he's tough my Dad be around at least another two years! The doctors are guessing a couple of months. Anyway, decide for yourself but from now on, my money is staying in my pocket not in theirs because I think they are frauds.

I thanked her, but told her that I would hold off on putting her email up on the web site so that it would not hurt her chances of getting a refund.

I also said the following:

By the way, don't be so hard on yourself. You say you're "one of those idiots", but I think that's unfair, both to you, and most of the other grieving and depressed people who pay Browne or her son for a reading.

Being in a dark place in your life doesn't make for clear-headed thinking. People in that situation often reach out for help or hope, and not always to someone who has their best interest at heart. In fact, people such as phony psychics rely on this. They prey on this.

You aren't the one who looks bad here. Chris DuFresne does.

The Second Email

Subject: no subject
From: [name] [email address]
Date: Sat, Jan 06, 2007 11:53 am
To: "webmaster" webmaster@StopSylviaBrowne.com

Hi Robert:

Just wanted to touch base with you on requesting my money back. Instead of mailing the letter I did as you suggested and called to the office. I finally got a call back from Jennifer, Chris' secretary and told her I wanted my money back etc. She was a little short with me but told me she would tell the office manager and the office manager would listen to my tape and get back with me. This was on Thursday. So far I haven't heard back from the office manager but if no one calls me back by Tuesday I will call them again. I will keep you posted. Thanks again.

[name]

The Third Email

Subject: no subject
From: [name] [email address]
Date: Tue, Jan 09, 2007 1:17 pm
To: "webmaster" webmaster@StopSylviaBrowne.com

Hi Robert:

Just heard back from Jennifer about getting my money back. You're going to love this one. The office manager told her to put the paperwork in with my tape on how to get your money back, "you don't just get your money back from a reading like you would if you canceled an appointment, there is a process". Funny the other day there wasn't a process! Anyway, thought I would send you this recent information, kind of let you live the experience with me! Also, after it's all said and done if you want to you can put together how difficult it is to get a refund (IF I get a refund) and publish it also.

[name]

After this, she traveled out of state to be with her father, undergoing chemotherapy for stage four cancer in his lungs and head.

The Fourth Email

When she returned home, she sent me the following:

Subject: no subject
From: [name] [email address]
Date: Mon, Jan 22, 2007 2:11 pm
To: "webmaster" webmaster@StopSylviaBrowne.com

Hi Robert:

Got home to Florida today and opened my packet from SB. What a bunch of BS they want to give me a partial refund so I'm not even bothering with it. I will write them a letter and tell them exactly what I think about them. Email me an address and I will just send you the packet, tape and all.

[name]

Request For Refund

I received the packet in the mail a few days later. It contained:

- The audio tape of the reading with Dufresne

- An "Affidavit Regarding Sylvia Browne" for the client to fill out for use in calculating Browne's "accuracy rate" - even though Browne had nothing to do with the reading

- An advertisement for Browne's books, jewelry, CDs and more

- An advertisement for attending "past life regression" sessions with Browne's ministers.

- A glossy sales sheet advertising Browne's newsletter

- A letter to the client, the text of which can be read below.

(Note: I have typed in the text of the letter, so there may be errors in it. Click here to view a scan of the original letter)

Rather than insert my comments into the letter, I will save them for the Analysis section below.

Sylvia Browne Corporation
Psychic Services, Education, and Publishing

January 6, 2007

[Client's name and address]

Re: Request for Refund

We have received your request for a refund of fees paid for your private reading. Generally, we do not give refunds, but in special circumstances we will consider a partial refund.

Fees paid for services go into supporting our office, staff and church. Sylvia and Chris are certainly not "taking it all home," as they are the sole support of the business, our church, and a staff of six people.

Like any other professionals, Sylvia and Chris charge their clients for the time spent with them. Their service is counseling, much like a psychiatrist or a lawyer. In each case, you pay for the service rendered, not for guaranteed results. Does anyone get refunds from a lawyer if their case is lost? No. Does a psychiatrist refund money to patients he cannot cure? No.

We regret that you are unhappy with your reading. I do not know of any cases in which Sylvia or Chris were 100% wrong, and would be amazed to find you are the first such case. If you feel strongly that a refund is due you, let me outline a procedure for you to follow:

1. Type out the full text of your reading from the tape.

2. List (or highlight) the events that did not come to pass.

3. Tell us how we can verify that the event did not happen.

4. List (or highlight) the events that did come to pass.

When the transcript is received, including the original tape, I will call you to discuss the details (please include your daytime phone number.) This may seem like a lot of work, but I have done this for years and find that 99 out of 100 people simply do not listen to their tape properly and make assumptions that are invalid.

I look forward to hearing from you in this matter.

Sincerely,

[space for signature]

Pam Meyer
Administrator

Analysis

First, this refund process strikes me as intentionally complicated, designed specifically to discourage a client from pursuing a refund. It seems to me that Sylvia Browne Corp. is hoping that the client will simply give up out of frustration, as happened with this woman. While this might make sense from a purely financial standpoint, it hardly seems like the "spiritual" thing to do.

But that's not all.

Notice that the refund is to be based entirely on the accuracy of future predictions. No matter how inaccurate and incorrect the reading was about things in the past or present, that apparently does not factor in at all. For example, no refund would be given for telling this woman that she married her dog in a past life.

I have listened to the tape of this reading. Most of the predictions made in it were vague, including the time frames involved. This would make it impossible for this client to point to many predictions which "did not come to pass," since Dufresne didn't tell her when they would come to pass.

It should be noted that, according to the client's emails above, the person who sent her this letter listened to the tape of the reading before sending the letter. It is possible that the letter was specifically written to take advantage of the vagueness of the predictions in the reading. It is also possible that this is the standard refund process, and the reading was intentionally vague in order to take advantage of it.

Also, the analogy equating Browne and Dufresne's services with that of attorneys and psychiatrists bears some examination.

It is true that results are not guaranteed with lawyers and psychiatrists. So to compensate for this, and as a means of protecting consumers, these professions are strictly licensed and heavily regulated by their governing bodies. Those governing bodies have rigid codes of conduct and standards of behavior for their members.

When you consult an attorney or psychiatrist, you know that they have had years of training and education in their profession, and that they had to pass a number of regulatory and educational requirements before they could even begin to practice. Before consulting one of these professionals, you can check with their governing bodies to see if they are properly registered, and to see if they have any disciplinary history. If you feel that one of these professionals has not provided you with the services they were supposed to provide, or that they violated the code of ethics of their profession, you can contact these governing bodies in an effort to resolve the situation. These professionals can lose their license to practice if it is determined they do not maintain professional standards, or that they have behaved in a manner which is not in the best interest of their clients/patients.

Contrast this with "psychics" like Browne and Dufresne, who have none of these safeguards in place. No governing body, no licensing, no required training, no professional code of ethics. A consumer has no means of recourse if they feel the psychic has behaved unprofessionally, or that the psychic has not provided the services which he or she promised.

No, Browne and Dufresne's services cannot be equated with that of lawyers or psychiatrists, no matter how much they would like us to think so.

Conclusion

This woman was (and still is) in a vulnerable place in her life. She gave Dufresne $450, hoping to find help and hope, and what she got instead was a few minutes of vague predictions, generic medical advice, and incorrect answers to some key questions she had devised in order to test his abilities.

For Dufresne and his people to insist on her jumping through these hoops in order to get back even a portion of her money seems like a cruel and unsympathetic thing to do, especially to someone currently dealing with the death of a parent.

But perhaps I am being too hard on Christopher Dufresne in this. After all, the woman did not tell him that her father was dying of stage four cancer. So how could we expect him to know that?

After all, he isn't psychic.

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