No doubt a great importance in the paranormal field is the problem of fraud. The field of psychic research and spiritualism has been so notoriously full of charlatans, such as the Fox sisters and Eusapia Palladino–individuals who claim to have special power and gifts but who are actually conjurers who have hoodwinked scientists and the public as well–that we have to be especially cautious about claims made on their behalf.
After Valentine's Day, it only got stranger. Callers asked about lost jewelry and I'd instead tell them about their children or partners, which only pissed them off. HR called and told me to stop doing that—if someone wanted "remote viewing," I was to tell him or her to call a psychic who had that skill listed on their profile. I was, and still am, impressed by how seriously my employer treated "real psychic powers" instead of just racking up minutes. But I also noticed that bad reviews never made it to my profile or anyone else's, which sickened me.
In March 1902 in Berlin, police officers interrupted a séance of the German apport medium Frau Anna Rothe. Her hands were grabbed and she was wrestled to the ground. A female police assistant physically examined Rothe and discovered 157 flowers as well as oranges and lemons hidden in her petticoat. She was arrested and charged with fraud. Another apport medium Hilda Lewis known as the "flower medium" confessed to fraud.
In 1918, Joseph Jastrow wrote about the tricks of Eusapia Palladino who was an expert at freeing her hands and feet from the control in the séance room. In the séance room Palladino would move curtains from a distance by releasing a jet of air from a rubber bulb that she had in her hand. According to the psychical researcher Harry Price "Her tricks were usually childish: long hairs attached to small objects in order to produce 'telekinetic movements'; the gradual substitution of one hand for two when being controlled by sitters; the production of 'phenomena' with a foot which had been surreptitiously removed from its shoe and so on."
I was 13 when my mom dragged my brother and me to a "psychic." We were visiting family in Malaysia and somewhere amongst a few palm oil plantations was the house of an old woman who claimed to be able to channel Buddha. My mother was enthralled during the hour-long ordeal, during which the woman basically rolled her eyes often so the whites were showing, dropped her voice a few octaves, and made astonishingly mundane statements that could've applied to anyone (examples: our house had ants out front; my grandma was old and having some health problems). Combined with my love of Harry Houdini (who spent the last few years of his life debunking psychics and mediums) and teen angst that made me hate everything my parents liked, the experience left me convinced that psychics were con artists who separated vulnerable and desperate people from their cash in exchange for poor acting.
According to the magician John Booth the stage mentalist David Devant managed to fool a number of people into believing he had genuine psychic ability who did not realize that his feats were magic tricks. At St. George's Hall, London he performed a fake "clairvoyant" act where he would read a message sealed inside an envelope. The spiritualist Oliver Lodge who was present in the audience was duped by the trick and claimed that Devant had used psychic powers. In 1936 Devant in his book Secrets of My Magic revealed the trick method he had used.
My sister and I both realized our gifts and then discovered from speaking with our father that his father's brother was an acknowledged psychic in Rome, Italy. And then I also realized I could read hands and what I would see would surprise everyone and what I would predict would happen. I was really surprised at what I was able to read off the hands of my friends.
In 1910 at a séance in Grenoble, France the apport medium Charles Bailey produced two live birds in the séance room. Bailey was unaware that the dealer he had bought the birds from was present in the séance and he was exposed as a fraud. The psychical researcher Eric Dingwall observed the medium Bert Reese in New York and claimed to have discovered his billet reading tricks. The most detailed account at exposing his tricks (with diagrams) was by the magician Theodore Annemann.
The trance medium Leonora Piper was investigated by psychical researchers and psychologists in the late 19th and early 20th century. In an experiment to test if Piper's "spirit" controls were purely fictitious the psychologist G. Stanley Hall invented a niece called Bessie Beals and asked Piper's 'control' to get in touch with it. Bessie appeared, answered questions and accepted Hall as her uncle. The psychologist Joseph Jastrow wrote that Piper pretended to be controlled by spirits and fell into simple and logical traps from her comments. Science writer Martin Gardner concluded Piper was a cold reader that would "fish" for information from her séance sitters. The physiologist Ivor Lloyd Tuckett who examined Piper's mediumship in detail wrote it could be explained by "muscle-reading, fishing, guessing, hints obtained in the sitting, knowledge surreptitiously obtained, knowledge acquired in the interval between sittings and lastly, facts already within Mrs. Piper's knowledge."
In 1960, psychic investigator Andrija Puharich and Tom O'Neill, publisher of the Spiritualist magazine Psychic Observer, arranged to film two seances at Camp Chesterfield, Indiana using infrared film, intending to procure scientific proof of spirit materializations. The medium was shown the camera beforehand, and was aware that she was being filmed. However, the film revealed obvious fraud on the part of the medium and her cabinet assistant. The exposé was published in the 10 July 1960 issue of the Psychic Observer.:96–97
Many 19th century mediums were discovered to be engaged in fraud. While advocates of mediumship claim that their experiences are genuine, the Encyclopædia Britannica article on spiritualism notes in reference to a case in the 19th century that "...one by one, the Spiritualist mediums were discovered to be engaged in fraud, sometimes employing the techniques of stage magicians in their attempts to convince people of their clairvoyant powers." The article also notes that "the exposure of widespread fraud within the spiritualist movement severely damaged its reputation and pushed it to the fringes of society in the United States."