Are There Any Laws That Regulate Psychics?

Every year, millions of Americans use the services of psychics, mediums, palmists, and others who claim supernatural abilities. While most see such activities as entertainment and not to be taken too seriously, there are many who believe it wholeheartedly and, as a result, often find themselves out thousands of dollars before they realize they have been had. This leads many to wonder whether there are any laws that regulate psychics.

As I am fond of saying, there is virtually no area of our lives that are not subject to some form of regulation. Psychics, though often not as closely regulated as other industries or professions, are still subject to a number of laws. For example, most jurisdictions require psychics to obtain occupational licenses to charge anyone for their services, they must pay taxes on the income derived from those services, and in a few jurisdictions, they must undergo licensing and background checks.

Of course, regulating an industry that deems itself supernatural and beyond the understanding of modern science, has no standardized education requirements, but still charges for its services can be quite challenging. Some psychics have asserted that what they are practicing is actually a form of religious activity and that their earnings should be treated in a manner similar to donations to other religious organizations (i.e., non-taxed). Others hold themselves out simply as entertainers and even post disclaimers to that effect in an effort to distance themselves from any loss or injury a customer might suffer after taking a psychic's advice. Still, about 30 million Americans (about 1 in 7) consulted a psychic or other type of fortune teller in 2009 according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That makes psychic services a multi-million dollar a year industry in the United States.

As a result, the potential for abuse, and the incentive to do so, is immense. In response, a number of states and local municipalities have begun moving more and more in the direction of stricter regulation. For example, Annapolis, Maryland now requires a psychic to undergo a police background check and obtain a "fortune-telling license." Similarly, Will County, Illinois, added fortune tellers to the list of official businesses, and Salem, Massachusetts, requires background checks for psychics while simultaneously capping the number allowed in town. Fortune tellers in Warren, Michigan, must comply with some of the strictest requirements in the nation, having to be fingerprinted and paying an annual fee of $150 (plus costs for a police background check) in order to obtain a license to practice their trade.

The primary concern regarding psychics and fortune tellers is the fact that they claim to do something that is not scientifically verifiable. This allows the psychic to abuse a customer's own beliefs by telling them that they have a curse or would benefit from the casting of a spell. Often these services are offered by the psychic in exchange for a hefty fee. But, since there is no regulation barring such acts, and no way to truly verify whether the psychic has done anything, there are few ways to easily regulate this practice, leaving the naive open to scams and cons.

For example, a Florida psychic, Gina Marie Marks, pleaded guilty and was convicted of grand theft and organized fraud after conning one victim out of over $300,000. Other psychics have gained national fame and even landed their own television shows, all by performing their seemingly miraculous readings, communicating with the dead, or predicting future events.

If you believe you have been victimized by a psychic, you may wish to consult with an attorney as well as local law enforcement. Given the often unregulated nature of the practice, it may be difficult to recover against the psychic, but in some cases laws against fraud and other forms of deception may make it possible for one to obtain some form of relief. And, best of all, if you win the case, you can honestly say the psychic did not see that one coming!

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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