Philadelphia Psychics: Screwed, and then Not So Much

Originally Posted 5-03-07 

On Friday April 27, 2007 news sources started reporting that Philadelphia police were alerted to a 30 year old law banning fortune-for "gain or lucre".  The exact damning phrase is "A person who pretends for gain or lucre to tell fortunes or predict future events by cards, tokens, the inspection of the head or hands of any person."

As of the writing of this blog at least 16 Philadelphia based fortune tellers have been shut down with the promise of more to come.  The law has been in place since 1971, but apparently no one was aware of its existence until recently.  News outlets are reporting that the law was first brought to the attention of the police.  The police approached the Department of Licenses and Inspections who were shocked to find that in fact, yes, the practice of fortune telling for money was illegal.  It is considered a third degree misdemeanor.  It also should be noted that they are not making arrests or issuing fines, but will if the offending individuals attempt to return to work.  Bummer for all those they issued business licenses to, eh?

A city official has been quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer as saying, "Most psychics were con artists who prey on vulnerable people."  A sentiment that I’m sure skeptics and rationalists world wide are agreeing with, and cheering this new development on for.  The difference being, the skeptics I like, such as James Randi, are man enough to put their name with their quotes.  (It’s one of many reasons I love him.  James call me, I adore you.)

But was Philadelphia being ravaged by charlatan psychics?  I’m not going to sit here and say that every psychic is legit and not in it for the money.  On the other hand, I think that many psychics and fortune tellers view their chosen occupation as an entertainment and something that is filling a specific need in our modern society.  It is a sad but true statement that some psychics take advantage of needy and desperate individuals, but I think it’s an equally true statement that people will also get taken advantage of by doctors, lawyers, and a host of other professionals.  Just because one doctor screwed their patient certainly doesn’t mean I view all doctors as quacks.  I think we can afford to extend the same courtesy to fortune tellers and psychics.  When any of these professionals take advantage of or mistreats one of their clients, the wronged person has the option to sue … and the same happens with psychics.  (They can also be reported to the Better Business Bureau.)

I have had one psychic reading so far in my life.  I paid $25 for a unique experience.  I have spent that amount of money many times over for all kinds of experiences in the forms of books, movies, concerts, and more recently things like seances and travel to religious observances.  Although perhaps sometimes let down by the purchase, I never felt taken advantage of for having spent the money for the experience.  Except for when I bought the movie "Alone in the Dark", if I could’ve taken someone to court over that loss of funds I would have.

What I’m trying to say is this, visiting a fortune teller or psychic should be viewed perhaps more as an entertainment based experience.  Sure, listen to what the psychic has to say, many of them wish nothing more than to help and support you, but by no means allow a fortune teller to run your life.  The good ones wouldn’t want you to let them.  Visiting a psychic or fortune teller should be a rewarding experience that you may want to repeat, much like seeing the movie "Serenity" (three times in the theater).  It should never take over the entirety of your life, much like the movie "Serenity" (don’t ask how many times on dvd).

Come on Philadelphia, they were local businessmen and women.  Paying for licenses, paying their taxes, voting in elections, and being a part of your local economy.  Can’t something be done to help them out?


Apparently something can be done!  Starting May 3, 2007 news sources out of Philadelphia began reporting that psychics and fortune tellers operating within the city are going back to work.  Monica Mitchell, who runs a psychic shop in Manayunk, PA, was rightfully peeved and instead of sitting around whining about it, like I was doing, she took action.  She lawyered up, and thanks to her attorney John Raimondi, psychics in Philadelphia have a second lease on their business lives.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer Raimondi filed a request last week for a restraining order and preliminary injunction on the ground that the statue could be invoked only in cases of fraud.  He is quoted as saying, "What we said is the law is part of the crimes code.  You have to prove that someone has been taken advantage of, and you can’t expect L & I (Licenses and Inspections) to enforce that."

The City Solicitor’s Office agreed with Raimondi and advised the L & I to back off because the state law banning fortune tellers seemed better suited to fraud prosecution than to regulation. 

Hopefully, this means things will settle down for the storefront psychics and fortune tellers in Philadelphia.  We’ll keep you posted…..