Financial ‘psychics’ prey on the weak

With the stockmarket in turmoil, you might well be excused for ignoring analysts who employ calculators and computer programs to predict what’s ahead and instead put your faith in financial forecasters of a less conventional kind.

Yes, that’s right, financial clairvoyants, psychics and allied mystics are making a bit of a comeback. One Moneywise reader was contacted by the delightfully named Marie De Fortune, who told him that she “had to act after hearing about your difficult, indeed, dramatic, situation”.

Marie continued: “As I was carefully studying your file, I immediately saw that you needed some fast and effective help, particularly in the financial field.” No problem – a cheque would be on its way very soon. In fact, the letter added: “Your bank account will very quickly be in the black again – with very big sums”.

All the reader had to do was send Marie £27 and she would send him a lucky ring worn by the Spanish conquistadors when they discovered South America. The ring, which Marie helpfully explained had the power to eliminate financial problems, had been handed down to her by her grandmother, who was given it by a Spanish millionaire.

The letter was personally addressed but, as the reader told Moneywise: “Marie de Fortune cannot be a very good psychic or she would know that my bank account is in the black already.”

It’s no surprise either that this verdict was backed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which denounced the letter as nothing more than a dishonest and irresponsible advertisement that must not be allowed to appear again.

ASA investigators have also been looking at another so-called psychic, Gabriel D’Angelo.

In a series of personally addressed letters he started by offering over £20,000, somehow connected to a Tibetan monk. Next he told a family they were financially ‘cursed’, but there was no need to worry because he could lift the curse and they would receive £55,000. Getting into his swing, the ‘Angel Gabriel’ even claimed that people receiving his letters were “heir to the treasure of the Argonauts” perhaps worth more than £1 million.

Predictably, every letter demanded money. Equally predictably, advertising watchdogs condemned D’Angelo’s letters as dishonest and likely to cause fear and distress.

None of this will come as a surprise to readers with long memories. Two years ago, Moneywise exposed D’Angelo as a con man when I reported how Vera, the 85-year-old mother of a reader in Manchester, had received a letter telling her that she was due more than £100,000 from the estate of none other than Leonardo da Vinci. All she had to do was send £17 to cover the costs incurred in tracing her. The letter came from D’Angelo.

Both Gabriel D’Angelo and Marie De Fortune send their letters from addresses in Switzerland, beyond the easy reach of bodies such as the Office of Fair Trading that would have the power to clamp down on them. And they are not the only such tricksters who base themselves abroad.

The obvious advice is to put such fraudulent letters straight in the bin. But readers with elderly or vulnerable relatives might like to check that they have not already been lured into sending cheques.

Tony Hetherington is Consumer Champion of the Year 2007

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