The problem With People Like Chip Coffey


News broke recently that a paranormal TV celebrity had been arrested in the US. I don’t know who they are and I’ve never watched any of their shows but I noticed that a guy called Chip Coffey (who claims to be a psychic) was quick to take to his social media and give his 2 cents on the subject, having worked on the same shows as this individual in the past.

I made a throwaway comment on Twitter that it’s a shame that Coffey couldn’t have warned people of what was going to happen. If only he had been psychic or something, right?

It’s a joke that skeptics make all of the time in reference to stories that involve psychics not predicting something. Haha. Ha.

Colour me surprised then when a few days later Chip Coffey started to send me tweets about how ignorant I am. He must have searched his name on Twitter and come across my random tweet. I have Storified the convo as best I can here. It got tricky once some of his adoring fans started to get involved so I’ve only included the initial conversation.

Long story short, I am an ignorant asshole for suggesting that Coffey isn’t psychic and for pointing out that there are reasons to believe this. For example, did you know that a group of US-based skeptics led by Susan Gerbic once planted false information about made up characters at a Chip Coffey stage show and he picked up messages from these fictional characters and delivered messages to the skeptics in the audience?

‘[H]e claimed to have seen the two nonexistent people we pretended to have: a sister for Jan and my son Matthew. He “spoke” to Wade’s dead mother who was really alive and is nothing like the personality that he described.’

As his Wikipedia page points out, there are a number of reasons to doubt his claims of psychic ability and I believe this gives strong justification for being hesitant to believe Chip Coffey when he says he is psychic. Yet, instead of addressing these concerns Coffey and his fans would rather dismiss people as ignorant. It’s extremely arrogant and egotistical to suggest that people should accept your claims with blind faith regardless of whether there is justification to doubt them or not.

I wasn’t exactly polite in my twitter exchange with Coffey but frankly, I don’t see why I should’ve been. He and his fans are a good reminder of what the “love and light” brigade are really like if you don’t toe their line.

On Sally Morgan Warning Her Fans About Scammers

Sally Morgan video


British psychic Sally Morgan recently caused a bit of a stir online when she posted a video to her official Facebook page warning fans about people on social media pretending to be her and trying to make money from her fans by scamming them.

Many people on my social media timelines have mocked this because they believe that Sally Morgan is also scamming money from her fans in one way or another, but that’s a debate for another day. In fact, I’ve blogged about Sally Morgan and her claims previously on this blog here if you’re curious.

What many people are missing here is that Sally Morgan is doing the right thing by warning her fans because by doing so she is helping them to know who they are handing their money over to and what services they are purchasing and this is good news. Why? Because it means that they have a huge range of consumer protection legislation and consumer protection services behind them to help them if they decide they’ve been tricked out of their money by Sally Morgan.

Being clear about who you are paying, what you are paying for and why makes you a clever consumer who has options if you’re not happy with what you’ve paid for.

If someone is tricked into handing their bank details over to someone who is pretending to be Sally Morgan it’s quite unlikely that they’re going to be able to trace that person very easily. A police investigation might be successful in returning their money to them eventually but it might not. It’s also a highly traumatic experience.

This is why I think we should applaud psychics (and other odd claim makers) when they warn their customers to be careful consumers and to think twice about who they’re handing their money over to. The alternative is that Sally Morgan knows that people are pretending to be her and scamming money from people and she does nothing about it and nothing to highlight it and that’s just not cool. There would quite rightly be an uproar.

Look – people claiming to be psychics are not going away regardless of how many petitions you launch or how many banners you hold up outside of their shows. People will always believe in psychics and psychics will always be around.

The best thing that people who doubt psychics can do is to ensure that those who believe in psychics know how to spot trickery when it happens and what to do when they spot it because people who believe in psychics do not deserve to be conned out of their money.

There are whole swathes of people within the skeptic community whom I refer to as “anti-psychics”. These are not the people out there raising awareness of how to spot psychic trickery (and sometimes being abused for doing so), but instead those who want to see psychics punished and shamed for what they claim. Or even harmed – the aggression I have seen aimed at people who claim to be psychic has been alarming at times.

These “anti-psychics” think that people who believe in psychics must be thick and that because they’re thick they deserve to have their money stolen through dishonest practices. ‘You reap what you sow’ they’ll say. ‘Should have listened to us’ they’ll warn, but ultimately they do nothing to solve the issues that those who want to visit psychics face.

People believe in psychics for a whole range of reasons, many of which are complex and personal and it’s their choice what they spend their money on. If we want to help we can help raise awareness of how to be a smart consumer and how to spot psychic fraud if you see it. On this occasion Sally Morgan helped us achieve that aim because people pretending to be famous psychics are psychic con artists themselves. Nice one, Sally. 👍

For Entertainment Purposes Only: On Psychics and Legislation


There is a UK Gov petition doing the rounds that states ‘Make all those who sell psychic services, prove that their abilities are real.’ You can read the petition in full here. 

It is well intentioned but it isn’t going to work. I know not because I am a psychic myself, but because consumers are already covered by The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Act 2008 which replaced The Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951.

It was under this previous piece of legislation that psychics and mediums would use ‘For Entertainment Purposes Only’ disclaimers to avoid prosecution for fraud. This is a practice that still continues, probably to avoid breaching the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 which prevents service providers from misleading consumers as to what they are spending their money on.

Yet despite the use of entertainment disclaimers at the start of their show many psychics and mediums will go on to deliver what is considered a serious psychic performance or seance. It will upset people, give them false hope, and those who come away from the venue will often believe that what the psychic was doing was genuine.

This is proof that is doesn’t matter if you force psychics and mediums to prove their abilities before the can perform to the public, people will still seek out their services regardless of the risk of being tricked out of their money.

People who visit a psychic show do not deserve to have their money taken from them dishonestly, but the best way to stop this from happening is to educate people about how to spot trickery for themselves and by raising awareness of existing legislation that is there to protect us as consumers.

There are a number of things that people can do to cover themselves; get a receipt, record your session with a psychic, learn what the tricks psychics use are and familiarise yourself with reviews from others who have seen the psychic in question. It’s also important to check the Terms and Conditions of purchase of the venue you’re buying a ticket from as many theatres do not issue refunds.

When I created Project Barnum (an online resource about psychic trickery) a group of volunteers and I phoned dozens of UK venues at which Sally Morgan, Derek Acorah and other well known psychics would be performing. We posed as potential customers and asked for clarification about whether the psychic was real or not because they had entertainment disclaimers.

We would ask “are they a real psychic or are using psychological trickery to make it seem so?” and none of the venues were able to tell us. We would then ask “if it turns out they’re using misleading tactics and aren’t really psychic can I get a refund?” Again, the venues were unable to provide any of us with consistent answers. Had I been a real customer I would have been very confused. Had I been an actual customer refused a refund I would have taken it to Trading Standards and I’m confident that it would be possible to get a refund as a result.

The only outcome of stopping psychics and mediums from performing will be to move what they do from the stage where we can all see them and into back rooms, secret shows, or back into the parlours that our psychic ancestors would hold seances and reading during the Victorian and Edwardian spiritualism trends. I think that’s a big risk that skeptics should consider very carefully. I don’t think it’s an outcome that anybody really wants.


A Psychic Died


When Colin Fry died there was a huge rise in traffic to my blog because of a post I had written in the past criticising him for seeming to take advantage of the misfortune of a man who had fallen victim to a psychic mail scam. I got a number of messages telling me that what I had written was disrespectful as Fry had just died despite the fact that the piece is both informed and was written prior to his death or his cancer diagnosis. This led me to update the post to explain this and yet people continued to send their disapproval my way.

It’s sad that Colin Fry died aged 53 of terminal cancer. Cancer sucks, as does nicotine addiction and 53 is far too young to die but this doesn’t detract from the fact that Fry made dubious claims about having supernatural abilities and was once caught cheating at a seance – behaviour that justified skepticism of his claims. That stuff happened so why should we pretend it didn’t?

I wrote something similar when Fred Phelps popped his clogs in a post titled De mortuis nihil nisi bonumIf to respect the dead you have to ignore or censor whole parts of their existence then quite frankly you’re not being very respectful, are you? Fry, of course, was nothing like Phelps and I’m not suggesting he was… in fact Fry was gay and was critical of Sally Morgan’s husband when his homophobic behaviour was caught on camera.

‘I deplore all forms of prejudice, and of course I have personal reasons for particularly detesting any form of homophobia. Every one is welcome to attend my shows of any race, gender , religion or sexual orientation, even skeptics!’ – Colin Fry

I may be misguided but I always thought of Fry as the last of the old-school spiritualist mediums because he still worked with the Spiritualists National Union (SNU) and was even an SNU registered minister whereas the SNU tend to view other high-profile stage psychics in an unfavourable light. This, of course, doesn’t detract from the fact that there were claims made and behaviours observed that brought doubt to the validity of what Colin Fry was claiming.

To pretend that is not deserving of such criticism does the man a disservice and for fans to pretend that Colin Fry was better than or above criticisms levelled at him in life and death is purely a selfish move. He acknowledged and, to a point, welcomed the skepticism people held of his claims and I think he’d welcome it after his death too.

Psychic Sally Fans: Self Preservation At A Cost

sally morgan photo

I used to wholeheartedly believe that people could speak to the dead. These days I’m not so convinced, but even as a believer I wasn’t so blinded by my faith in psychics and mediums that I couldn’t spot when I was being purposefully deceived. In fact, it was Derek Acorah’s staged possession by a made up ghost called Kreed Kafer- an anagram of Derek Faker -on the TV show ‘Most Haunted’ that led me to the path of skepticism.

I worked with various psychics and mediums on paranormal investigations for years after the Kreed Kafer incident and although I often accepted their claims about hauntings at face value I was often doubtful of their abilities and they all did things that led me further down the path of skepticism until I eventually realised that enough was enough when it came to fooling myself. For example, on one investigation a psychic “healed” my “spiritually induced” headache and detected problems with my shoulders and teeth while doing so… but conveniently forgot to mention the potentially deadly and at-that-stage-undiscovered tumour growing in my skull that was causing the pain. Another psychic I worked with only ever communicated with ghosts from WW1 and WW2 or ghosts that were called Charlie or Eliza, and another once threw me across a room because I said a room didn’t feel sinister as she has insisted.

I believed in psychics and my belief in psychics and an afterlife was very important to me. Yet, despite the cognitive dissonance involved, I refused to allow myself to continue to be fooled by these people once they had showed that they probably didn’t have the abilities they claimed. I would not excuse their behaviour and I would not condone it for the sake of feeling comforted. This is why I find it very disheartening to watch fans of self-proclaimed psychic Sally Morgan continue to support her and her team after yet more controversy has come to light.

The recent release of footage that shows her husband and tour manager, John Morgan, threatening a man- Mark Tilbrook -leafleting outside of one of her shows, and making homophobic and racist remarks about high profile skeptics is just more damning material added to a list of occurrences that should make even the most faithful believer in psychics skeptical.

Watching the footage sickens me, yet fans of Sally Morgan have excused the behaviour by claiming John Morgan was protecting his wife and acting out of character. I personally find it difficult to accept these excuses considering that Mark Tilbrook is not the only person to have ever leafleted Sally Morgan shows, he didn’t impose a threat to Sally Morgan, he doesn’t focus purely on Sally Morgan, and it is alleged by other leaflet distributors that John Morgan and co. have behaved like this on numerous occasions before.

When people make excuses for this sort of behaviour what they’re actually doing is acting in their own best interests. They are convincing themselves that the person they have put their faith in- Sally Morgan -is not dodgy in any way and that the beliefs they have invested in are not tainted by any of this controversy. It is difficult to accept that a psychic you so strongly believe in has fooled you into thinking they are psychic and are a good, caring person… but at what point to do you accept that you’re wrong?

May 2007 – deletes claims re: working with the police  [Source]
Sep 2007 – claims re: working with Robert DeNiro and Bob Geldof are denied [Source]
Sep 2007
– falsely claims to have never met Brian Dowling prior to a “celebrity reading” [Source]
Sep 2011 – accused of cheating during a show at the Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin [Source]
Sep 2011 – denies using an earpiece in shows. Footage emerges that proves this is not entirely true.

Jan 2012 – takes action against the DailyMail for defamation [Source]
Feb 2012 – communicates with spirit that is a TV character [Source]
Mar 2012 – Fails to successfully cold-read Richard Bacon on BBC Radio 5 Live

Oct 2012 – Refuses to have abilities tested by Professor  by Chris French [Source]
Jun 2013 – Wins legal case but still refuses to provide evidence of her abilities [Source]
Mar 2014 – communicates with spirit of a woman who is actually still alive AND in the audience [Source]
Oct 2014 – Video of John Morgan intimidating critics leaked [Source]

If I was a Sally Morgan fan I would look at this list and ask myself at what point I would accept that perhaps not all is what it seems with this self-proclaimed psychic. Sure, she may get some “dazzle shots”-accurate hits that seem too good to be guesses -but when you put the good hits up against all of the fails it really doesn’t weigh up. This is especially true when you consider the fact that the above list contains only those fails that have been made public.

How many such fails have happened in her hundreds of shows that have never been made public? I’m willing to bet that it’s quite a few.

There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that Sally Morgan is able to communicate with spirits and she continues to refuse to have her abilities tested. To continue to cherry-pick only the positives and ignore the overwhelming amount of negatives that stack up against Sally Morgan, and to continue to insist that she is psychic is extremely dishonest of her fans even if they do sincerely believe that humans can communicate with the dead…

…but to excuse homophobic slurs and intimidating threats is a new low. I guess that to some people the idea that they might be wrong is too scary to admit, but you don’t have to believe that Sally Morgan is legit to still believe that there is an afterlife. To do so is self preservation at the cost of your intellectual honesty.