Almost everyday I’m contacted by someone with a paranormal claim. Sometimes they phone me. A few years ago I received a call from a stranger who blurted out gibberish as soon as I answered the phone. He was “speaking in tongues” over the phone for me in his attempt to prove that he was filled with the Holy Spirit.
My most recent call of this kind was from Pete of Tucson, Arizona. “Hi. I’m a psychic medium and one of the best in the country. People tell me I’m 99% accurate and I want to prove my abilities to you. Do you want a psychic reading?” he asked. “Sure. As long as you’re not charging me by the minute!” I said. “I don’t need the money,” he replied, missing my joke.
Pete proceeded to reel off information about my nationality, qualifications, and interests. Everything he said was so accurate that this appeared to be a blatant hot reading, but he denied that he’d plucked these facts from the Internet. “I’m not anywhere near a computer,” he swore. Not that this would have precluded him from researching me before the call. “How about you demonstrate your mediumship abilities?” I asked.
Pete paused as he connected to the other side. “Did your grandmother pass?” he asked. “You tell me,” I replied. “I have your grandmother here,” he decided. “She died about 2000.” I was surprised as this was correct. Still, I thought, it could be a lucky guess. I asked for her name. “I’m getting that she has an “r” in her name somewhere.” This is correct although vague. “R” is a very common letter and Pete couldn’t expand on her name. He continued, “She’s an intelligent lady and she likes to talk. I can’t keep up with her chatter!” My grandmother was an intelligent woman and she did like to chat, but this still wasn’t evidence of a paranormal connection.
“What else can you tell me about her?” I asked. Pete was silent for a while. “She’s showing me animals. There are many animals. I’m seeing pure bred cats but also lots of stray cats and dogs.” This was true. My grandmother was a cat fancier who used to show her purebred Siamese and Burmese cats, but she loved animals and collected strays.
I didn’t provide any feedback to Pete but asked him if he was seeing anything else from my grandmother. There was yet another long pause. “She said something about looking behind the wardrobe.” This was an amazing “hit”! These had been among the final words spoken by my grandmother. I was admittedly impressed with Pete’s reading, but suspicious at his accuracy. “Why don’t you apply for the James Randi Million Dollar Challenge?” I suggested. “No. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone,” he said, although he’d called me with the intention to “prove” his abilities to me. He also believed the Challenge to be rigged…
Pete’s phone call ended as mysteriously as it began. I sat thinking about his reading for some time, trying to recall if I’d ever mentioned my grandmother online anywhere. A few hours later it finally dawned on me. In 2004 I had investigated a psychic medium in Australia by the name of Artemis. I wrote a report about the encounter for The Australian Skeptics’ magazine, The Skeptic. I visited the group’s website and, lo and behold, it is still available online. I reread the article, and sure enough, it mentioned my grandmother’s pets, her final words, and the year she died.
If a psychic reading seems too good to be true, it is probably a hot reading. Using an old article of mine for his research, Pete had given me the best hot reading I’ve ever had. This incident also serves as a reminder that people can access a lot of personal information online that they can use against you, especially if you have a public profile.
Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist, author, skeptical paranormal investigator and a research fellow for the James Randi Foundation. You can follow Karen on Twitter here.