They have Tarot cards, Ouija Boards, convincing trance-states, Crystal Balls, Cold Reading, and the whole bit. What they don't have is any actual Psychic Powers. But that's all right! They're not out to commune with the spirit world but to part gullible victims from their money.
The grift-speak name for a person that runs a psychic game is 'Reader'. And it ain't about Tarot cards. They are the profilers of the grift world. They use psychic trappings to refine the reader's understanding of how best to operate their mark's buttons. A reader learns more about where a mark's buttons are with a single side-long glance than most people will ever figure out about him. Certainly more than the mark does, anyway. Once they are clearly understood, the mark is moved into one of a number of specialized tales.
Some of those tales:
- Bury The Guilt — The button is guilt. The mark needs to go somewhere ooky and bury some money to mollify the spirit of someone they have wronged. That's the classic form. It takes many, many others. The main play is convincing the mark that coughing up bucks equals making atonement. The exact method of dispersing the money really makes no difference at all, as long as the reader can grab it after the mark blows off.
- Rope Out — The button is greed. Best play here? Get your Con Man buddy in on it. He has tales for that. Boy, howdy, does he have tales for that. The reader's main concern here is to assure that it is clear to the Con Man that they have a split coming.
- Pimp — The button is loneliness or horniness. Best of, all ... both. Steer the mark toward a prostitute/gigolo that understands the play.
Alternately (and probably more commonly) a Phony Psychic may work on their own, playing up the role of a psychic or medium or fortune-teller or the like to fleece any marks who are a little too eager to believe in the supernatural. People who are dealing with bereavement, facing uncertainty in life, or just New-Age Retro Hippie types who believe in anything out there, all make eager targets and are willing to pay to hear what they want. While some people may say there's nothing really wrong about offering some hope or faith or a dose of Placebo Effect, most objective observers would argue it's not ethical to exploit people's suffering and anxiety to line your own pockets, particularly if you don't actually believe what you're selling.
See Fortune Teller for more "legitimate" psychics, and Not-So-Phony Psychic for legitimate psychics who think they're phony. A Phony Psychic may be involved in a variation on the classic Four Nineteen Scam, or in a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax. See also Fake Wizardry, Fake Faith Healer, and False Prophet. A one-size-fits-all Cold Reading is a tool in the phony's arsenal. Phone versions of this trope normally used a 900 Number. Compare Sherlock Can Read and Clue, Evidence, and a Smoking Gun.
- Misaomaru "Don" Kanonji from Bleach has all the hallmarks of this trope. He's unimaginably over-the-top in action and presentation, has a TV show, and claims to fight ghosts. The weird part: he actually has powers. He can see and interact with ghosts, and even fire off a comically small but surprisingly powerful energy ball from his hand. The problem is that he has no idea how to actually deal with ghosts, turning one into a Hollow through sheer ignorance in his first appearance.
- One of the cases in Case Closed featured two of the suspects (who are Fengshui Master and fortuneteller respectively) planting listening devices inside the goods that they sell to customers in order to convince them of their psychic power.
- The Corpse God of Dead Mount Death Play works as one, using hot readings (researching the mark with the aid of a hacker) for the bulk of his work. He does use his real powers to help people with their losses (and make a show out of a pen that moves on its own), but most of his uncanny accuracy comes from the hot readings.
- Horribly played with in Detective School Q. As a part of a plan to rebuild her business and save her family from ruin, a woman named Hanayo Ichinose faked her death, got plastic surgery and some time later tried to make herself pass as one of these, intending to stay close to her kids who thought she was dead. Her two older sons, however, mistook not!Hanayo for an accomplice of their greedy and evil aunt... and to protect themselves and their baby sister, they killed Hanayo.
- Miroku in Inuyasha is a genuine Buddhist monk with very real spiritual powers... whose favorite trick upon arriving in a town is to single out a large, prosperous-looking household and announce that it is "threatened by evil spirits," which he then generously offers to exorcize in return for a meal and a place to stay for the night. Every now and again one of these houses surprises him by actually harboring a spirit or two.
- Madame Exorcist plays this trope straight. She proclaims to be a professional at her job but Inuyasha and friends have their doubts about her legitimacy due to her ineffective powers and her old age. While she is somewhat competent when it comes to battling evil spirits, she comes off as a mediocre exorcist compared to the main heroes.
- In Private Actress, the main character Shiho is once hired to pose as one of these and pretend she can invoke the soul of a child actress's mother, so the girl will stop rejecting her soon-to-be stepmom. Shiho realizes that the stepmom is a borderline Wicked Stepmother and decides to protect the girl instead, managing to get the dad to call off the engagement.
- Psychic Detective Yakumo is another genuine psychic who is not ashamed to pull a Phony Psychic con. In Yakumo's case, his one and only psychic power is the ability to see and communicate with the spirits of the dead; he makes money on the side by pretending to be able to tell which card a mark has pulled from a deck in his "office," which has a mirror conveniently placed to give him a clear view from behind his desk.
- Talentless Nana: Nana Hiiragi claims to be a mind-reader, which is a believable claim in a Superhero School. In reality, all of her "mind reading" is just her being able to read people really well (and if she can't guess someone's thoughts, she can wave it away by claiming that her power doesn't always work well).
- ×××HOLiC has a chapter where Yuuko demonstrates the difference between a Phony Psychic who tries to ask for more money to give Watanuki some love and a real psychic who guesses Watanuki's name and ghost-seeing abilities without even talking to him. Yuuko also notes that it's perfectly all right to be a psychic without real powers, as long as they study and put effort into whatever method they use (the fake one was an astrologer who never studied the subject).
- Mai Valentine pulled a fake psychic act at first in the Duelist Kingdom arc of Yu-Gi-Oh!; in reality, she scented all her cards with unique scents so she'd know by scent which cards she'd draw. Joey figured out her trick when he closed his eyes and noticed the scents. Despite having caught a cold a few episodes ago from diving into the ocean in an attempt to recover Yugi's Exodia cards.
- Espa Roba also pulls a phony psychic stunt in the Battle City tournament, with help from his brothers spying on his opponents' cards and relaying them through a headset. (Apparently, he and his brothers pulled this trick when he worked as a psychic in a circus.)
- Before either of them was Kokurano, a student at Yugi's school. He posed as a psychic to impress girls and had pre-planned 'predictions' hidden in his clothes (something Yugi guessed). However, he also went as far as to make some of his own predictions come true, such as Anzu 'swooning over a great man' (he used chloroform on her) and Yugi being crushed by 'countless letters' (he tried pushing a bookcase onto Yugi).
- Asterix: Prolix in Asterix and the Soothsayer is a phony augur (a reader of entrails), and leads a very good life requesting various edibles to 'read', such as fish, boars and beer. This works wonderfully until he is captured by the Romans, who are ordered to kill all Gaulish soothsayers, leading him to have to prove to them that he's a conman, not a psychic. Unfortunately, all his predictions end up coming true.
- Alan Moore's original graphic novel version of From Hell had a historical phony confessing to the main character in a flash-forward prologue. But, he notes, despite making everything up on whims or to cover his own tail, he was still always right...
- Gilbert George from Judge Dredd posed as a psychic and was reputed to be extremely accurate, but it turns out (posthumously) that he was just using small and advanced surveillance equipment to learn what he needed to know.
- Miss Piggy's issue in the original miniseries of The Muppet Show Comic Book features Madame Rhonda, a con artist who runs a fortune-telling scam to trick people out of money.
- Three pre-New Adventures stories of Paperinik had him deal with these. In one he had to deal with a fake wizard who convinced people they needed to buy a lot of things that his accomplices would then sell them (he had been one of the victims as Donald), another had the fake challenge him to try her fortunes only to stage the events to try and convince him they worked so he'd fall in a trap (they worked... Only for him to overhear her talk about the plan with her accomplices due to one of the accomplices giving him a fortune cookie telling him to go back where they were talking), and in the third Paperinik had to debunk hundreds of fake mages who were scamming the whole Duckburg, and in the process had ruined his dating life and had got him stripped naked in public by a mob of fans that had mistaken him for one of the wizards. In a variant, the third one included an actual wizard (who proved it by flying in the last panels) as Paperinik's assistant, Stealth Hi/Bye appearing from nowhere to give him some useful tip (in their last encounter, Paperinik declared that he had proven that magic did not exist after the wizard said that now the actual ones would be able to work without indrance).
- Rose Blackdeer of Revival is a fortuneteller by trade. Instead of supernatural ability, she uses drugged tea and hypnosis to persuade her targets of her power.
- Amelie de Mort in the Vampirella story "The Betrothed of the Sun-God" pretends to be a medium and cons people into thinking that their dead relatives want the will changed to benefit her, after which she has her victims killed for the inheritance money, though she gets more than she bargained for when Vampirella and Pendragon visit her and Huitzilopochtli speaks through her for real.
- X-Factor (2006): In Issue #35, the heroes are in a hospital to gain information from the comatose Hector Munoz whose son Darwin is missing. Lieutenant Weiss, the cop who called them, says he has dealt with plenty of fraudulent psychics who tried to use missing persons cases to gain media attention. His skepticism isn't helped when Monet reads Hector's mind and nothing turns up.
- Kung Fu Panda 2. Although she has genuine foresight, Lord Shen's soothsayer doesn't mind yanking his chain with this trope.
Soothsayer: If you continue on your current path... (eyes roll up in her head) you will find yourself... at the bottom of the stairs. I see... I see... (plucks one of Shen's feathers) Pain.
Soothsayer: And anger. (takes a bite of Shen's robe)
Shen: How dare you! That is the finest silk in the province!
Soothsayer: Followed by denial.
Shen: This isn't fortune-telling! You're just saying what's happening right—
- In Disney's Robin Hood, Robin and Little John disguise themselves as fortune-tellers—with the intent of robbing Prince John of everything but his underwear and crown.
- Alfred Hitchcock's final film Family Plot stars Barbara Harris as a faux psychic and Bruce Dern as her legman-researcher.
- In The Frighteners, Michael J. Fox's shady ghostbuster actually can see ghosts, but they're his friends, and he "employs" them in his cons. The ghosts haunt the place, he gets rid of 'em, they laugh all the way to the bank.
- The B-plot of Ghost is a Phony Psychic played by Whoopi Goldberg discovering that she actually can Hear Dead People.
- The documentary An Honest Liar tells the story of James "The Amazing" Randi's career of demonstrating there was nothing a "real" psychic or psychokinetic could do that a skilled illusionist or mentalist could not replicate. It covers his efforts versus Uri Geller and faith healer Peter Popoff, as well as occasions when he created his own phony psychics to prove a point to the media or parapsychologists. For fifty years his foundation offered one million dollars to any psychic they could not debunk; it was never claimed.
- In It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie; in the world where Kermit was never born, Miss Piggy's "acting career" is as a telephone psychic.
- In Magicians, part of Karl's reinvention of himself as a 'street' magician involves a Phony Psychic routine complete with Cold Reading. He's not very comfortable with it to begin with, but when his would-be girlfriend leaves him when she learns he's not a real psychic and upon hearing the sad story of someone coming to see his act who wants to make contact with a loved one on the other side he breaks down and admits he's a fake. At the end of the movie, we then see that a much less-scrupulous magician has filled the niche he left behind.
- In Magic in the Moonlight, Sophie pretends to be a medium. Initially, the protagonist, Stanley, thinks that she is a fraud. Then he starts having doubts... Finally, he realizes that Sophie is really a fraud.
- Murder, My Sweet: Jules Amthor admits that he is this, scamming gullible society ladies.
- The classic Film Noir Nightmare Alley features Tyrone Power as a venal carnie who gets the show's resident "psychic" to give him the secret of a successful con before accidentally poisoning him. Without spoiling too much, it's safe to say things do not end well for him.
- Pee-wee's Big Adventure: Pee-wee goes to a fortune teller, Madame Ruby, to find the location of his stolen bicycle. At first, he demands that she divine why he's there, so she tells him, "You... want something." Her answer is so generic that it could hardly be wrong. She then takes his wallet and fishes through it to discover a picture of his bicycle, giving her further credibility. Eventually she claims him that his bike is in the basement of the Alamo because she spots a sign for Al and Moe's Bargain Basement. This sends Pee-wee on a wild goose chase for most of the film.
- The film Red Lights centers around a physicist and a psychology professor who specialize in debunking psychic phenomenon, and their attempts to prove whether or not a renowned blind psychic is the real thing—presupposing that he's not. The film goes into a lot of detail about the tricks that phony psychics use.
- In Séance on a Wet Afternoon, Myra Savage holds regular seances in an upstairs room in her house, but she is more interested in publicity than money, so she hatches a scheme to kidnap Amanda Clayton, the daughter of wealthy industrialist Charles Clayton, then offer the distraught parents her services to locate Amanda. She tells the Claytons that she had a dream of a girl lost and surrounded by Clay, and mentions the names Caroline (Amanda's best friend at school) and Hedge (a reference to her stuffed hedgehog), both of which Amanda unwittingly told her herself. Mr Clayton is convinced Myra is a charlatan, telling her she's not the first psychic who has claimed to be able to locate their daughter, but Mrs Clayton is more receptive and attends a seance at which Myra pretends to communicate with Amanda.
- Tales from the Hood 2: In "The Medium", TV psychic John Lloyd records the chatter among his audience members before the show and uses the notes provided by his staff to present the illusion of psychic abilities.
- Warlock: The Warlock visits a medium after arriving in the present day to contact his master Satan. The medium in question is clearly a fraud, but since the warlock himself isn't, he just hijacks her body against her will to channel the devil.
- In Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?, the "medium" Mr. Benton conspires with the butler Albie and his wife Clarine to fake visitations from Aunt Roo's deceased daughter Katharine. Clarine stands in Katharine's nursery, calling down the dumbwaiter shaft in a little girl voice, which completely fools Aunt Roo.
- The High Aldwyn from Willow zig-zags the trope. He is quite capable of real magic but seems to find it easier to get the results he wants through cold-reading and mind-games. Also, he is a competent leader and unambiguously good, in spite of being the most manipulative character in the film, including the Big Bad.
- In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy runs across a fortune-teller who tells her to close her eyes and then proceeds to look through her bag. He finds a picture of Dorothy and Auntie Em, and tells Dorothy that Auntie Em has fallen ill - a more benevolent example of the trope than many, as the result is to inspire Dorothy to head back home instead of running away as she'd intended.
- In Four and Twenty Blackbirds, a disgraced ex-priest (and mage) poses as a psychic named Oskar Koob, using his magic to find information about his clients (such as seeing what they carry in their belt pouches) and to aid in his phony consultation sessions.
- Played for laughs in "Angel Down, Sussex" by Kim Newman; a young woman, Catriona, visits a psychic after World War I, and the psychic divines that she is seeking contact with a soldier, Edwin; the psychic assures her that her soldier felt no pain when he died and that he sends his love to her from the afterlife, and a ghostly, indistinct image appears. After a moment, Catriona points out that there's one problem with the psychic's reading: Edwin, the soldier who the psychic has made such direct contact with? Not dead, in fact currently parked outside. Turns out Catriona's a particularly savvy paranormal investigator and proceeds to deconstruct the psychic's act with devastating accuracy and reveal to her other patrons that she's a sham.
- In the Confessions, astrology is almost exclusively referred to as "that folly" and several anecdotes about twins and people born on the same day are provided to show that one's horoscope determines nothing about a person, even if a few astrologers have made accurate predictions by sheer chance.
- In Dinner at Deviant's Palace, set After the End, there is a fortune-teller whose schtick is built around half-remembered and misunderstood scraps of jargon from the old times, including "telephones", quantum mechanics, and stories about people hearing voices from the metal fillings in their teeth.
- In the Dirk Gently series, Dirk has tried to be a Phony Psychic on several occasions. The fact he's invariably accurate (but never manages to make any money at it, and at least once was arrested) annoys him intensely.
- All supposedly psychic people in The Divine Comedy are condemned to the fourth bolgia in Malebolge, the circle of fraud, which suggests Dante thought all psychics are phony. Such people are punished by having their heads on backwards.
- Employed by John Sandford in The Empress File using rigged Tarot readings to convince a corrupt official to invest in a scam. Partially averted in that a later unstaged reading comes out completely true.
- Madame Tracy from Good Omens is a phony medium that puts on a show for Londoners looking to paddle in the occult while staying firmly in the metaphorical shallow end. To that end, she does Tarot readings with some of the more distressing cards removed from the deck and pretends to channel departed friends and relatives who offer vague platitudes about how nice it is on the other side. (She also keeps cabbage on the boil in her kitchen, as it's hard to have a really eldritch experience when everything smells like someone is preparing Sunday dinner.) Much to her surprise, she ends up channeling an actual ghost when Aziraphale temporarily possesses her body.
- In The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, Nicholas Benedict uses his prodigious memory and talent for observing human behavior patterns to pass himself off as psychic at the orphanage at Rothschild's Inn. His tricks include quickly memorizing the names of everyone there, memorizing the entire layout of the building, and seemingly predicting future events based on his observations of past behavior. He easily fools the younger children, though the older ones remain skeptical.
- Many, including Hermione, assume that Professor Trelawney, the (main) Divination Professor in Harry Potter, is either a phony or wildly exaggerating the usefulness of her powers and Divination as a whole. When the trio begins taking her class in the third book, she begins the first class by making wild accusations, spends most of the year predicting Harry's death, and Harry and Ron quickly discover they can BS their way through the class by making doom-and-gloom predictions. Ultimately subverted; Trelawney made the two main prophecies that we see in the series. Furthermore, a lot of her predictions, when stripped of their theatricality, are actually pretty accurate, Harry's death notwithstanding. Trelawney is however quite bad at correctly interpreting her predictions.
- In The Haunting of Hill House, Mrs Montague (wife of the parapsychology doctor researching the place) immediately makes up a very theatrical story about an immured nun and gold in the cellar through a session of Planchette (that little doohickey that picks out symbols on a Ouija board, but given a pencil and paper to write on). Her husband immediately points out that Hill House was never, ever a convent, nor did nuns ever visit. She's, of course, furious at being called out.
- In the Connie Willis book Inside Job, the ghost of H. L. Mencken helps debunk phony psychics, by possessing one during their act. Possibly. Or it's the most complicated scam in existence to make a debunker believe in ghosts.
- Played with in Jago: one of the protagonists had a brief career as a Uri-Geller-style psychic before being debunked... but she possesses genuine psychic powers (though not strong enough to be particularly useful), and allowed herself to be "debunked" so she could return to something resembling a normal life.
- Julian gives us Maximus, a Large Ham in a toga who would make Uri Geller proud. Or perhaps not, given that his advice is what prompts Julian to reject an excellent treaty and instead march to his doom.
- The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII novel Lateral Biography TURKS ~ The Kids Are Alright concerns Kyrie, who claims to have the power to hear the whispers of the dead in the Lifestream in order to attract patrons to their detective agency. This brings her under the attention of the Turks, who consider beating her as a warning to make her stop doing this, but decide it would be unfair. It later turns out that she got the idea from knowing Aerith as a child, who actually had the power to hear the voices of the dead, which freaked her out too much to continue being her friend.
- Robert Browning's "Mr. Sludge, 'The Medium'" is forty-three pages of justification and lame excuses made by such a fraud after being caught in the act, written as a vitriolic and thinly-veiled criticism of real-life psychic Daniel Dunglas Home, who Elizabeth Barrett Browning patronized fairly frequently.
- In Nightmare Alley, the phony mentalist and Fortune Teller Madame Zeena and her husband use a complex system of visual and verbal clues that allow her to accurately answer audience questions. She teaches this ability and Cold Reading to the main character Stan who later uses it in his own acts.
- Repairman Jack helps Phony Psychic brothers stop a rival husband-and-wife Phony Psychic team who are trying to drive them out of business in The Haunted Air.
- Róża of Shaman Blues can see ghosts and ward houses against them, but can't hear their voices. She nevertheless makes a lot of money by pretending to be a medium and "talking" with the ghosts that are haunting the possession, eventually promising to send it to the afterlife for extra money and then simply banishing it from the house. Eventually, one of the ghosts comes to complain to the real medium and Róża's scam is revealed.
- James Lovegrove's Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Deadly Seance" features multiple phony psychics. Watson believes the main one was clearly in contact with his late brother since she got so many details right, until Holmes points out she did nothing of the kind, she simply agreed with his interpretation of what she'd said.
- In The Wizard of London, one appears in it as a medium, pretending to help wealthy people connect with their dead loved ones. The main characters unmask her as the fraud she is when one of her clients tells her friend that she is seeing a medium for her lost son and the friend is suspicious.
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In "Mail Order Prophet", a man receives a series of letters from a psychic that successfully predicts future events. Turns out the psychic is a convicted conman who's writing thousands of these letters. Half the letters predict an event will go one way, while the other is the opposite. Since half the predictions are bound to come true, with each 'prediction' he just whittles his mailing list down to the few who have received a correct prediction each time, and so are willing to invest with him.
- Alta Mar: Part of Cassandra's plan to get revenge on her sister's alleged murderer.
- Spoofed in Angel when Lorne consults a genuine psychic who works at a psychic hotline.
Aggie: "Ah, you know the business. Vague predictions, lengthy pauses; anything to keep the numbers rolling."
- A Bit of Fry and Laurie: One sketch features a man who claims to bend spoons using the amazing power of...his hands. He is quite offended when called on this.
- In the Charlie's Angels episode "The Seance" the Angels encounter one of these. The psychic's assistant not only fakes spirit activity during the seances but hypnotizes their clients into revealing personal information (which is used in the seances) and into giving him valuable jewelry - which is then reported stolen since the victim doesn't remember doing this. After hypnotizing Kelly and finding out that she's an undercover detective, he makes her believe Jill is her childhood nemesis and that she should kill Jill.
- In an episode of Charmed, Phoebe applies for a position like this, noting that it would be the last place anyone would expect to find a real psychic like herself.
- Cheers: Madame Lazoura, Carla's psychic. Carla being the highly superstitious person she is, she's unable to peg Lazoura as an obvious fake until she's outright told when the woman retires with her gains to Florida, sending Carla into a Heroic BSoD... until she realizes she can pretend to be a psychic herself and make some scratch.
- One episode of CSI saw one of these as the Victim of the Week. Turns out that because of sheer coincidence, the BS that she gave a police detective that asked her for help finding a dead girl's corpse ("She lies in Summerland (a New Age version of Heaven)") sounded exactly like the place where the girl's murderer had buried her body (a neighborhood named Summerlin) so out of sheer panic he went and killed her just in case. The episode milks the Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane of this confusion for all its worth, but Grissom still points out as the episode closes that a poor woman died because of it.
- Good Omens (2019): Madame Tracy works as one of these, with all her "readings" being obvious fakery. At least until Aziraphale possesses her—then she actually channels a spirit.
- An episode of Hawaii Five-0 had one of these as the Victim of the Week. Her killer was a woman whose father had committed suicide when the victim lied to him about his daughter being dead (in reality she had simply run away from home). The killer never actually intended to kill the victim, just subject her to an Ironic Hell by making her think she was being haunted by real ghosts.
- One episode of Hetty Wainthropp Investigates had Hetty being hired by a woman to debunk the psychic her mother was seeing as a fraud. To complicate matters, the local police are also investigating the medium, for suspected blackmailing, and Hetty helps them set up a sting operation by fabricating a scandalous story about her "dead" husband's illegitimate child. The episode actually goes with Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane for the psychic's abilities, though she does make extensive use of the standard cold reading tricks, but the focus is on the blackmailing.
- Impractical Jokers: Played for Laughs (of course) in an episode where Sal's punishment was to appear live on stage as a psychic in front of a crowd of strangers. He was not allowed to leave until he had actually made a correct prediction about someone in the audience; naturally, he failed miserably.
- Inspector Morse. A serial rapist escapes from prison and murders several former associates before being shot by police. Turns out the whole thing was engineered by one of his victims whom he failed to recognise. Knowing that the rapist believed his capture (which was entirely bad luck) had been due to betrayal, she convinced him she had psychic powers, described the incident where she was gang-raped and said the others involved in the rape had turned informant.
- Liv Moore of iZombie is an odd variation in that she is a phony psychic with real powers (and not a case of Not-So-Phony Psychic since she knows full well that she can see things). After becoming a zombie, she develops a Cannibalism Superpower: When she eats the brain of a dead person, she inherits their memories, which appear in the form of visions. She uses this skill to help the police, but since she can't tell them she's a zombie, she claims to be a psychic instead.
- One episode of John Doe had a woman who honestly thought she was having psychic visions about a serial killer. Turned out that she herself had been abducted and wounded by the killer, but escaped, and promptly forgot most of her ordeal due to trauma and blood loss. Of course, the show already has a secret organization using actual psychics for remote viewing purposes.
- In the Kenan & Kel episode "Mental Kel Epathy", after a bunch of coincidences that convince Kenan's family and Chris that Kel is psychic, Kenan decides to keep up the charade in order to profit from it.
- Law & Order: Criminal Intent had a psychic used by her male companion, who fed her necessary information.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had one, who claimed he could find missing/dead girls. Turns out, with the help of his manipulated wife, he was the one kidnapping and killing them. CSI also had a variation of this.
- Bizarrely, Papa Lazarou of The League of Gentlemen, who is a Monster Clown that is Really 700 Years Old, has a psychic act is an obvious and not even remotely convincing fake.
- The Leverage episode "The Future Job" has a Phony Psychic as the villain, and the episode is wholly recommended for the great detail they go into on his methods.
- It also is utterly hilarious: the team convinces the villain (who is very aware that he's running a con) that one of them is a real psychic.
- Lost's Richard Malkin appears to be a "legit" Fortune Teller in the first season episode "Raised By Another." However, in the second season episode "?" he admits he's a fraud. It's still up in the air whether he had an actual psychic experience reading Claire in "Raised By Another."
- Miles genuinely has the ability to hear the dead, but semi-counts because of his history of telling clients what they want to hear for money, and using it to find a dead drug dealer's cash.
- Lovecraft Country: Leti's mom worked as a fake spirit medium, and according to her was very skilled, even doing research with actual Voduon practitioners so her act seemed more convincing.
- The Magicians (2016): Margo and Fen encounter an older woman pretending she is the Green Hood, a famed seer. Her seer act is pretty lame, and Margo sees through it almost immediately, though Fen takes a bit longer. She gets them to do yardwork for her in return for a prophecy until Margo has had enough. It turns out that the real Green Hood had used her house in dreams, and grew annoyed over the constant pilgrims coming in messing up her property, deciding she'd take advantage of this as a result.
- The Mentalist character Patrick Jane used to be a Phony Psychic, but he angered a Serial Killer who then killed his family. Now he helps the law as a consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation with Hyper-Awareness. As a result of his experience, he hates anyone who claims psychic powers, believing they're all frauds too.
- Mission: Impossible: Cinnamon poses as a psychic to convince a tycoon that his life is in danger, leading to a high-stakes poker game against Rollin in "The Psychic".
- In "Mr. Monk and the Psychic," Monk deals with a hack psychic named Dolly Flint, who got recruited without her knowledge by Harry Ashcombe to find his wife's body after he runs her car off the road (he can't find the body himself because it would look suspicious, so he needed to recruit someone to 'discover' it for him).
- In Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii, a Tie-In Novel to the series, Dylan Swift is a phony psychic who's on the wrong side of the law. Both Monk and Natalie dislike Swift, who they can't help but notice is spending a lot of time around a recent murder committed at the resort hotel they are staying at - Monk for one set of reasons (finding the truth, plus having a dislike for people who profit from others' grief) and Natalie for other reasons (namely, personal messages from Swift about her late husband). It turns out then that Swift, as popular as his celebrity status, is actually a master manipulator who wiretaps hotel rooms to get the information he needs for his shows, and committed the murder in an effort to cover this up.
- Murder, She Wrote: The Victim of the Week in "The Classic Murder" is a phony psychic with a sideline in Blackmail. Turns out trying to blackmail a murderer is a bad idea.
- New Tricks: Brian turns the tables on a fake psychic in "Dead Man Talking"; using cold reading techniques to reveal all kinds of incriminating information about him.
- The NBC reality show Phenomenon, about the search for the best new magician, had judges Criss Angel and Uri Geller call out a man for pretending to be able to talk to the dead. When Uri Geller calls you out on psychic fakery, you've done something very wrong.
- The show Psych is about a phony psychic who's on the right side of the law; he feigns psychic abilities but really uses his acute powers of observation to solve crimes. Shawn could have been a regular cop like his dad wanted but is too Brilliant, but Lazy to do so. The whole thing started when he reported information on crimes he deduced from televised evidence, the cops assumed he was in on them, and Shawn claimed to be psychic because the police found that more plausible than a jackass like him being a brilliant detective. It's pretty strongly implied that the chief is aware that he's faking, but is pretending not to in order to maintain Plausible Deniability when he skirts the edges of the law. Shawn also points out to his partner that, due to the loose laws surrounding psychics, the only way they can actually prove he's not psychic is if he directly tells them.
- Raven's Home:
- In part 2 of "The Falcon and the Raven", Nia pretends to have a vision when she feels left out as the only non-psychic of the Baxters.
- In "Because" when Booker lets his psychic abilities slip, the Carver students wish to have more visions from him. But since the visions only happen once in a while, Booker pretends to have visions that the boy Nia likes would friend her and win the basketball championship. He is exposed as a "fake psychic" when he gets injured and revealed he only friended Nia to move up her list when ironically, he's a real psychic who made up those visions just to be famous.
- On Rookie Blue a man comes to the police station claiming that he is a psychic and has information about the recent kidnapping of a witness. The man knows a lot of information that was never released to the public and the cops decide to check out his claims when other leads dry up. The psychic's help allows the police to save the witness but they also discover that the man is actually the estranged brother of the wife of the mobster that had the witness kidnapped. They figure that the wife wanted to get rid of her abusive husband so she gave her brother all that information knowing that the cops would never publicly admit that they got it from someone claiming to be a psychic. The episode ends on a Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane note when a lot of the casual predictions the man made start coming true.
- One episode of So Weird had a phony medium get debunked by the genuine article.
- Space: 1999: One of the episodes ("The Seance Spectre", of the second season) features as a villain a member of Moonbase Alpha that had played one of these for so long that not only he had made a small cult of personality, but he had become insane and started to believe his own lies, and when he's convinced that "the spirits" want the Alphans to live on a Death World that they are passing, he's willing to do anything (from creating false information to murder and ending up trying to force a second Breakaway) to make the Alphans go there.
- In Supernatural, Sam and Dean Winchester run into an entire town of these in "The Mentalists". Lampshaded to no end, but particularly when Dean mentions that Pamela was one of the few genuine psychics they have encountered. There are actually some real ones as well, including the villain, who has summoned the ghost of a dead psychic to kill the impostors, while her equally psychic and ghostly sister tries to warn people about her.
- The Switch (1975) episode "Stung from Beyond" has a family of these who use fake séances to con people into investing in the stock market.
- Most of the bad guys in Trick are running this scam. The ones who aren't are the guys handling the business end of the scam.
- The X-Files. The Stupendous Yappi, a hammy celebrity Police Psychic that even Mulder can't take seriously. Ironically it's not that his predictions are wrong—they're just too vague to be of any possible use.
- Detective Cline: Look, all I know is that so far, Yappi has provided more solid, concrete leads on this case than you have. Now if you don't mind, I have to get an APB out on a ... [checks notebook] ...white male, aged 17 to 34 with or without a beard and maybe a tattoo ... who's impotent.Scully: Might as well go home, Mulder. This case is as good as solved.
- Waiting for God: The medium brought to Bayview by Jane. She claims to channel the spirit of Tom's late wife, who is not happy with his relationship with Diana. Then it's revealed that she's been fed information by Marion. After discovering this, Diana feeds her misinformation through Geoffrey, leading to her exposure as a fraud in front of a large audience. She also claims to channel the spirit of one of Diana's colleagues, who it turns out has just died.
- Fortean Times looks at psychic phenomena of all kinds (both historical and contemporary) with an open mind tinged with skepticism. Some of the cases they examine certainly do turn out to be faked.
- Bleak Expectations: The opening of series 3 has Pip Bin and Harry Biscuit attend a séance held by Britain's favourite medium, Short Medium Large. Harry Biscuit scoffs that she's an obvious fake, but since he's Harry Biscuit he falls for her anyway.
Short Medium Large: You, love, in the front row, what's your name?
Harry: She's picked the wrong person to mess with, for I have the most rational mind here. My name, why it is Harry Biscuit.
Short Medium Large: I knew that.
Harry: Oh! My! God!
- The Bible:
- In the book of Deuteronomy, as a litmus test to determine whether a so-called "prophet" is really one sent by the Lord, God says that if the "prophet" declares something that doesn't happen when it should, then that was not a prophet sent by the Lord, but rather the person has spoken it presumptuously.
- In the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God through those respective prophets dealt with various false prophets among God's people who were making "thus says the Lord" statements when God Himself hasn't spoken to or through them.
- In the Book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar suspects that his Chaldean astrologers are pretty much this when he has a disturbing dream, so he refuses to tell them the dream and instead tests them by having them declare both the dream and its interpretation.
- Illuminati: New World Order parodies them. You can dial 1-900-SUC-KERS to talk to your psychic buddy.
- One of the books for Orpheus suggests a plot hook where one of these - a medium with her own television show and absolutely zero talent, as opposed to the Player Character "operators" - makes the Orpheus agents, already on the run for the suspected murder of the rest of their organization, the targets of a crusade.
- The Witchcraft core book has a fiction piece where a phony medium earns the ire of a lot of ghosts, and it's only due to the intervention of one of the Gifted that she's not torn to bits.
- Played for laughs in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum when Pseudolus pretends to be a soothsayer to distract Eronius, with Marcus Lycus feeding him fake clues. Lampshaded, naturally:
Eronius: How did you know that I needed a soothsayer?
Pseudolus: I'd be a fine soothsayer if I didn't!
- In The Medium by Gian-Carlo Menotti, Baba, known professionally as Madame Flora, has her assistant Monica impersonate the spirit of a child who died long ago at the age of two. When she confesses to her clients that she was faking the whole thing, instead of being angry they ask her to put on another "seance" even though they know it's phony because the thought of being able to communicate with their dead loved ones is so comforting (often Truth in Television). This comes after she starts hearing voices...
- The start of the Medium?/Ghoul legacy in Cultist Simulator has the player character a very successful, well-remunerated theatrical medium who uses Cold Reading and secrets gleaned from here and there to make a living. The dead eventually take offense and start actually speaking through them. This gets the Medium fired for babbling like a lunatic, and leaves them with the ability to eat the dead to obtain their memories and a nasty appetite that compels them to use this ability.
- The Jackbox Party Pack: If you win a game of Trivia Murder Party 2 while under the effects of Grandpappy Jack's Glasses, you'll get a visit from Dr. Kharhaldah, a self-proclaimed "licensed physician of the mystical arts" who offers to help save you from the "curse of supernatural madness". If you get his question right, he'll either offer to send you a Shockingly Expensive Bill or ask that you not tell the doctors he was here because he's not legally allowed to be in the hospital.
- In Makai Kingdom, Pram the Oracle has a lot of real powers, being an Overlord, but prophecy isn't one of them. She "predicted" the future by reading ahead in the Sacred Tome. The prophecy that kicked off the entire plot was also a lie that Pram wrote into the Tome as a cruel prank on Zetta.
- Persona 5 subverts it with Chihaya Mifune, who is all but stated to be this at first but turns out to be the real deal. Her "holy stones" turn out to be a sham, however.
- The Sims:
- Implied by the "Phone Psychic" career in The Sims games. No Sims have real psychic powers (though they can get magic in the first three games) and any random Sim can take the "psychic" career, so they're probably faking.
- The Sims 3: Supernatural introduces the Fortune Teller career, which has a Mystic branch and a Scam Artist branch. While the Mystic branch is real, the Scam Artist branch falls into this trope. The career descriptions for this branch reference faking being psychic, and the level 10 career level is Celebrity Psychic.
- Yasuhiro Hagakure in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a professional psychic who's supposed to be good at his job, but considering he proudly proclaims only a 30% success rate in his predictions and charges a fortune for them... Ironically, depending on which ending you get, at least one of the two predictions he gives the hero comes true.
- Hagakure is actually something of a subversion. Although he has many of the characteristics of a Phony Psychic (including him even admitting that he has scammed some of his clients in the past), he himself is actually a legitimate psychic. In addition, the spin-off Ultra Despair Hagakure explains that the predictions he makes are incredibly detailed, to the point where he can predict the exact second something will happen. As a result, while his 30% success rate seems abysmal at first glance, considering the specificity of his claims as well as the average success rate of other psychics being implied to be much lower, he does, in fact, live up to his title of Ultimate Clairvoyant.
- The Pkunk from Star Control 2 are an entire race of relatively harmless Phony Psychics. Complicating things are the fact that it's implied that they actually do have some authentic psychic powers, and it's not always clear which of their statements are the real thing and which are nonsense. It's also not totally clear how much they buy into their own act.
- In Girl Genius Madame Olga was a grifter and fortune teller traveling with the circus. After her death, Agatha took up her stage name and position as the circus's fortune teller though she tended to feel out of her depth when it came to coming up with fortunes.
- Arataka Reigen, Mob's employer in Mob Psycho 100 is an out and out fraud, but has an edge due to having a legitimate esper to back him up, with a second esper joining as Mob grows more independent, on top of Dimple helping out once Reigen becomes able to see him. However, despite having no psychic powers and using Mob to deal with anything genuinely supernatural that they come across, he's genuinely dedicated to helping his customers and can usually solve their problems through mundane but surprisingly effective methods. He's also a surprisingly good mentor to Mob (sometimes), despite having no direct knowledge of how real psychic powers work.
- PvP had Brent and Cole attending a taping of Crossing Over With John Edward. Brent is picked as a target, and leads Edward on with a story about a deceased teacher and his sister; when Edward falls for it, Brent says, "Yes, all us Skywalkers are strong in the Force." When the edited show is broadcast, it just comes off as a success for Edward.
- The Weather has a caller takes up this position in "Spooky Fog"; Ben turns to them for advice with his misfortune life, and they not only give him terrible advice, but they also refuse to let him see his cards, continually charge him extra money under the guise of the session running too-long, and encourage him to blow his non-existent money on his church, as well.
- The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, of all franchises, subverted this trope with a wizard character who claims to be psychic and can show visitors magical images of anything they want to see. The catch is that, while the wizard doesn't actually have any powers, the images he shows are real. What the wizard's customers are actually seeing are films taken by the wizard's assistant, who spends a lot of time flying around Grundo taping interesting sights and places, which are then projected onto a screen. The whole "magic powers" schtick is just a way to attract customers, and otherwise the wizard isn't actually conning anyone.
- In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Prophecy of Doom", the Villain of the Week is a Con Man called Nostromos who manipulated rich people into joining his cult where he would "predict" disasters in exchange for millions of dollars before sending his partner to make them happen through sabotage.
- Many years later, the Extreme Ghostbusters tackled a horde of ghosts which their equipment couldn't defeat. They were a part of the ghostly Pied Piper, who "got rid" of them by reabsorbing them; he used this in an attempt at extortion.
- Gravity Falls:
- "Li'l Gideon" Gleeful had actual occult knowledge as well as a mystic amulet that gave him telekinesis (until it was destroyed by Mabel), but his mind-reading powers were fake, which was exposed in the season 1 finale.
- In "A Tale of Two Stans", Grunkle Stan described his mother as a phone psychic and a pathological liar. Because of her, he knew right from the start that Gideon was a fraud.
- Parodied in the Home Movies episode "Temporary Blindness", in which Coach McGuirk is believed to be psychic after going blind, and attempts to give a demonstration to an audience:
"Did someone over here lose a loved one?... How about over here? I'm getting a strong feeling from... here? Here. Say between 'here' and 'here.' Anyone, between this hand and this hand, going all the way back. No? So you mean to tell me that in this room full of people, no one... you don't know anyone who's died? No one, nothing. Look, it is statistically impossible that no one here knows someone who died. *sigh* Alright, who wants me to channel some dead celebrities, how about that?"
- This is pretty much all Rapture from Jem ever does. Word of God is she doesn't actually believe in the supernatural however that doesn't stop her from trying to con people. She's given a Freudian Excuse of having lived on the streets with her bandmates for a while, so being a Con Man was a way to survive.
- In Littlest Pet Shop (2012) episode "Pawlm Reading", a woman named Finola claims that she can read the minds of animals, and profits from it by pretending to help owners better connect with their pets. Blythe, who actually can communicate with animals, can tell she's a fake because her so-called readings are almost always the exact opposite of the animals are actually thinking. Blythe exposes Finola when she doesn't even recognize her own pet Sugar Glider when Blythe disguises him.
- Matt's Monsters: Madame Bovary, in line with her 19th-century spiritist gimmick, claims to have supernatural powers, which are actually faked by her assistant Appendix. One episode, however, shows that she is really very adept in hypnosis.
- In the The Powerpuff Girls episode "I See A Funny Cartoon In Your Future," the girls try to catch a fake psychic who uses her tricks to distract victims while her assistant picks their pockets.
- Though the title characters are not an example, The Real Ghostbusters have met their fair share of frauds and hucksters. The worst one is Dr. Venkman's own father, who sets up a few ghostbusting ventures in an effort to ride his son's coattails. Less visible, but no less repugnant, is Dr. Basingham, who brought real, malevolent spirits upon Ray's aunt Lois. (He's also a walking Take That!: his safari jacket deliberately echoes Jake Kong, Jr. of the Filmation's Ghostbusters team!) In one episode Venkman Sr. and Basingham even worked together for a plot that nearly resulted in an Eldritch Abomination destroying New York.
- A medieval age version exists in The Smurfs episode "Gargamel's Miss-Fortune".
- South Park:
- In "The Biggest Douche in the Universe," Stan tries to debunk phony psychics after Kyle is convinced by one that his dead grandmother is disappointed in him. This being South Park, all of the idiot adults he tries to reveal the tricks to just think he has become psychic and encourage him to pursue this newfound "power." This leads as far as getting him his own (unwanted) TV show where he continues to try to demonstrate why all the psychics on TV are phony.
- In another episode, Cartman gets a head injury and wakes up in the hospital, where a string of coincidences convinces Police Sergeant Yates that he picked up psychic abilities. Cartman ends up believing his own hype and incorrectly implicates several random people in a string of serial murders. Kyle ends up tracking down the real killer but becomes Cassandra Truth until he ends up jumping off a roof so he can get a head injury and have a "psychic vision" of the real killer's location. Then it turns out he might be Real After All at the end.
- In the WordGirl episode "Fortune Crookie", a mysterious obelisk appears and claims that it can tell people's futures as long as the people pay it. The predictions are extremely obvious things that were inevitably going to happen anyway (e.g. it predicts that the school cafeteria will serve chocolate milk, but as Becky points out they have always served chocolate milk). The obelisk turns out to be a scam from Seymour Orlando Smooth to make money.
- Madame Xanadu in Young Justice, although Kent Nelson tells her she does have the gift, she just doesn't know how to use it. She has yet to appear again, so it's not yet known if she officially becomes a Not-So-Phony Psychic.
Xanadu: [in a faked ghostly voice] Oh, my darling! How I missed you! I'm so lonely here, and cold!
Nelson: [laughing] That's the best you could do?
Xanadu: [back in her Cajun accent] Imbecile! You have broken the spell! Your wife is forever lost!
Nelson: That was supposed to be my wife? Heck, my little spitfire would've kicked my can for throwing away good money on you!
Xanadu: [Cajun accent now noticeably absent] No refunds for nonbelievers!
Nelson: I think we both know you're the nonbeliever, Madame. A wind machine? Tire jacks under the table? A shame, too; you have the perfect aura for the work.