True story! I used to work for James "The Amazing" Randi, the famed magician-turned-arch-skeptic, at his foundation in Fort Lauderdale, where we combated psychics and faith-healers and exorcists and all kinds of predatory bullshit slingers. The reaction Mr. Randi most frequently elicited from angry believers: "What's the harm? So what if I want to believe in [magic/psychics/prayer/reincarnation/heaven/ghosts/angels]? Believing gives people hope!"

If you're ever confronted with a similar argument, please mention Jude Deveraux. Leaks in the Fort Lauderdale police department claim the best-selling author of Days of Gold, A Knight In Shining Armor, and almost 40 other works of literacha paid some $20 million to the Marks clan, a notorious family of fortune-tellers and occultists, to secure supernatural aid for her deceased son. The boy died at the age of eight in a motorcycle crash. Allegedly, a "psychic" told Ms. Deveraux that her son was trapped "somewhere between heaven and hell."

Police in Fort Lauderdale, where much of the Marks clan makes its home, arrested several Markses on Tuesday and seized cars, gold coins, and "...more than 400 rings, many with large diamonds, at least 100 watches and 200 necklaces," many of which "were from Cartier, Tiffany and Co., and Gucci." These items reportedly come from individuals who were told donation of such trinkets were necessary to protect their loved ones from harm. Other individual victims allegedly donated sums in excess of $100,000 to the clan. Their identities haven't been revealed.

Caveat emptor, amirite? No. Of course not. I spoke to Mr. Randi this morning, who reminded me: "No, the people who fall for these scams are not stupid. If you're raised in a culture where people believe that such things as fortune tellers exist, the Marks's claims seem perfectly reasonable. They're no more ludicrous than the thought that, oh, you've got to get right with Jesus, because he's checking up on your sins ... If you believe, truly believe that your child is trapped somewhere between heaven and hell, any good parent would try to remedy the situation. These poor people have just been misinformed. This is a failure of education, not intelligence."

[Photo of a storefront psychic in NYC via 24Gotham/Flickr]