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Con artists hack your brain ... with your permission

When we have fewer emotional challenges, preoccupations and mental clutter we’re more actively aware of our surroundings. Our sharpened minds will be attuned to sights, sounds and other sensory input that can alert us to con artists’ attempts to hijack our emotions, our valuables and our dreams. Here’s practical information that you can give to your management, colleagues, families and friends.

Romance novelist Jude Deveraux has authored 43 New York Times bestsellers, sold more than 60 million copies of her books and enjoyed her fortune from the sales. But in the early 1990s, Deveraux sought help for a turbulent marriage and pregnancy difficulties at a New York psychic parlor where she met a woman who called herself Joyce Michael.

Over the next 17 years, Deveraux would trust Michael as a confidant, friend and someone who could supposedly help solve her problems, including her grief following the tragic death of her 8-year-old son in 2005. But Michael was none of those things. (See Author Jude Deveraux Was Suicidal After Losing $20 Million to Fortune Telling Con, by Christina Ng, ABC News, Aug. 24, 2011.)

According to the ABC News story, Michael encouraged Deveraux to distance herself from other friends and family members and to sell her house and all assets. She manipulated Deveraux (and others) into giving her Deveraux’s money, jewelry and other valuables, claiming they were “cursed” and needed to undergo “cleansing rituals” before she’d return them. Of course, Devereaux never saw those belongings and cash again.

Michael took advantage of Deveraux’s profound grief by claiming she could contact Deveraux’s dead son and prevent him from being “caught between heaven and hell,” and she could transfer his spirit into the body of another boy so they could be together in this life. Michael also said Deveraux’s spirit was in the body of another woman secretly married to Brad Pitt. (See Novelist testifies ‘psychic’ claimed she could reunite her with dead child, by Paula McMahon, Sun Sentinel, Sept. 10, 2013.)

Michael is really Rose Marks, a member of an extended family of psychic con artists who operated in New Jersey, Florida and other states, from as far back as the 1940s in San Diego County. (See Gypsy Clan Facing Test as Psychics, by Tony Perry, L.A. Times, Feb. 27, 1995.) For more than 17 years, Marks defrauded Deveraux of nearly $20 million and used empty promises of hope to also steal her sense of safety, love, belonging and self-esteem. Though Deveraux had had a financially rewarding literary career, she was left with almost nothing.

In 2013, Marks was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. She lost an appeal of her sentence in 2016. (See Convicted ‘psychic’ loses bid for new trial in $17M fraud case, by Paula McMahon, Sun Sentinel, Dec. 19, 2016.)

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