I have a rather darling friend who prefers to remain nameless for the endurance of this story.  I reluctantly agreed to protect the identity of the innocent.

The other day, my lovely friend was walking in the Woodside, Queens area of New York City when a small woman approached and told my friend she was seeing “The Letter J” swirling around her.  Startled, and a little unsettled, my good friend — FOR SOME REASON! — confirmed to the tiny stranger that her name did, in fact, begin with “J” and the street scam was on!

After confirming her name started with a “J” — my misbegotten friend had confirmed for this professional scammer that she was a ripe and ready street mark.

The tiny woman continued, and told her she was a psychic and she was getting strong and powerful messages for my friend that she would like to share.

For some reason, my friend agreed to stop walking to the subway and listen, and the tiny psychic went on to tell my friend, “she was a follower and that she should be a leader instead.”  Again, my friend, confirmed for her that she feels like a follower — EVEN THOUGH SHE IS NOT! — and that encouraged the tiny scammer even more to press for my friend to “come and visit her” for a sit down reading in her shop “right around the corner.”

Luckily, my “friend” was of firm enough mind to tell the tiny psychic that she didn’t have any cash with her and that she had to be on her way.  Undeterred, the tiny psychic gave my friend a business card and encouraged her to come and see her tomorrow for an in-depth reading because she was “seeing other things in her future she didn’t like.”

I admit to being a bit amazed that my seasoned friend gave the tiny psychic so much time and information but I am glad she was able to walk away from the trap.

My friend did wonder how the psychic knew her name had a “J” in it and how she was able to focus in on her feelings of being a follower — EVEN THOUGH SHE IS NOT!

I had an immediate sense that these cold openings from the tiny psychic were time-tested ways to condense intimacy and confuse marks like my friend on the street — but, of course, anything I say is quickly pshaw’d by my friend as me being paranoic and mistrusting — so, Google being my truer friend, I did a little quick research and was able to “third-party” confirm for my infringed-upon friend that she was an easy mark in a classic psychic street scam.

Here’s what I learned in 60 seconds of internet Googling:

1.  “J” is the most common letter used in a name and these psychic street scammers know you likely know someone with a “J” in their name and, if you do not, then they switch the cold open to, “There will soon be someone with a ‘J’ in their name around you.”   This “J” scam helps them think they know more about you than they really do, creating trust and intimacy, and any subsequent answer you provide will only be spun by them as confirmation of their mystical genius and you’ll pay them to get more of their knowledge about you.

2.  The scammers then “sense” something that only they can help fix — for a large convenience fee.  Usually, they play the “Two Men” card who are “at odds in your life.”   It’s easy for most people to think of two men disagreeing about something, and if you cannot divine the drama, then the street psychic will help you find those men by asking about your father or brother or boyfriend and if you don’t currently have any male tsouris in your life, then the street psychic is there to warn you that “trouble is coming” for you “between two men.”  Your answers don’t matter.  Only the idea that they know more about you than you know matters because you’ll want to pay them to see deeply into your future.

The tiny psychic didn’t use “Two Men” opening on my friend — perhaps because she saw a wedding ring — and she decided to go for the “don’t be a follower” attack, which is probably a more universally shared feeling of vulnerability in New York City than being stuck between two feuding males.

I was surprised my friend entertained this street fraud for an instant, but the “J” thing did hook her for a moment at the end of a wild and busy day — and once the hook was set, the reeling in began in earnest.

I fear if the psychic had said, “I don’t need any cash right now,” the spear might have been permanently attached. However, once the cash issue was addressed, the free street reading ended, and the tiny psychic moved on down the road to the next victim.

I realize I am more closed to these sorts of street assaults than my friend — but I do wonder how many good and kind people are taken in by these psychic charlatans every day in the big city?

Unlike me, the first instinct of many people on the street, especially in New York, is to be friendly and helpful to a stranger because life in the urban core is so dense and hard — but now that we know there are tiny psychics among us waiting to prey on that goodwill with the “Letter J” cold open and an emotional rasping that you are not living up to the expectation of your life — I confess I cannot imagine a greater, casual, moral cretin.


  1. People on the street can be rough! I had a man try to ask me for directions which then turned into his needing money for a cab to grand central because he had left his briefcase in a previous cab… my brother-in-law says that the longer the story you hear from someone asking for money, the more likely it is entirely fabricated.

    1. I’m used to to the quickie panhandlers… “got a dollar” or “got a cigarette” or “can you buy me a sandwich?” that you can wave away with a shake of your head.

      One day on the street, I saw a guy with two older women and he was shaking a piece of paper at them asking for fifty cents so he could finally have enough money to but a train ticket because someone stole his wallet and he had to get home to Bayonne to his wife who was giving birth to their son in the hospital. They each gave him 25 cents to make him go away.

      Then I happened to see the same guy 20 minutes later in the grocery store stealing grapes, putting peaches in his pockets, and spinning the same story with the same tattered receipt from the bank showing he had a zero balance.

      When I first started hearing the psychic story, my gut instinct was for my friend to look around her to see who was pickpocketing her bag while she was distracted by all the “J” nonsense — but she said the psychic was alone and not working with someone.

      1. True story — my mother was in Paris and was accosted by Roma who tried to sell her jewelry. She immediately realized that it was stolen merchandise. A little later, she saw the same people trying to sell their stolen goods to very obvious American Tourists (they may as well have been wearing red, white, and blue with I LOVE NY shirts) and she approached them and told them, “Don’t buy anything from them, it’s a scam!” The Roma looked at my mother with a scowl and (not realizing that my mother is fluent in Romanian) said in Romanian, “You b***… I would cut your throat right now if I had a knife! She thankfully did not give away the fact that she understood him — I’m afraid what may have happened had that little fact gotten out!

        1. That is a scary story.

          When Marshall Jamison was filming Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad” for PBS, the cast and crew were surrounded upon landing in Italy by gangs of young children who came up and patted them all on knee asking for nickels while stealing wallets from pants pockets.

          When Marshall arrived at the hotel, he saw his watch was missing from his wrist! There was a thin, bloody line across where his watchband used to be. The kids cut his Hamilton watch off his wrist and he had no idea they’d done it until later.

  2. I really dislike this kind of manipulation. It gives those who have a genuine talent in this field a bad name. Think the rule of thumb is that if you are ever approached like this it is a scam – no ifs or buts.

    1. I agree. These are the lowest form of predators. They leave their houses in the morning looking for people to touch and then attack for fun and profit. Their whole business isn’t based on people being gullible — but rather on good people being friendly…

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