The psychic industry is a $2 billion a year business, with millions of people still dialing "900" numbers, even after two decades of lawsuits, bad press and bankruptcies. But when someone calls a psychic hot line, does the person on the other end have more insight than anyone else?
Former psychic hot line worker and author of "Psychic Blues," Mark Edward, says he's blowing the whistle on his former industry.
"The psychic business is built on lies. There is no supernatural power. You can't see the future," Edward says. "We're in the golden age of the con. There are people coming out of the woodwork that would love to separate you from your money. But people just want someone to talk to. That's the bottom line."
Edward says he was taught techniques to keep his conversations vague, flattering and drawn out. The goal was to make the callers feel good about themselves, and keep them talking. Edward once gave a two-and-a-half-hour reading. At $3.99 a minute, the caller paid more than $600.
In a statement to ABC News, Edward's former employer said: "All of our psychics are independent contractors, and as such, they worked for multiple psychic lines at the same time. So either he is lying or confusing us with a disreputable psychic line."
In a 2007 study, conducted by the University of Auckland in New Zealand, Dr. Robin-Marie Shepherd found most users called for advice on "personal relationships." Nearly all users describe their behavior as "addictive."
And, at an average of $100 per reading, many went in to debt because of it.
ABC News had an extensive interview with self-avowed non-psychic Mark Edward.
ABC News: Are psychics real?
Mark Edward: No, they're not real. It's just a matter of intuition. If you're good with people, you learn how to read people. Do you want to be a real estate agent ... or clairvoyant? ... They're all a similar skill set. It's a skill you can learn. It's real, but it's nothing supernatural.
ABC News: Are you against anyone claiming to be a psychic?
Mark Edward: In general I'm against it. I think people are better served by going to a therapist.
ABC News: How did you begin your career as a hotline psychic?
Edward: I was working as a mentalist full time. Doing séances. I wanted to know how the hot line mediums did it. My friends were making money sitting at their homes. I wanted to sit at the top of the mountain and see what it looks like. I learned the tricks of the trade. Did it for nine years. I had a friend who did it, and they gave me a number. I did a few auditions. They liked me. ... There was no test, you just needed the gift of gab.
ABC News: What did they encourage you to do?
Edward: You have to keep people on as long as possible. Then you ask for their birthday, name and address. Then they start spamming people. They'd send callers letters telling them they're in danger, and they need to call your psychic friend immediately. The average call is 15 to 20 minutes. But they wanted one hour. The final straw was when I did an infomercial for them. They handed me a pile of info and told me who was asking the questions. It was a total fake. Five to seven psychics might be nice people, but everyone else are crooks.
ABC News: How much did you get paid?
Edward: Not much. We got paid a percentage of what they made depending on what. But it's many people's primary source of income. I'd do it for nine to 10 hours each day.
ABC News: What tricks of the trade would you use?
Edward: You have to gauge the tone of a person's voice. If they are aggressive or laid back, in a hurry or skeptical. The first four or five words are important. Then I ask for their name and birthday, and if they had a specific question. At $3.99 a minute, they want an answer quick. And then I answer as if I'm answering the question about myself. All these things about yourself are relatable. Nine out of 10 times you will hit a nerve with them. Then I'd pause and let them jump in. People love talking about themselves and here what you say about them. They like to imagine I'm in some far off convent but really I'm ironing at home. And I'd try to be compassionate and sound as new age as you can.
ABC News: Would you have pre-planned things to say?
Edward: Yes, I would have note cards by my phone for specific answers. Pink for love. Yellow for travel. Green for money. Then I'd talk about a childhood memory of mine. Less is more. Eventually you will find something relatable. Just one or two firm connections, and you'll run with the ball. Once you make that hit, it pours out. And then you mirror. Let the person talk and then you listen and say, "I hear what you're saying is this," "I feel what you're saying." I fed them hope.
ABC News: When and why did you leave?
Edward: I got sick of it and how much they were making off of innocent people. I left on my own though, they didn't kick me out.
ABC News: Did you feel bad about what you were doing?
Edward: I never took any legal or medical questions. ... I gave them 800 numbers instead. I helped a lot of people, but there was nothing psychic about it. Common sense is the same as intuition. In our society we've lost touch with that. Also, I was a skeptic the whole time, so I felt like I was doing a [public] service by infiltrating [The Psychic Network].