We all know that there is no shortage of charlatans ready to take money from people in dire straits. Whether they have money problems, anxieties about the future or a life threatening illness, there will be someone around to profit from their ignorance. The usual answer is either more regulation or stricter enforcement of existing regulations, coupled with a public education drive to try and close off their revenue streams. It is notoriously difficult to persuade authorities of the need to close down these crooks, but each of these efforts helps protect someone in distress from making an ill informed decision.
The real bread and butter of those who prey on ignorance is not, however, the sick and the desperate. Once in a while they come along and provide a windfall to the snakeoil merchants, but in the main profits are made from the small regular payments of a class of the serially credulous. These are the people who will consult a chiropractor for every strained muscle, who stop by the Chinese herbal ‘medicine’ shop for a monthly check-up, invariably resulting in the purchase of another load of overpriced, and potentially toxic, vegetation, and hire a feng shui consultant and astrologer every time they move house.
So who are these people who keep Patrick Holford handsomely fed and clothed? They probably subscribe to one of the bibles of bollocks which clog up magazine racks nationwide, such as the cheapo “Fate and Fortune” magazine, which seems to have escaped criticism simply by hiding in the ‘women’s interest’ section of the supermarket.
(In answer to a reader’s question about anxiety) “Dear Diane. In a past life, you were buried alive while pregnant. It happened in Spain in the 7th Century. As a pagan sacrifice, you were bludgeoned and thrown into a pit, then earth was piled on top of you. A past life regression would help get rid of your fear.”
Also from the lucrative Bauer publishing stable is the more upmarket “Spirit and Destiny” magazine, circulation 237,949, which this month comes with a free Angel Healing wall chart authored by Doreen Virtue (“PhD”) which provides readers with advice on the best way to “bringing the amazing power of these heavenly beings into your life.”
The appetite for this stuff is huge, a fact borne out by the recent findings of the Office of Fair Trading, who trumpeted their success in closing down a Dutch organisation selling lucky lottery numbers to what the OFT described as ‘vulnerable people’. Over 6,700 orders were placed, at £20 or £40 a time, and though it doesn’t say whether that represents 6,700 customers or a smaller number who brought repeat business- if you’re naive enough to pay at least £20 for a random string of digits, then you might well do it twice.
The office of fair trading estimates that basic scams such as these earn the perpetrators around £3.5 billion per year, the bulk of it from a small number of suckers, whose names and addresses can change hands for large sums thanks to the potential revenue that can be raised from their pockets. To snare such a person represents a regular source of income for unscrupulous persons, much as getting the custom of an incorrigible addict is for a drug dealer, and, for the same reason, it isn’t possible to reduce the number of quacks in operation below a certain number. The resultant high profits for those few that remain represent too great a temptation, and recruit more people into the ‘business’.
As long as there are people willing to give up their money without thinking about it first, and they are legion, it seems that this sort of bollocks will be with us for a long time to come.