US shuts down international 'psychic' mail fraud allegedly run from Hong Kong, Montreal

US Postal Service trays sit at a post office in Washington, DC.
US Postal Service trays sit at a post office in Washington, DC.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - US authorities on Monday said they have shut down a long-running international "psychic" mail fraud operation that bilked more than a million Americans, including many who were elderly or infirm, out of more than US$180 million (S$247 million).

A federal judge has approved a consent decree that bans Montreal's Infogest Direct Marketing, Hong Kong's Destiny Research Centre and six individuals from using the US mail system to send ads, promotional materials and solicitations on behalf of alleged psychics, astrologers and clairvoyants.

In a scheme dating to 2000, the defendants were accused of sending seemingly personalised form letters in which French psychics Maria Duval and Patrick Guerin predicted great wealth, such as winning the lottery, for people who bought products and services to ensure their good fortune came to pass.

One such letter touted how Duval and Guerin shared "clear visions" that recipients would come into "massive sums of money on games of chance," so long as they paid US$50 for a "mysterious talisman" and a copy of My Invaluable Guide to My New Life.

Authorities said people who bought products or services would be "bombarded" with additional solicitations. More than 56 million pieces of mail were sent in the past decade, they added.

"To line their own pockets, the defendants preyed upon the superstition and desperation of millions of vulnerable Americans," US Attorney Robert Capers for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement.

None of the defendants admitted wrongdoing. A lawyer for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.