Miss Cleo’s Future Clouded by Feds Sun Feb 17,10:15 PM ET
It doesn’t take a tarot card master to predict Miss Cleo’s in a heap of trouble.
The Federal Trade Commission and the state of Florida have filed separate lawsuits against the ominpresent on-air psychic charging her with fraud and asking her to prove her claim that’s she really a renowned soothsayer from Jamaica, and not just a clever faker called Youree Dell Harris.
The fun started on Wednesday, when the FTC filed a complaint citing what FTC director of consumer protection, Howard Beales, called a “laundry list of unfair and deceptive practices” against the high priestess of prediction and her Florida-based companies.
Florida followed with its own suit containing the shocking allegation that Miss Cleo is–gasp!–bogus and accusing the seer and her psychic friends of violating the state’s deceptive and unfair trade practices.
The complaint lists as defendants Harris/Miss Cleo and Steven Feder and Peter Stolz of Access Resource Services Inc. and Psychic Readers Network, companies which are fronted on TV and Internet by the heavily accented fortune-teller.
The Florida suit states that despite her billing as a “Nationally Acclaimed Master Tarot Reader and Psychic,” Harris “cannot substantiate that she had any such national acclaim as a psychic, clairvoyant or tarot reader prior to her promotional activities on behalf of ARS.”
The suit orders Cleo & Co. to cease deceptive advertising and tactics and seeks to freeze their assets as a step towards shutting them down completely and returning money to consumers. At least 2,000 customers have complained of being bilked over the past 18 months, Beale says.
“Rather than consulting their tarot cards, Miss Cleo and ARS had better consult their lawyers,” said Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
The federal and Florida actions are the latest in a long line of legal action against the psychic hotline. Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have all filed suit charging deception and fraud.
In addition to allegations of false promises of free psychic readings and dubious billing tactics, the suits cite the use of unrelenting telemarketing. It’s apparently not enough that consumers are subjected to Miss Cleo’s “call me” demands on air. Even after being asked to be placed on “do not call” lists, many have received up to 10 calls a day from an automated message that, says Beale, claims “Miss Cleo has a dream about them and they should call back.”
Miss Cleo has not been reachable either by phone or crystal ball. However, Sean Moynihan, attorney for the psychic service, tells the Associated Press, “The only unfair and irresponsible practices involved in the lawsuit are those of the FTC.” He says the companies will fight the FTC suit and that customer complaints amount to only a “handful” among millions of satisfied callers.
Miss Cleo’s call-in service promises free psychic readings, but toll-free callers are immediately directed to a 1-900 number that costs $4.99 per minute. Beales say 6 million people have rung in and racked up enough minutes to push the average charge per call to around $60. Apparently customers are not correctly informed that the charges mount even when they are put on hold. They are then slapped with an unforeseen surprise when their phone bill arrives.
Says Beales, “It’s a mystery to us why Miss Cleo and her employers haven’t seen this coming.”
We happily predict that will be the last of the lame psychic jokes in this story.