CONSUMER CONFIDENTIAL

I knew you were going to read this

So what, if anything, should be done about things like psychic hotlines that charge $4.99 a minute and focus their entire business model on dragging out calls as long as possible?

And what about people like Crystal, whose shtick centers on upselling clients to more expensive services, such as a good psychic cleansing?

Having been recently diagnosed with diabetes, I tried to make it easy for Crystal by repeatedly asking about health matters and whether I would die from medical complications. On my wrist was a bright silver MedicAlert bracelet.

You don't have to be the Amazing Kreskin to pick up on those tells.

Crystal assured me that, aside from my funky aura, my health was fine. She said I'd live to 80 and die of "old age."

When I balked at paying $575 for a psychic cleansing, Crystal said I could instead pay her $300 upfront and the rest after I appreciated the effects of her ministrations.

I declined. But I have no doubt there are others who would have taken up Crystal on her proposition.

"It becomes an addiction for some people," said Scott Grossberg, a Rancho Cucamonga attorney who has written on efforts to regulate the supposedly supernatural. "They need to have others decide their lives for them."

My first instinct was to think this was a business crying out for strict consumer safeguards. Why should fortunetelling be any different from other commercial services?

But the more I thought about it, the more I understood that what fortunetellers are selling isn't a tangible product. It's a sense of hope, of taking control of uncertainty. It's the same product religious types have been selling for centuries.

People like Crystal might be trying to separate me from as much money as possible, but they're offering in return the satisfaction of having peered into the future and prepared for what's to come.

"People want to believe," said Grossberg, "and you're never going to legislate belief.

"This industry has been around forever, since before there were laws. It's something we want. We're wired for this."

I hate to say it, but that's probably true.

There. My aura feels better already.

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Consumer Confidential runs Wednesdays and Sundays and frequently in between. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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