Whirled Musings

Across the Universe with Cosmic Connie, aka Connie L. Schmidt...or maybe just through the dung-filled streets and murky swamps of pop culture -- more specifically, the New-Age/New-Wage crowd, pop spirituality & religion, pop psychology, self(ish)-help, business babble, media silliness, & related (or occasionally unrelated) matters of consequence. Hope you're wearing boots. (By the way, the "Cosmic" bit in my moniker is IRONIC.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

People who are tuned into New-Wage marketing, with all of its edumucated-sounding references to scientific principles and cutting-edge technology, sometimes forget that the old scams are still alive and thriving. Some hucksters and hucksterettes continue to ply their trade in old-fashioned, almost quaint ways, without a single mention of quantum physics or other scientifical conceits. (By the way, I know I've discussed this matter numerous times on this blog, but just for good measure, here's a pretty good summary of what, despite the New-Wage co-opting of the discipline, quantum physics does NOT say. And if you're still not convinced, the author of that piece, my pal Steven Sashen, also has this.)

Anyway. This morning I was thumbing through the SmartSource coupon insert that came with the Sunday paper, and there, amongst the colorful ads/coupons for convenience foods, cosmetics, headache remedies, doggy treats, and incontinence pads posing as feminine hygiene products, I came across a full-page ad for the amazing psychic Maria Duval, "the famous clairvoyant." Central to the ad is a 33-item wish checklist, from which you are urged to pick seven items (your "7 Secret Wishes"). As soon as Maria receives your list...

...she is going to perform, on your behalf, a ritual known only to her which should allow your secret wishes to come true. You will have absolutely nothing special to do, other than to follow the very simple instructions that she is going to send you in a large, discreet envelope.

Only a few days after receiving your big white envelope, you should see the first beneficial effects of this special help. Then your life will take a new and quite amazing turn!

Here is the ad, which you can click on for an enlargement (the red disclaimer stamp is my addition, of course):

I like the nebulous, hedging language, e.g., "You probably won't believe your eyes, but each of the wishes you have asked for should come true." Maria promises that she will "try to realize them for you, FREE." Whaddaya wanna bet that after "trying" as hard as she possibly can for free, Maria will decide she needs a little bit of monetary enforcement to speed things along?

You've probably already guessed, if you didn't already know, that there is no "Maria Duval." There does seem to be a woman named Carolina Maria Gambia, aka Maria France, who apparently originally owned the company that is now using the psuedonym "Maria Duval." That company is Hong Kong-based Harmonie Ltd. (ne Healthtips, ne Astroforce). Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Maria (and yes, I know that the article isn't up to Wikipedia's quality standards (as of May 2009), but it's worth taking a look at anyway). What does seem clear is that the company masquerading as Maria Duval has been scamming folks all over the English-speaking world for many years. "Maria" reportedly keeps getting booted out of one market, only to re-emerge in another. At present "she" seems to have a comfy home in the U.S. via the SmartSource coupon insert, which, you may be interested to know, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. I know, I know, you're shocked that arch-conservative and model citizen Murdoch, owner of FOX News and numerous other unimpeachable news sources, would be even marginally involved in something questionable. But there you go; life is full of surprises.

As you've also probably already guessed, Maria's "free" wish-granting service is anything but free. Once you've spilled all of your most personal secrets to her/them, via that wish checklist and the "confidential questionnaire," you're on her/their sucker list for life, or longer. Maria's "work" on behalf of your initial seven wishes may be "free" (and worth every penny, as I like to say), but you will begin getting a steady stream of offers for advanced wish-granting that will cost you money, should you be so gullible as to accept those offers.

And it's all done by mail order, so that the vulnerable elderly and others who don't have Internet access can have an equal opportunity to hurl all of their worldly wealth into the Maria money pit.

Canadians have been alert to the Maria scam for a few years now. Here's a piece complaining about SmartSource's complicity as well as "Maria's" scamming. And here's a blog devoted to the Maria Duval scam. Those were published in 2006; a more recent piece by California writer Tony Evans appears on the eHow.com site.

If you type "Maria Duval scam" into Google, you do in fact mostly get links to information about "Maria" being a scammer, but the current "sponsored link" will lead you down yet another scammish road:

  1. Maria Duval Scam?
    Don't buy anything from Maria until
    you read this. This one is real.

I still sometimes find it hard to believe that with all of the consumer fraud laws in the U.S., we continue to see ads like "Maria's" in our Sunday paper inserts. "Maria Duval" has clearly been exposed as a fraud and a scammer in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Why are we so far behind? Then again, the US is the world capital of wishful thinking, particularly in these hard times. And hard times do tend to make the gullible even more gullible.

Now, if you are not entirely comfortable throwing your hard-earned moolah at a gen-yoo-ine phony psychic, you can always pay for a
yagya, or have some other type of remote work done on your behalf. And lest you think that susceptibility to such things is the sole province of the old or uneducated, I'll remind you that it wasn't all that long ago that hundreds of seemingly well-educated folks, eager to improve their lives, paid $100.00 apiece for "absentee tickets" to a New-Wage seminar. For their hundred bucks, here's what they got, according to the come-on copy: "Your name goes on a piece of paper in the room, and the energy of the room and the participants will work on you, even when you aren’t physically in the room." (For moron...I mean, more on this matter, see here now. And giggle, if you must, at the sheer irony of the Google display ad that appears above that post. Hey, I don't pick 'em, I just rake in the bucks...nearly nineteen U.S. dollars so far!) [Also see this comment I received to yet another post, from a person whose friend apparently attended the event in question. ~CC, July 2009]

Once again I am hearing, in my head,
a certain set of lyrics still in search of a tune...

PS ~ For the story of another old-fashioned scammer from a few years back,
check this out.



Anonymous disillusioned said...

I can remember writing off to Maria over 30 years ago, when I still had some illusions, and getting back a little piece of paper with hierpglyphic sqiggles on it to put under my pillow. As I had given up hope in the tooth fairy by then I didn't bother with the magical paper under the pillow either.
I can't believe she's still in business and doing so well that she can take out full page ads for this scam. I'm definitely in the wrong bidness.

Monday, August 24, 2009 4:43:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

"I'm definitely in the wrong bidness."

You and me both, Dis!

Monday, August 24, 2009 5:24:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Well gee disillusioned, there's your problem. If you had put the squiggles under your pillow 30 years ago, your bank accounts would be over-flowing today. At least, I'm sure that's what Maria would tell you.

I'm with you Connie, with all the laws on the books that are there to keep us from hurting ourselves or engaging in risky endeavors, you'd think they would enact a couple to help protect the gullible. I guess you have to want to be protected before that would work - or at least accept that there are shysters out there who are trying to grab every penny they can from you every chance they get. Good point about folks without internet falling prey to these things. Maybe the guv-ment should start publishing disclaimers for this kind of stuff on the next page of the paper whenever these come out. I'd rather my tax dollars be used for that than some of the ridiculous public service announcements they do publish (I get it, Analog TV is DEAD!).

Thursday, August 27, 2009 5:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sorry about having to Email you here, I couldn't find an external email addy on your site.

There's a hot potato going on at the moment in Australia, over the self-help industry.

The following link explains it.

I'm just wondering if you could do an article on it, as it has just been revealed in the inquest that it's not the first death that has occurred through this "regression" technique taught by a dodgy self-help operator.

Also check out Australia's 60 minutes site - there's an whole documentary piece devoted to it tonight. I'll try and find it online and send you the link.

Sunday, August 30, 2009 4:54:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Hey, Abalance, I'm on it. Thanks! And I've just added an email link to the front page of my blog. It was on my profile page but now it's on the front page as well.

I did follow some of the links, found some more on my own, and even found a link to the 60 Minutes segment. Sad and scary stuff. Thank you for the tip.

Sunday, August 30, 2009 1:28:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Dave, I agree that at least there should be disclaimers on ads like "Maria's."

Sunday, August 30, 2009 1:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That story in Australia is so damn awful and about time the idiots who claim to be gurus in the personal development industry (we wont worry about naming the perfect Aussie example that you have commented about frequently Connie) are held accountable for the dangerous manipulation they carry out every time they get up on their ego filled pedestals and claim to be the fixer of the universe when they are so freakin in the red themselves. These people do not realise just how dangerous and serious what they say is to some people. I feel for that poor family and I hope like hell that they idiots get their just deserts quickly....no maybe long slow and painfully.

Monday, August 31, 2009 1:04:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 1:04 AM: I agree with you. I too think there should be a lot more accountability in the New-Wage/selfish-help biz, and wonder when -- or even if -- the un-named "guru" you mentioned will truly be held accountable.

Monday, August 31, 2009 9:11:00 AM  

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