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If you’ve ever gone to a psychic or wished that someone could predict your future, then the story of Maria Duval is sure to shock you! Although it may be difficult to fathom the concept of a so-called ‘French psychic’ being part of a $200 million scheme, that is exactly what happened. If these details sound stranger than fiction, they shouldn’t.
The Maria Duval scam was so effective that victims would lose $250 million in the U.S. and Canada alone until the United States Justice Department shut down the con. Find out about one of the most lengthy cons in U.S. history and how you can protect yourself from copycat crimes!
The “Maria Duval” letters were mostly junk mail which began circulating in the mailboxes of U.S. consumers as early as the 1980s. However, these were not simple letters alone, and would lead to a fraud that would destroy people’s life savings!
According to what the authors of, “A Deal With the Devil”, Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken, told the New York Post in 2018:
It’s almost impossible to find another case of consumer fraud that has touched more people . . . wiping out modest monthly Social Security checks and draining bank accounts.
By now, you are probably wondering how the letters worked. First, they would arrive in a recipient’s mailbox and appear to be handwritten by Maria Duval herself. In reality, they were mass-produced using a font which looked similar to handwriting.
The letters were annotated and underlined with updates of special days (Friday the 13th, etc.) and how those days would lead to opportunity (such as winning money). They also used advertising targeting tactics and added personal details to the mailings. For example: “You are a Libra and were born on….”
The mailings would claim that Maria could already see the recipient’s personality, but only really described common personality traits which anyone could possess.
As you might already realize, many individuals would throw these sorts of letters in the trash, but for those who were struggling with emotional, medical, or mental issues, they would take the letters more seriously. Many of the victims of this scam had a debilitating illness, such as Alzheimer’s, and others would even lose their home from this fraudulent scheme!
Those who responded to the letters would receive continued requests for money (unbelievably, up to 30 letters in one day! Those who did not react with payment would receive more menacing types of correspondence.
As the Scottish Sunday Mail reported in 1997, one woman became so distraught that she might ‘receive’ bad luck, if she didn’t pay Maria, that she couldn’t eat or sleep. Once the United States began to take the scam seriously, they started an investigation. It turns out that Maria Duval had sold her name and identity, contractually, to business people.
According to the New York Post’s report, “The letters originated at a Canadian firm called Infogest Direct Marketing, which sent out 56 million letters between 2006 and 2014.” Out of those 56 million letters, roughly half a million dollars was processed (i.e., scammed from trusting victims) biweekly.
By the time United States investigators and the writers of the book, “A Deal With The Devil” tracked down Maria Duval, she was still living in the French countryside and suffering from dementia, unable to say her name. While her home showed her former wealth, her family came to her defense.
They insisted that although she had been paid well for her media appearances, they had known nothing of fraud. Meanwhile, the U.S. government didn’t quite believe this defense and froze her assets in 2016. They also confiscated her computer – all this, when Maria was 81. To the relief of her family, she was eventually deemed medically incompetent, per her physician’s report, due to her Alzheimer’s disease.
The source of the mailings and others of this type now come directly from Russia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. If you find something which promises you “magic” or “luck” in exchange for money, know that it is a scam. Also, warn your older friends and family members about this type of fraud, since they may be most at risk, just as Maria Duval’s victims were!
Have you received a suspicious mailing or email?