If you see a commercial on the Weather Channel or late-night TV promising 10 free minutes with a psychic, call the toll-free number.
Just don't expect to find a psychic. Not at that number.Instead, a cheerful voice will tell you to dial a 1-900 number, where you'll get the 10 or 12 promised free minutes - as long as you make three to five calls.
After a few minutes on the 900 line, a beep sounds, and the meter begins. For $4 or $5 a minute, a stranger will guess some details about your life.
Based on calls made by the El Paso Herald-Post, though, the psychic will more often than not appear to be on a fishing expedition.
The toll-free numbers belong to standard telemarketing companies that route calls on to the costly 900 numbers.
"We have a lot of different numbers," said Marie (not her real name) from her phone in Hampton, Va.
Her number - 1-800-377-9106 - is one of several advertised by Psychic Talk USA. The same organization runs at least two other commercials with the numbers 1-800-799-0535 and 1-800-692-5961.
In recent years, the number of psychic commercials on television has leaped off the screen. Kathy Lane, a spokeswoman for the Weather Channel, said they usually run at night and that the money earned is a small part of the Weather Channel's total revenue.
She declined to say exactly how much, saying the Weather Channel is privately owned. But psychics are legal, Lane stressed.
"As long as people know it's entertainment."
The telemarketer who answers the phone - Marie, for instance - sometimes says that the psychics you just saw on TV are available right now if you call the 900 number she is about to give you.
For her part, Marie gives a 900 number for "Michelle and Tony," who she says are in charge at this number and happen to be there right now.
Where is "there"?
"I'm not sure where they're located at because I don't call psychics and stuff like that," Marie says.
The psychics usually ask for a name, birthdate and sometimes address and telephone number. They say they need to "feel your aura," "shuffle the cards" or "pick up your energy."
And often without having to ask, they turn to the questions most people seem to have - particularly about romance and finance.
"You're in a relationship now?"
"No girlfriend? Guess what - there's one on the way. Are you going on a trip? Yes? She could be a waitress you'll meet."
"A romance should come into your life real soon. It looks like she's younger than you. Seven years younger. Is that a problem? You'll meet her in a small shopping center. I see lots of people all around. She doesn't work in a store. She's there shopping, too."
Being a psychic isn't just about foretelling the future. It also means giving a lot of detail about the present and homing in on the caller's personal situation, perhaps trying to gain confidence or enhance the predictions.
During calls by the Herald-Post, several psychics guessed about a number of details, much of the time incorrectly.
One psychic, the only man reached in a string of calls, seemed stuck on the Zodiac.
"There's never been a Leo in your life?" he asked. "Was your last relationship with a Taurus? I'm married to a Taurus."
He was on a string of exasperating wrong guesses when he asked about gardening.
"Your ex-girlfriend liked gardening?"
"Did she like gardening at all?"
No, I don't think so.
Click. The phone went dead.
Even $300-an-hour psychics can get flustered.