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July 23, 2007 | by  | in News |
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Research to determine if psychic hotlines are addictive

Opportunity seized to mention Opiegate again

An Auckland University researcher is studying why people call psychic hotlines and whether psychic hotlines are addictive.

Preliminary data from the study by Dr Robin Shepherd shows individuals spend up to $33,000 a year on psychic hotlines, with each call costing between $5 and $300.

VUWSA Acting Women’s Rights Officer Clelia Opie was removed from her position earlier this year after making $4176.84 in phone calls to 0900 numbers over the course of two weeks. Another $1600 worth of calls was later discovered on VUWSA’s phone account.

The amount was later repaid in full.

Shepherd told Salient she became interested in conducting the research after reading about how psychic hotlines are a billion-dollar industry in America. “This sparked my interest that if it is a lucrative business then some people must be spending a lot of money.”

Preliminary results show frequency of use may be occasional or regular, with some individuals using hotlines over an extended period of time, from ten months to fourteen years. The majority of users are university-educated single females, and most queries put to psychics are about relationships. Individuals may call more than one psychic for confirmation of an initial reading.

Shepherd says, “the average spending amongst [the main users] is about $7,000 a year, but this is inclusive of outliers. Some spend about $2,000-3,000 a year. One woman spent $10,000 in eight months. Another lady emailed me and said that she spent her rent money a few minutes ago on a phone call. Another woman spent $60,000 in fourteen years. Others won’t tell me, as it is too depressing and not helpful to their recovery.”

Shepherd is attempting to ascertain whether guidelines and regulations should be put in place to protect users.

Earlier this year, Salient contacted Infoline Australia, the Australian-based company behind ‘Personal Psychic Penline’ – a hotline Opie called nine times consecutively in the space of an hour and a half, with the calls totaling $420.75.

Matthew Smith, company spokesperson for Infoline Australia, claimed Telecom and the University should be responsible for the repeated calls and the resulting bill, rather than his own company – apparently, Telecom has measures in place to stop people from calling 0900 numbers too frequently.

Telecom Media Relations Executive Sarah Berry says “Telecom does internally monitor 0900 usage per customer and, where unusual call patterns are detected, we will contact the customer (sometimes these may be businesses) to ensure they are aware of the calling and costs being incurred. Customers can have 0900 toll bars setup at their request, which will restrict access to the service from their phone number – many businesses make use of this.”

Berry also points out that 0900 numbers have a 10-second introductory message giving the per-minute price of the call, and asking the caller to ensure they are the bill payer. Any advertising for 0900 numbers must include the cost of the call, the name of the service provider and a warning for the caller to seek permission from the Telecom Account Holder.

“We would also strongly recommend that people consider getting an 0900 toll bar if they were finding their 0900 bill excessive, or if they were having problems paying it,” says Berry.

The University has since put 0900 tollbars on all phones.

If you use psychic hotlines and want to participate in the study, contact Dr Shepherd on (09) 373 7599 x86573 or rm.shepherd@auckland.ac.nz

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About the Author ()

With her take-no-prisoners, kick-ass attitude, former News Editor Laura McQuillan adequately makes up for her lack of stature. Roaming the corridors (and underground tunnels) of the University by day, and hunting vampires and Nazi war criminals by night, McQuillan will stop at nothing to bring you the freshest news.

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