Things That Matter

A Woman Scammed People Out Of $100,000 By Saying She Was A Psychic

At some point in our lives, we’ve all wished for some magical way to boost our cash flow—and earlier this year, several people thought they’d found it. Perlita Afancio-Balles, a 29-year old woman living in Sacramento, claimed that she was “psychic” and promised her clients that if they paid her, she would “bless” them by doubling their money. In total, Afancio-Balles scammed people out of more than $100,000, amounting to a federal felony charge for grand theft and obtaining money by false pretenses.

The scam first came to media attention back in October, when Afancio-Balles fled Sacramento after receiving the initial payment from her victims. Police told Fox40 News that Afancio-Balles had instructed victims to leave their money with her for a few days.

She promised that when they returned for the money, double the original amount would be waiting for them. But when the victims did so, Afancio-Balles was nowhere to be found.

Credit: Sacramento Police Department

Now, after being on the run for almost three months, Afancio-Balles is at the top of the Sacramento Police Department’s “most wanted” list. The Sacramento Police are seeking information about her whereabouts in order to bring justice to the fraud victims.

“Ultimately, most of these victims, or all of these victims, believed the psychic and gave her money. And, eventually, the suspect fled with all the money that was given to her,” said Sacramento Police Officer Karl Chan. “She also targeted the Spanish-speaking community.”

Afancio-Balles, who went by the name “Eva Maria,” lived in the neighborhood of South Natomas, where most of her victims also reside. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 30% of South Natomas residents are Latino or Hispanic. Afancio-Balles, as well as most of the people she scammed, belong to this demographic.

While her case is certainly extreme, Afancio-Balles’ story is not unique. Psychic scammers have long been at large in different parts of the world, targeting people who are desperate for financial stability. For con artists, feigning supernatural powers can be an effective way of acquiring very large sums of money very quickly.

Over the past few years, several situations like that of Afancio-Balles came to light, and numerous false psychics ended up behind bars.

Credit: Pinterest

In May of 2018, a clairvoyant known as “Psychic Zoe” was arrested by the New York Police Department for defrauding clients out of more than $800,000. Taking advantage of vulnerable clients in a fragile emotional state, Psychic Zoe—whose real name is Ann Thompson—convinced one woman to buy her a 9.2 carat diamond ring, claiming that if she did not, she would never love again.

Later that same year, Gina Marks was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to committing felony theft against five of her clients. Overall, she stole more than $340,000 after telling her victims that she could cast love spells and “cure them of curses.” Like Afancio-Balles, Marks also went by a different name professionally: her clients knew her as Natalie Miller. And just as Afancio-Balles did, Marks tried to flee after customers started reporting her suspicious activity. Marks was caught by a private investigator at the Miami International Airport, where she was ultimately arrested. Afancio-Balles is currently still at large.

And in fall of this year, Sherry Unwanawich—known to clients as Jacquelin Miller—was sentenced to 40 months in prison for swindling a single victim into paying $1.6 million over the course of several years for protection from a “curse.” The victim was allegedly grieving the death of her mother and struggling with medical school when she was led to believe that her family would be in danger from fake curse if she failed to pay.

Private investigator Bob Nygaard played a significant role in the cases of both Marks and Unwanawich—in fact, Marks was the very first psychic scammer that Nygaard investigated, catapulting his new career in this niche field of detective work. Nygaard is a former New York City police officer who has aided authorities in dozens of con artist cases, specifically in instances of false supernatural claims. In 2015, he estimated that he had recovered over $3 million for 21 victims across those dozen cases. But he says the overall number of defrauded funds in cases like these amounts to much more.

“The amount of money that these people are defrauded of by these self-proclaimed psychics is astronomical,” he said. “We’re talking in the billions of dollars.”

Nygaard says that police departments and district attorney offices don’t often take psychic crime seriously, often dismissing it as a “civil problem.” But as cases like these continue to emerge, the legal landscape is starting to change. In the case of Afancio-Balles, the Sacramento Police Department is remaining vigilant, requesting information from the public that might help locate her. 

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