I had my horoscope done over the internet the other week. The advert said: "Free Horoscope Readings". I filled in a form with all my details - my time and date and place of birth - and sent it off.
Some days later I got my reply. It came in the form of an e-mail which had a web link attached, with a security number. You logged on to the website, pasted in the security number, and got your "Free Personal Horoscope Reading."
"Dear Christopher," it said.
It was a very long text, mainly in blue, emblazoned with multiple capital letters, and with lots of words emphasised in bold contrasting colours.
"The other day," it continued, "when I was working on your Free Personal Horoscope Reading" – in bright red – "I had a SUDDEN BLINDING REVELATION about you."
"Oh dear," I thought, wondering what was coming next. Anyone who has to use capital letters and bright colours in such abundance is obviously on the make. It’s like they are shouting at you on the page, like someone suddenly leaping across a room and bellowing in your ear.
It said that there was going to be a very lucky turn of events in which I would become seriously, seriously rich and that all my dreams would come true. "This is an ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY," it said.
At some point the text said that it was IMPERITIVE that I continue reading to the end of the page.
Well you know me. I wasn’t believing a word of this. This wasn’t a horoscope reading, it was an advert. I was just waiting for the sting at the end. How much would I be expected to fork out for whatever service it was they were offering?
There were lots of free things on offer as part of the deal, like an ancient Egyptian Talisman, and a "Magnetised Photograph". This latter consisted of a photograph of the woman supposedly giving me all this personal attention, which she would specially "magnetise" for me so that when I rubbed it I would be in direct "psychic" contact with her.
I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of being in direct psychic contact with anyone with a tendency to shout at you in clashing colours and capital letters. It was bad enough on the page. Imagine if it was in your head.
After this the text started to turn nasty.
It was going on and on about psychic-this and spiritual-that, promising me all sorts of wonderful things, when it suddenly said that I had a choice in all of this and that it was imperative that I made the right choice.
"I know you have been unhappy in your life," the text went on. "I know you have been lonely and frustrated. I know you have been hurt."
It then promised me that if I made the wrong choices my life would simply get worse.
I saw the psychology of that. Everyone has been unhappy at some time in their life. Everyone has been lonely and frustrated and hurt. My "personal letter" was clearly a mass produced effort with my name added by the mysteries of digital technology, but the psychology of it was to touch elements in my life that we all share.
Fear and loss and loneliness, hope for a better future, love – of course – and dreams of wealth and avarice, who hasn’t dreamed about these things or feared them?
The text was now adding a threat to its previous benign inanity. It was saying that my life could get worse. Indeed, it promised that it would unless I took a certain course of action.
This is where the sting came in.
She was even now working on my personal horoscope which would give me precise details on how to cash in on the great luck that was about to descend upon me, while telling me how to avoid all the pitfalls. She didn’t want to be so crass as to talk about money, she said, but in the light of the GREAT WEALTH that was even now gathering itself to pour down upon my head…. Etc. etc. etc.
You can guess the rest.
There was a Pay Pal link though which I could give my credit card details. After that I stopped bothering to read.
We’ve all see letters like this of course, and I couldn’t really complain, having elicited it in the first place by answering an advert on a website. But it struck me that it was tantamount to extortion by threats and there are certainly some vulnerable people out there who could be taken in and possibly damaged by this sort of thing.
Maybe I should sue for damages? That way I could get that fortune my horoscope promised me.