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Skeptical Analysis of the Paranormal Society

"Le doute n'est pas une condition agréable, mais la certitude est absurde."

—Voltaire

The Atlantic Paranormal Society

Is TAPS misleading the public?

Most skeptics have cast a disbelieving eye on the "proof" offered by paranormal investigation groups. But what of the organizations themselves? Are paranormal investigators making a profit, or, worse, misleading the public about where their organization stands?

Claiming to be nonprofit in their meta tag.The Atlantic Paranormal Society, founded by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, stars of the television show "Ghost Hunters," claims in the meta description of their official web site to be a non-profit organization.

The group also takes donations through the site.

Non-profit organizations are an important part of business in the United States, and are based upon a checks-and-balances system. Non-profit organizations are required, by law, to leave their financial records open. In this way, anyone who donates to the organization can easily check to see where their money has gone.

TAPS, despite repeated requests, declined to offer any financial statements.

However, Grant Wilson, co-founder of TAPS, responded to requests for further information about the non-profit status.

When we originally pointed out the use of the term "non-profit organization" and asked for an explanation, Grant sent the Dictionary.com definition for the word "non-profit". We responded that the definition of the term "non-profit" and the legal definition of "non-profit organization" were different.

Grant responded, "Well, I know that the legal definition is different from the layman definition."

Luckily, we know the legal definition of "fraud" as well.

Fraud, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is:

All multifarious means which human ingenuity can devise, and which are resorted to by one individual to get an advantage over another by false suggestions or suppression of the truth. It includes all surprises, tricks, cunning or dissembling, and any unfair way which another is cheated.

According to the web site of The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, in order to be legally accountable for an act of fraud, three criteria must be met. A false statement must be made (with the intent to deceive), a victim must have relied on the statement, and there must be damages.

Whether or not the co-founders of TAPS intended to deceive when they created their web site is up for speculation.

Public WHOIS information of TAPS, also claiming non-profit status.However, since Grant Wilson was aware of the legal definition of "non-profit organization," he, at the very least, was party to misleading the site's visitors. Jason Hawes is also at least partially responsible, as he is listed as the responsible party on the Whois domain registry search, which also includes the meta description.

Jason Hawes, co-founder of TAPS, wrote, "You know nothing of our status, so please do not act like you do," inspiring us to take further steps to ensure that TAPS was not registered as a non-profit organization anywhere.

A search of approved non-profit organizations through the FirstGov web site did not return any results for The Atlantic Paranormal Society, or any society founded by Grant Wilson or Jason Hawes, prompting a more thorough search, conducted through the Office of the Secretary of State of Rhode Island.

Maureen Ewing, Director of Corporations for the Office of the Secretary of State of Rhode Island wrote, "I have taken the opportunity to search both our active and inactive databases for a listing of 'The Atlantic Paranormal Society'. However, to date, our office does not have a listing of an entity containing the words 'Atlantic' and 'Paranormal'."

With the first of the three criteria still up for speculation, SAPS embarked on a search for individuals who had relied on the information within the TAPS site.

Donations.A search of Archive.org revealed that, in previous months, the TAPS official web site included a section devoted to individuals who had sent in donations. In less than one month, TAPS gained nearly $700 in publicly announced donations.

We have no way of knowing whether this is the full amount or not, or whether the donations continued to come in. Nor is there any way to find out what, exactly, these donations went toward.

Since TAPS is not a non-profit, there is simply no way of knowing other than trusting TAPS members, and those reports are conflicting.

According to a message from Grant Wilson, "The equipment TAPS uses on its investigations is bought by its members and with the slim donations that we recieve."

In their starring roles on the television show "Ghost Hunters," TAPS is frequently depicted with high-tech "ghosthunting" equipment.

Keith Johnson, who worked with TAPS as a demonologist in early episodes of "Ghost Hunters," wrote, "Obviously Pilgrim Films provides the finances for much of their equipment as well as travel expenses, since this is true of any nationally broadcast reality TV show."

Whether or not the investigation group is allowed to use the equipment outside of the television show is unclear, as is the number of investigations TAPS conducts outside "Ghost Hunters".

The TAPS raffleAnother possible source of damages has to do with a raffle that was, up until very recently, promoted on the TAPS site. When we brought it to the attention of TAPS members, the raffle was removed. However, information on it can still be found through Archive.org.

Individuals were asked to send in one dollar each along with an entry card, including their name, address, and whether or not they wanted the item being raffled signed.

According to Rhode Island state law:

For the purpose of operating games, the enumerated organizations; namely religious, charitable, fraternal, civic, educational, or Veterans organizations should have a charter as a non-profit organization from the State of Rhode Island in existence for a period of at least one-year prior to their request for authorization to promote, carry on or conduct a game of chance. The Charter of this non-profit organization should be in full force and effect and in full compliance with all of the requirements of the corporate laws of the State of Rhode Island.

Additionally, the law states that:

No person shall participate in a game of chance who is under the age of eighteen (18) years old.

TAPS had no space on the entry card for age.

Do you trust TAPS with donations?

According to internet searches, TAPS has begun the process to incorporate. If you, like us, feel that TAPS should not be given the responsibilities required of a non-profit organization, or if you feel that they have in any way cheated the public, please consider filing a complaint. SAPS has written complaints to the Better Business Bureau of Rhode Island, The Federal Trade Commission, The Rhode Island State Police (Gaming Division), The Attorney General's Office, and the Internal Revenue Service.

If you feel that TAPS should be held responsible for their actions, please, consider writing a complaint.

-- Alison Smith, Founder of Skeptical Analysis of the Paranormal Society, http://www.skepticalanalysis.com

PLEASE REPOST THIS ARTICLE.

TAPS UpdatesUPDATE

TAPS has issued an apology on the Rumor Mill section of their web site for falsely claiming non-profit status (though it sure isn't worded that way.)

We'd like to go ahead and point out that we brought this to their attention in December. The Rumor Mill addition is FAR more recent than that.

Though the date on the update is 1/22, we can say with some assurance that actually, as of yesterday, the non-profit segment did not exist. What proof do we have? Well, all the updates to the TAPS site that are on the main page are in reverse chronological order, all the way back to 09/05.

Check out the TAPS main page.

Now check the date next to the non-profit update. It's out of order. It's in the 02/01/07 slot.

We are not the first group to ask TAPS members about their non-profit status. In October of 2006, researchers for both MondoSkepto and the TAPS Tattler started their own investigations into the TAPS non-profit status.

They never got quite as far as we did, but they did contact members regarding it, and brought all the same information to their attention that we did.

TAPS is not non-profitTAPS says, in their apology, that they have removed the "non-profit organization" wording from their web site. Though they may plan to, it has not yet happened.

The most interesting part is that the source code for the apology statement still has the meta tag description "TAPS is a non-profit organization". So, while saying "We're sorry, we are not a non-profit organization," TAPS is also saying "Wait, yes we are."

The TAPS raffle has also taken an update! Though never, in any previous raffle, was there a rule about age, there is now! TAPS is also continuing the raffle through charities, making it legal.

We would like to note that they NEVER BEFORE had a section that said where the money went. There was never a section for age. No matter what TAPS may say now, the raffle was NOT approved by the State of Rhode Island before.

So, again we ask, do you trust TAPS with your donation money? Do you think they should incorporate? If you don't, consider showing your feelings by contacting any of the groups we mentioned previously.

If you need help finding out where to file a complaint, e-mail us at: Founder@skepticalanalysis.com

Thanks again for reading!

-- Alison Smith, SAPS Founder

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