If you’ve ever channel surfed late into the night, you’ve probably seen Peter Popoff. He’s a televangelist who looks the part, with hair the color of black shoe polish, teeth as white as light bulbs, and a voice that manages to be screeching, nasal and guttural at the same time.
“God is touching hurting people around the world,” Popoff says in a recent video on his website, sitting in a wingback chair beside his wife, Elizabeth. “It’s always such a joy to share the reality of that joy. It’s a joy to share the reality of his saving power, healing power, delivery power, and … debt cancelling power! Amen!”
Popoff has been a preacher for more than three decades. While the specifics change over time, Popoff’s basic message remains largely the same: that God wants us to be affluent and debt-free, and that Popoff is a prophet sent by God to help people transform their lives from poverty to affluence.
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“Debt cancellation is part of God’s plan,” Popoff says in the video posted to his website, as a little dog sleeps in his lap. “That’s why God sent me to you. How would you ever know about miraculous debt cancellation, erasure of your debts if someone didn’t tell you about it?”
Another thing that remains consistent: Multiple times throughout his career, Popoff has been exposed as a fraud. The first big revelation happened on the Johnny Carson show in 1986, where the magician James Randi played secret audiotapes revealing Popoff’s scam as a faith healer. Before every revival event Popoff led, Popoff’s staff and his wife Elizabeth would interview audience members about their health problems, and they would collect prayer cards from the audience. As Peter worked the room, his wife would point out vulnerable people for him to approach, and tell him about their physical ailments, via a small radio receiver stuck in Popoff’s ear.
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Not long after that show aired, Popoff declared bankruptcy. But the setback proved temporary. Popoff started over, and by 2005 his “ministry” was earning more than $24 million a year.
If anything about Popoff is truly miraculous, it’s his resilience. No matter how many times his claims are debunked, he seems to bounce back with another version of the same old scam. Popoff has promised to cancel peoples’ debts using holy water and blessed oil. He has claimed to be a prophet who can heal peoples’ illnesses by slapping them on the head. He promises to use God’s power to help people become rich.
These claims have been exposed as falsehoods many times. After the Johnny Carson debacle, Popoff has been tailed by everyone from Inside Edition to local TV news stations from Los Angeles to Atlanta. After each investigation, Popoff seems to bounce back, launching new crusades and finding new victims.
“We’ve done so many stories about him, but it never does any good,” says Ole Anthony, founder of Trinity Foundation, which has investigated Popoff and other faith healers since 1987. “His scams are endless.”
Credit.com called and emailed Peter Popoff Ministries numerous times, but received no response. So we decided to run a little test ourselves. In the process we discovered that much of what Popoff does is carried out through the mail.
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Image: Peter Popoff Ministries