Home > Managing Debt > Scam Everlasting? After 25 Years, Debunked Faith Healer Still Preaching Debt Relief

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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

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  • Gerri Detweiler

    Chris – great story. Very funny but ultimately tragic for his victims.

    Does make me wonder how he keeps his tax exempt status. If this passes for a ministry, why couldn’t anyone set up a religious organization and avoid taxes?

    • SODDI

      “why couldn’t anyone set up a religious organization and avoid taxes?”

      People do it all the time, but the IRS scrutinizes your non-profit status application VERY closely.

  • Chris Maag

    Hi Gerri! Thanks for writing! And thanks for turning me on to Popoff in the first place. I wonder that, too. The IRS and prosecutors can’t discuss ongoing investigations, so there’s a slim chance he’s being investigated now, but the fact that he’s never been charged before this is pretty telling, and disturbing. I don’t know why the IRS and state attorneys general have been so reticent to investigate an organization that is pretty obviously fraudulent.

  • http://getoutofdebt.org Get Out of Debt Guy

    Thank you so much for doing a continuation on this story. It’s utterly amazing and a great example of how easily people can be duped when they want to believe.

    Steve

  • http://skeptoid.com/blog/ Craig

    “Anointed Oil”? That would be on the same shelf as “Wetted Water”, I assume.

  • Michael Ax

    How is this person not behind bars yet is mind-boggling…

  • KLS

    Here is a recent video of a Popoff event. Secret cameras were taken in by skeptics to see what this crook was up to.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZo0DLKriDY

    • Christopher Maag

      Thanks for this. It looks like this organization really spent some time following Popoff.

  • Matthew Faulkerson

    He has probably bribed certain officials it wouldn’t surprise me

  • http://www.christianissues.com Brian Karjala

    I appreciate Christopher’s link to my website in his article.

    It is utterly absurd for Senator Grassley to call on televangelists to police themselves. How has that worked out? He can not ask career thieves to behave themselves and not think that they are laughing at him behind his back.

    Why are the scams of corrupt televangelists not prosecuted by the legal system? It’s because the unholy powers-that-be in the government and media use televangelism as a way to demoralize people with the false doctrines that these “wolves in sheep’s clothing” spew forth. This world is at war with Christ. People don’t like to believe that the whole world lies in wickedness (1 John 5:19) because it conflicts with their idea about the “justice and freedom” they want to believe exists for them (which is only an illusion).

  • Sam Axe

    God does want us to be debt free. BUT, he does not want us to skirt our responsibilities. Get out of debt by paying off stuff and not borrowing! “A borrower is a slave to the lender”. You dont do that by buying annointed water or oil. Working two or three jobs and living below you means is the only way. You CAN do it, I did.

  • http://google Darlene

    I saw Peter Popoff on television and I was at first skeptical when seeing all of those folks
    saying how he blessed them with money, better health etc. Then I was talking to a friend
    and he received prayer form this man and he said that he got luck with money and a place to live!. So now this friend is sending money to him!. Wasn’t it just God who bless him? I then called and they wanted your name and address so I left a phone number and a address. Did receive an call back asking for a address again and never contacted him back again.

    • Marcus_Z

      No, it wasn’t God. The same thing would’ve happened anyway, prayers or not. Look how many atheists are just fine or have the same thing happen to them and think critically.

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