Dodgy psychic demands large sums of money from vulnerable

Wales Online, UK/February 8, 2009

A psychic is being investigated by Trading Standards over claims she tried to swindle hundreds of pounds out of customers whom she told were "cursed".

A Wales on Sunday investigation has discovered that Egyptian-born Maria Sharman charges up to £40 an hour for spiritual readings, promising to help cure people's problems - including troubled relationships, unknown diseases, business difficulties and bad luck.

However, she told at least four customers, as well as our two undercover reporters, that their lives were plagued by a curse and that they had fractured auras.

For her to fix the problem, she said they would have to pay large sums of cash - and one of our reporters was even told to hand over £5,000 within days or face a lifetime of misery.

The 36-year-old, originally from Cairo, operates her spiritual den from a dingy terrace house on the industrial Newport Road in Roath, Cardiff, and claims to have been using her psychic powers for 20 years.

On leaflets left on car windows and posted through letterboxes across Wales' capital, Sharman calls herself a "crystal ball reader, spiritual healer and spell breaker", promising: "Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back- Call Mrs Sharman and leave the rest to her."

But we spoke to four individuals who visited her independently hoping to receive spiritual guidance.

All of them were far from satisfied with her services - and three of their readings were strikingly similar.

They were ALL told they would die naturally between the ages of 80 and 82. They were ALL told an accusation would be made against them at work. And they were ALL told they should change their job.

All of them were instructed to return within days with varying amounts of cash - from £100 to £800 - which she would use to alleviate their woes.

Undercover reporter asked to "sacrifice certain figure of money."

Two of our undercover reporters also separately approached Sharman for readings and she spun very similar stories - except this time she demanded a far greater sum of money from one.

Both were led into her front room which was laden with candles, figurines, tarot cards and gem stones.

Both were asked to place their loose change in a candle pot - which neither received back - and told to make three wishes out loud.

They were given the exact same predictions as the three disgruntled customers, but were also told that a small quantity of money would fall into their laps in April, that they were good, honest people, and they were destined to be parents of three.

Our first reporter pretended he was miserable because his family was trying to sponge off his trust fund. Shockingly, Sharman told him he lost a child after his ex-girlfriend aborted it behind his back.

She then said he would have to lend her £5,000 for her to sort out his problems - before pressuring him to get the money fast.

She said: "In order to correct this and help you, there's a lot of work involved, very big responsibility but you have to do with honest and open minded and willing to sacrifice a certain figure of money.

"This work has to be started quickly. Don't forget banks are only open early Saturday. It has to be cash.

"Like I tell you- don't discuss anything with anyone."

Unlike in the other cases, she said the money would be returned to him, as per a written guarantee. She said it would be his decision whether he wanted to make a financial contribution to thank her.

Then she told our second reporter that she too was cursed.

Out of nowhere, Sharman said that she would have to pay £300 to cleanse her aura with a blessing - but made no mention of returning the cash.

She brazenly claimed it was a "unique" service she was only providing our reporter, despite offering it to at least five others.

She said: "Your aura needs to be repaired. In order for me to help you, you need to have a blessing done. You need to be willing to sacrifice a certain figure of money in order for me to correct this properly.

"This is not an opportunity you're going to get every day when you want to buy something. When you're dealing with a professional, it's not about money.

"This is not something that I sell you, this is something unique only to you.

"Don't underestimate my intelligence, because you know what I'm telling you is correct. If this problem is not resolved it's not something that will go away on its own. Can I see you back today to sort this problem?"

The first reporter then arranged a meeting with Sharman outside a NatWest bank, pretending he would hand her the £5,000 cash.

But when he confronted Sharman about her business practices, she hadn't managed to predict Wales on Sunday was about to run a story on her.

She denied she was a con artist preying on vulnerable people and insisted she was paying taxes on her earnings.

And when we asked her about the similarities between her different clients' readings, she simply said: "Everyone is on their own path."

She then climbed into a people carrier and was driven off at high speed by a male acquaintance.

But many of her clients say they are still upset at how they were treated by Sharman.

Successful businesswoman Rachel, 33, who was told by Sharman it might cost up to £500 to cure her problems, told us: "I'm a strong person, but after the reading I got into my car and burst into tears.

"I left her house in an absolute state and feeling very scared. That night I got no sleep and felt very vulnerable the next day because I gave her my contact details. Imagine the effect on the elderly or less confident.

"It is totally unacceptable that she is allowed to conduct her business in this way. Due to the nature of her business I would imagine that many people pay up and don't say anything as they will be scared."

Bank worker Nathan Scole from St Mellons, Cardiff, opted for a £20 palm reading, while his friend was told she would have to pay £800 to be cured of her curse.

The 19-year-old said: "It makes my blood boil. I was literally in the room for about five minutes. As soon as I entered the room and saw all the objects she had on display I had a feeling she wasn't genuine."

Meanwhile, a 28-year-old marketing exec, from whom the spiritualist wanted £400, said: "I can't believe she has the cheek to ask me for that kind of money."

And a 38-year-old care worker was told she needed to pay £500. She said: "Sharman told me I would never be happy in life because of my cracked and broken aura. When I told her I didn't have the cash, she leant forward and asked me whether I had half of it. But I didn't give her anything."

Last night Cardiff Trading Standards said a full-blown investigation was underway, after one of Sharman's clients complained to them.

A spokeswoman told Wales on Sunday: "I can confirm we have received a complaint about a local psychic and are currently investigating the matter.

"Trading Standards are currently investigating this case due to concerns raised by complainants regarding the aggressive practices of this person.

"If it is proved that someone is targeting largely vulnerable groups, we have the powers to prosecute under the Consumer Protection Unfair Trading Regulations 2007."

In the meantime, our investigation dossier - including covert recordings - is available to the authorities.

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