The signs are bad for bogus psychics and fortune-tellers

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All of a sudden, the future looks dodgy for the crystal ball gazers and tarot card readers of San Francisco.

All of a sudden, the future looks dodgy for the crystal ball gazers and tarot card readers of San Francisco.

Signs for psychics, astrol-ogers or tea-leaf readers appear on nearly every street. The problem is, many of the fortune- tellers are out-and-out charlatans, and the city has decided to act. Its fraud squad says fortune-tellers charge $500 (£300) a session, only to extort up to a thousand dollars more from their clients through a variety of well-established scams.

You may not have heard of "the blood in the glass" or "the hair in the grapefruit" but in San Francisco these are notorious tricks whereby a fortune- teller will convince the client that his or her money is cursed and, therefore, has to be safely disposed of (into the fortune- teller's bank account, mostly).

The blood in the glass involves asking the client to spit in a glass of water. The fortune- teller then secretly adds black dye to make the spit look like blood – a sure sign of a curse. The hair in the grapefruit requires the client to rub a grapefruit over his or her body and cover it in money; the fortune-teller finds a hair in the grapefruit and promptly declares the money dangerous.

At a recent meeting of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, the city council, a law was proposed that would require mystics and prognosticators to apply for a licence.

Aaron Peskin, a supervisor sponsoring the legislation, said he had no desire to besmirch the name of reputable fortune- tellers, saying they were "an age-old industry that is welcome in San Francisco". The idea, he said, was to keep fortune-tellers honest, forcing them to supply their rates and a telephone number for clients to lodge complaints.

A woman at the meeting described how she had been swindled into buying gift vouchers from department stores worth $4,000. The fortune-teller said she would bless the certificates, then return them so the client could give them to her estranged husband and win back his love. But the fortune-teller and the gift vouchers vanished.

The message to those who earn their living by crystal balls, tarot cards, sticks, dice, tea leaves, coins, sand or coffee grounds could not be clearer: watch out, and don't say you didn't see this coming.