ANNAPOLIS, OCT. 1 -- An Edgewater fortune teller was arrested today after allegedly convincing a Baltimore woman that she needed $2,000 for an altar of gold and wood to drive away a curse that threatened the woman and her two young children, Anne Arundel County police said.

The woman could not afford to pay the fortune teller for the cure, police said, and lived in terror of the curse.

"This girl went through hell," said Detective W. Lee Corbett. "She was more than a nervous wreck. She was in fear for six months, and it was only when we interviewed her that she was convinced there was no curse."

Police charged Sharon (Sherry) Stevens, 20, of 118 Mayo Rd. with attempted felony theft in connection with the incident. She was released without bail, and is scheduled to be tried in December on three counts of felony theft and three counts of misdemeanor theft related to a similar fortune-telling incident earlier this year.

In that case, police said, an Edgewater man allegedly gave Stevens $1,800 and a $450 engagement ring to "cleanse his aura" and get rid of a curse that she said had driven his girlfriend away from him.

Corbett said there are no county or state laws regulating fortune tellers such as Stevens, who has a sign outside her Mayo Road house offering "psychic fortune telling." Stevens is one of a handful of fortune tellers in regular business in Anne Arundel.

Corbett said police occasionally receive calls from customers "but once they realize that they've been made fools of and defrauded, sometimes they are too embarrassed to come forward."

In the most recent case, he said, Barbara A. Asbury, 26, of Baltimore contacted police after reading of Stevens' earlier arrest. He said Asbury told police that Stevens had convinced her she was cursed by "people who sacrifice things." When Asbury said she could not afford the $2,000 for a gold and wood altar, Corbett said, Stevens allegedly contacted her repeatedly to warn her that "people who sacrifice things were getting closer and closer."

In the earlier case, Corbett said, Stevens allegedly told David R. Smith, 21, of Lock Haven Drive in Edgewater that she would use his money to build a gold and wood altar and ivory statues of him and his former girlfriend. She said she would then suspend his engagement ring between the statues to drive away the curse, Corbett said. When the man realized he was defrauded, Corbett said, he spoke with his minister who referred him to a lawyer who, in turn, referred him to the police.

"These people were not illiterate or stupid," Corbett said. "You wonder how these people could fall for this. But people, when things are going wrong in their lives, are very vulnerable."

Neither Stevens nor her attorney could be reached for comment today.

Conviction of felony theft and attempted felony theft can carry sentences of up to 15 years in prison and $1,000 fines on each count. Each misdemeanor theft offense is punishable by up to 18 months in jail and $500 fines on conviction.