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 NORMAL - Two people have been distracting elderly grocery store customers in Normal, allowing them to steal their wallets and charge thousands of dollars on their credit cards, police said.

Investigators think a woman distracted three elderly women while a man with her took wallets from their purses and immediately began charging on their credit cards, said Normal Detective James Merica. In the last two weeks, they have run up more than $2,000 worth of charges; the last incident was Tuesday.

Merica said at least two of the incidents occurred at grocery stores - which he declined to identify - on the town's east side, but the couple could be targeting people at other grocery stores in the Twin Cities. Bloomington Police spokesman Dave White said a department official did not find reports of similar incidents in Bloomington.

The woman has used different means to distract the elderly victims, Merica said, asking one to read something off a food label and asking another to help her find a fake fingernail lost under a shopping cart.

The elderly women did not immediately realize they had been ripped off, but the victim involved in the latter incident told police it was obvious to her the scam artist was not really looking for anything.

Police don't have a good description of the pair, Merica said. They charged some clothing in the thefts, but it was unclear what other purchases they made.

The detective said shoppers should follow their instincts if something seems wrong, keep control over their purses and keep purses zipped until ready to check out. But that still may not stop the scammers from unzipping the purse and taking a wallet because "obviously, they're pretty adept at what they're doing," he said.

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