by: Mark Becker Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Police said thieves have targeted unsuspecting shoppers at Whole Foods and Panera Bread stores in Charlotte and other cities across the country, distracting them and then stealing their wallets.
Almost immediately, police said, the thieves have used the victims’ credit cards to buy thousands of dollars worth of gift cards.
A police search warrant says that detectives have identified 14 people, most of them from South America, who are involved in the theft and fraud ring that has hit in 12 states—including North Carolina.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department began investigating the ring in September, but they are not commenting on the case because it is still an active investigation.
Police took out two search warrants to try to trace the suspects’ travel from Charlotte to Atlanta to Denver and other cities.
Eyewitness News contacted corporate headquarters for both Panera Bread and Whole Foods, but have not heard back.
Customers who had heard about the fraud ring told Eyewitness News they are taking extra precautions.
“I'm very concerned because I (am an) enthusiastic Whole Foods shopper,” said Ronnie O’Regan on Tuesday as she clutched her wallet.
“That's why I have my wallet here that goes in my pocket for that reason,” she said.