In what authorities suspect is the work of a group of criminals targeting Twin Cities communities, in a single day four shoppers reported to Apple Valley police that a man and woman used distraction to steal their wallets.

A man and woman targeted stores in Apple Valley near the intersection of Cedar Avenue and W. 150th Street on Dec. 6, then quickly used the victims’ credit cards to buy gift cards at nearby retail outlets, police crime prevention specialist Pam Walter said Tuesday.

“There appears to be a group working around the metro doing the same thing,” Walter said. She said shoppers reported similar thefts in Burnsville, Woodbury, Bloomington, St. Anthony, Monticello, Blaine and others.

"Investigations from departments who have also had these thefts reported have working theories on several possible suspects," she said.

The victims in Apple Valley, all older women, told police that the woman drew their attention by asking questions about a product or for help with some other matter while the man reached into their purse and stole the wallet, Walter explained in a notice posted online.

Two surveillance photos showed the pair in the Cub Foods on Cedar Avenue, and another showed the man inside Half Price Books. Also targeted were shoppers in an Aldi grocery store and a Joann Fabrics and Crafts store.

In Monticello during the busy shopping day after Thanksgiving, a woman was in the greeting card aisle of Walmart and had “money taken from her purse while she was distracted,” said Wright County Sheriff Sean Deringer.

In Burnsville, a similar theft occurred on Nov. 18 at a Cub Foods involving “a group working together to complete the crime,” said Police Sgt. Shannon Siem.

“Be aware this holiday shopping season and whenever you are out and about,” the Apple Valley Police Department notice said. “Keep an eye on your valuables. Place your wallet in an inside jacket pocket, or if you keep your wallet in a purse, wear it close to your body, rather than putting it in your shopping cart.”

She also suggested that people should limit the number of credit cards being carried at any one time, and “be a good neighbor and watch out for fellow shoppers as well.”