By Cheryl Fiandaca

HUDSON, N.H. (CBS) – A busy hairstylist who is also caring for her sick mother, Lisa Mambro of Hudson, New Hampshire, was delighted to have a few minutes to herself last month. “I just needed a break,” she said. “I thought, I have a book to finish. I’m going to go to Panera, get a cup of soup and just relax and finish my book.”

While she was eating her soup, she sensed two women moving around behind her. “I did notice the girls that kept walking by. Something was off,” she recalled. Then, she felt something bump against her purse, which was hanging off the back of her chair.

Lisa Mambro. (WBZ-TV)

She didn’t think much of it until she went shopping after lunch and opened her wallet at a nearby store in Nashua. “Every card was gone,” she said. “I knew right away. I said to the cashier, ‘Those girls at Panera stole every single one of my credit cards.’”

The thieves went on a shopping spree at the nearby Apple store. “The charges were $4,000, $2,000, $2,000, so now I’m panicking,” she said.

Nashua Police tell us the case is under investigation, so they couldn’t release the surveillance video, but they did say they are looking into the possibility that this is part of some sort of organized activity.

“I’m hearing in this particular case that this is a problem across the nation, and it’s something that people should be aware of,” explained WBZ Security Analyst Ed Davis. According to the former Boston police commissioner, these operations often involve pairs or groups of three at fast-casual lunch spots like Panera.

Video surveillance shows a pickpocket at a fast-casual restaurant in Texas. (Photo Credit: Sugarland, Texas, Police Department)

Police departments from cities in Texas, Florida, Maryland and other states have released surveillance videos showing similar thefts. In one case, two women moved a table halfway across the dining area so they could put their chair right up against the chair of an unsuspecting customer eating lunch. One woman slowly reached behind and pulled a wallet out of a purse hanging on the back of a chair.

Another video shows a woman using a scarf to hide her movements, but it’s clear that she reached into a purse and pulled out a wallet, wrapped it in the scarf and walked out the door.

We reached out to Panera and never heard back, but this is hardly just a Panera problem. Police tell us other restaurants and grocery stores have also been targeted.

Lisa says she’ll think twice before she puts her purse on the back of a chair during lunch. “A tough lesson to learn, definitely.”

Cheryl Fiandaca

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