Distraction thieves stole cash from at least three Uckfield shops yesterday.
Two charity shops Pepenbury and the Uckfield Preservation Society were targeted along with Hartfields Produce Store.
Police are asking anyone with information to contact them.
Liz Penton from the preservation society shop said there seemed to be two men working together. One caused a distraction at the front of the shop while another moved around the shop.
Liz was suspicious after seeing him come from a back room but when she checked everything was in place.
He emerged from there a second time and then she discovered the safe had been opened and £70 stolen.
She went back to the front of the shop and told her husband Mike Harvey-Penton that the safe had been emptied. The man she suspected, who was still in the shop – the other had gone – immediately became aggressive challenging her about accusing him. She backed down and he disappeared.
Liz said the police told them that distraction thieves were targeting small independent charity shops while avoiding the larger shops because they were known to have better security.
After the theft Mike immediately went around to warn other traders and security at the preservation society shop is being stepped up.
Liz said: “The police were absolutely fantastic. They came straight away, took all the details and then went up and down the High Street to see if they could spot the thieves. Today they have been down finger-printing.”
Before the raid at the preservation society shop there was also a theft at Pepenbury. The shop assistant was asked to go upstairs to check on something said to have been put by for a customer. She then discovered that £60 was missing from the till, according to a colleague working there today.
And at Hartfields Produce Store owner James Hartfield said two men had gone into the shop and ordered one drink, wanting to pay with a £20 note.
After the till was opened they started asking for change in different denominations. The member of staff was suspicious and refused to get involved.
James said: “He was very pleased with himself for realising something odd was going on, but at the end of the day we discovered we were £30 down.”
There have been similar problems before at Hartfields and now the shop is tightening up on its procedures for handling cash.
All staff are to be warned not to give people change if requested, not to sell a bottle of drink if a £50 note is offered, and not to accept Scottish or Irish currency. “We don’t know how to recognise whether the money is genuine and the bank has told us we are not under any obligation to accept the notes,” said James.
He added: “It is sad that we have to do this but we can’t afford to be losing £30 every couple of months.”
Sussex Police said in both cases the suspects were two men who distracted staff to carry out the thefts. Both had short hair – one crew cut. One man was around 6ft tall, of medium build, wearing dark track suit bottoms or jeans.
His companion was shorter and may have spoken with an Irish accent.
Overnight on Monday (1 June) another High Street charity shop, Pepenbury, had a rear window and door damaged in what may have been an attempted burglary. Nothing was taken.
Anyone with information about any of the incidents or suspects is asked to email email@example.com or phone 101, quoting serial 1093 of 3/6.
Alternatively they can contact the .independent charity Crimestoppers without having to leave their name on 0800 555 111.