SHOP workers have been warned to be on their guard for slight-of-hand tricksters operating in north Northumberland.
Two thieves swiped 200 from Barter Books in Alnwick using the scam known in criminal circles as "ringing the changes".
And while they were admitting the crime before Alnwick magistrates, the same fraud was being carried out at a supermarket just minutes from the court.
Lendiri Kvec and Maria Anghel, both from Romania, stole the money from Barter Books, one of Europe's largest second-hand book stores, on Wednesday, April 18, this year.
In what was described by prosecutor James Long as "a clever slight of hand act", Maria Anghel managed to deceive shop assistant David Taylor by sneakily removing 200 from a 500-wad of notes.
The scam began after the Barter Books bandits selected a set of expensive books, worth 550, which were stored and locked in a glass case.
Mr Taylor registered the sale and Mrs Anghel handed over 500 in old 20 notes. Her husband, Lendiri, with their young daughter by his side, stood away from the counter to observe.
While Mr Taylor counted the money, she placed the further 50 – in old 10 notes – on the counter. When he went to count the remaining cash, Anghel asked to recount the 500 for a final check.
The scam then took place. Distracting Mr Taylor, she removed 200 from the wad, slipped it in her bag and then handed back the rest – David believing it to be 500.
As soon as the transaction was complete, her husband rushed to the till and berated his wife for buying the books and demanded a refund.
After some discussion, Mr Taylor agreed and refunded the money. The family, now 200 better off, left the shop and drove away.
But, as bookshop owner Stuart Manley said: "David knew something wasn't right. As he was refunding the money he noticed that he had to dig into some of the new- design 20 notes. The money he took originally was old 20 notes. He knew something was wrong but couldn't put his finger on what had happened."
"We checked the CCTV footage after, and there it was, as clear as day. We could see what she had done."
The CCTV was handed to police and less than a month later, on May 11, the rogues were arrested in Birmingham.
Stuart added: "I'm glad they have been stopped in their tracks. It also shows that Barter Books is not an easy touch."
In their defence, Mr Dominic Gibson said: "They have not long been in the country. Mr Kvec has got a job and they rent a property in Birmingham. They intend to settle in the area, but they have limited resources and fell into the temptation to take some money."
Denying that the theft was pre-meditated, Mr Kvec, through translator Catalin Irimiea, added: "I am very, very sorry. Although I saw a very bad thing happen I kept quiet and went along with it. I am sorry."
It has been recommended that the couple face a community service. The trial was adjourned until Wednesday, June 13, for a pre-sentence report. Both have had unconditional bail extended.
As the court case was happening, a person of East European origin managed to dupe staff at the Co-op on Bondgate Within, using the same scam, but was caught by police and received a caution.
Inspector for the Alnwick and Amble area, Rod Mclennan reminded shop-workers to be extra vigilant when shoppers ask for change or a refund of goods.