SHOPKEEPERS fear they are being targetted by an elaborate scam in Thundersley.

Two men have been targetting independent stores along Hart Road claiming they have bought goods and need a refund.

A third crook, a woman, even pretends to be their mother and claims she has instructed them to bring it back because she has already been bought the product by someone else. In some cases shopowners have even spoken to the woman on the phone. It is believed the men pretend to bring a product back in, but have actually just swiped it off the shelf.

Joanne Clarke, 43, the owner of Bodkins, a knitting and embroidery shop in Hart Road, had the scam pulled on her.

She said: “This wasn’t your standard attempt to scam money. It was all planned out and I could tell these men knew what they were doing. They picked up a cross-stitch kit that was worth £30 and told me their mother was staying in Godden Lodge care home and already had the kit. They said she was called Lorraine. I don’t give refunds and was very worried about it as they were quite intimidating.”

Hart Pet Supplies was also targetted.

Store owner Andie Freeston, 56, said: “One of the lads called me over and said they wanted a refund for a £14.99 flexi-lead they had bought from a male employee. The only male employee is my husband and he said he had not sold a lead on the one day he was working. He said he bought it for their mother and were annoyed when I wouldn’t refund them. When I spoke with Joanne she said it was the same for her. People need to be wary.”

Sgt Mark McQuade, of the Castle Point neighbourhood policing team, said: “I will be sending officers to the two stores in question to speak with the owners. The local team will also be visiting Hadleigh and Benfleet to check that scams aren’t spreading to other areas.

“We will be distributing leaflets warning people of these type of occurances. For the moment I would encourage shops to use CCTV as it is the best way we can identify the people responsible.”

The men are in their twenties of normal build with dark hair. Anyone with information about the scam can call 101.