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L.I. Woman Accused Of Stealing Shoppers' Pocketbooks In Supermarkets

PORT JEFFERSON STATION, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A woman was behind bars Friday, accused in a string of purse snatchings on Long Island.

Police said the suspect, a local college graduate, grabbed wallets and handbags right off supermarket shopping carts at different stores in Suffolk County, CBS 2's Jennifer McLogan reported.

Jennifer O'Leary, 25, of Stony Brook, was arrested Thursday after police said she stole a pocketbook belonging to a 77-year-old woman who was shopping at Uncle Giuseppe's Marketplace on Route 112.

O'Leary grabbed the purse from a shopping cart when the victim turned away, police said.

Police said the alleged thief would track shoppers throughout neighborhood grocery stores and then, as their backs were turned in the produce aisle weighing fruit or bagging lettuces, would pounce, grabbing wallets or unattended purses from the carts and then calmly walking out of the supermarket.

O'Leary allegedly grabbed handbags filled with cash, checks, Social Security numbers, passports, and credit cards in Setauket, Centereach, and Port Jefferson over the past six weeks, police said, adding that surveillance tape was being reviewed.

O'Leary's attorney said, like many young people on Long Island, she recently got hooked on prescription pills and narcotics, but later added she is seeking help.

"Her family supports her. I'm not trying to minimize, but these are non-violent charges. There are places in Riverhead where she is getting help, and anything that's taken can be paid back," attorney Matthew Tuohy said.

O'Leary is charged with grand larceny, forgery and criminal possession of a forged instrument. She pleaded not guilty and was being held on $10,000 cash bail.

Police have put out an alert, asking shoppers to not leave pocketbooks unattended, to keep handbags zipped and closed, and to fasten purses into carts using child straps.

Police said the victims of the purse and wallet snatchings are not out of the woods as all are subject to identity theft, because the suspect was allegedly working to sell their personal information.

Are you mindful of your pocketbook and belongings when you shop? Are you surprised by the alleged thefts? Sound off in our comments section below ...

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