Confessions of a middle-class shoplifter: How self-checkouts are turning Britain into a nation of tea leafs by making it ‘easy’ to scam the system and pinch groceries – as retail experts claim they encourage petty crime

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Shoppers are turning into petty criminals thanks to self-service tills which make it easy to steal items from supermarkets without getting caught. 

Many have confessed to stealing groceries or cosmetics – and though some do so out of desperation, for others it’s merely the thrill or urge to take something and go unnoticed. 

Some shoplifters have shared their stories online, with one woman confessing she scanned most items but threw one in without paying for it, partly down to money worries but also partly just for a ‘rush’.

Another admitted she used to make small savings by not scanning all her shopping, which she said she now realised was ‘stupid’. 

A Mumsnet user told how her brother had been caught shoplifting using a self-scanner, despite being able to afford the goods. 

And another shopper said she pinched a make up concealer from a department store even though she could have bought it herself. 

It comes as experts have said putting staff on tills could slash rates of crime in Britain’s supermarkets as self service checkouts have ‘backfired’ on stores and ‘middle class shoplifting’ sky-rockets.

One woman confessing she scanned most items but threw one in without paying for it, partly down to money worries but also partly just for a 'rush' (stock image)

One woman confessing she scanned most items but threw one in without paying for it, partly down to money worries but also partly just for a ‘rush’ (stock image)

Many have confessed to stealing groceries or cosmetics - and though some do so out of desperation, for others it's merely the thrill or urge to take something and go unnoticed (Stock Photo)

Many have confessed to stealing groceries or cosmetics – and though some do so out of desperation, for others it’s merely the thrill or urge to take something and go unnoticed (Stock Photo)

This Mumsnet user said the shop she stole from doesn't weigh items on the self-scanner

This Mumsnet user said the shop she stole from doesn’t weigh items on the self-scanner

Another admitted she didn't need to shoplift, she just did it and then later regretted it

Another admitted she didn’t need to shoplift, she just did it and then later regretted it

This shopper said she used to make small savings by not scanning all her goods

This shopper said she used to make small savings by not scanning all her goods

Another person told how her brother shoplifts using self scanners even though he can afford the items

Another person told how her brother shoplifts using self scanners even though he can afford the items

Marks and Spencer chairman Archie Norman says theft in stores has become a ‘global problem’ that has been driven by a ‘reduction of service’.

Mr Norman, speaking on LBC, said: ‘You get the middle class [shoplifting], and I think it has become true with the reduction of service you get in a lot of shops.

‘A lot of people go in and go: “Well, this didn’t scan properly, or it’s very difficult to scan and I shop here all the time – It’s not my fault. I’m owed it.”

The rise of shoplifting

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said this summer shoplifting had risen 27 per cent across ten of the largest cities in the UK, with some cities up as much as 68 per cent. 

It estimates that shops lost £953million to customer theft last year – the greatest loss on record in recent years.

Home Office data shows shoplifting rose by 24 per cent last year, as thieves take advantage of lax policing and a criminal justice system that lets off perpetrators without jail sentences.

And 88 companies, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, WH Smith, Aldi, Primark and Superdrug, have written to the Government to demand action as Britain’s shoplifting epidemic spirals out of control.

The retail giants – who are usually bitter rivals – are urging the Government to make assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker a specific crime – something which exists in Scotland already.

‘This standalone offence would send an important signal that our colleagues will receive better protection in law and act as a deterrent to would-be offenders. This action should be taken without delay,’ the letter says.

‘You see with the self-checkouts that everybody’s gone into, there’s just a little bit of that creeping in. So at every level shoplifting has slightly increased.’

One mumsnet user confessed they had shoplifted, saying she was ‘kicking myself so much’. 

‘I don’t know why, or what I was thinking,’ they wrote. ‘I could have bought the item. It wasn’t something I needed either.

‘It was a tester tube of concealer in a department store. I had to wait around for my online order to be found, saw the concealer and had a sudden urge to put it in my pocket.

‘I regretted it as soon as I left the shop and wanted to go back in to apologise but bottled it.

‘I haven’t done anything like that before and wouldn’t again, but what the f*** is wrong with me that I would risk being arrested for something as pointless as a tester tube of concealer I didn’t need. There’s no excuse.

‘I’m going to have to go back and show my face aren’t I? Can I pay for it, even though they don’t sell the testers?’

Another said the first time she stole, she couldn’t even remember if it was an accident or a conscious choice.

I put through most of the items and threw one in my bag unscanned,’ she said. 

‘This shop doesn’t weigh the items on self scanner and doesn’t have security bleep things on the exit. I have been maybe once since where I paid for everything.

‘Has anyone else done this sort of thing? It’s partly a rush I guess, sounds cringey to say it. Partly driven by money worries. I’m not in a great place mentally.

‘It’s a big chain, not excusing it, just I’m sure someone will say I’m stealing from a small independent shop. I’m just trying to understand myself and try to bloody stop.’

And another on Mumsnet said said her brother had shoplifted on several occasions, despite being able to afford the goods.

Marks and Spencer chairman Archie Norman (pictured) says theft in stores has become a 'global problem' that has been driven by a 'reduction of service'

Marks and Spencer chairman Archie Norman (pictured) says theft in stores has become a ‘global problem’ that has been driven by a ‘reduction of service’

Experts have said putting staff on tills could slash rates of crime in Britain's supermarkets as self service checkouts have 'backfired' on stores (stock image

Experts have said putting staff on tills could slash rates of crime in Britain’s supermarkets as self service checkouts have ‘backfired’ on stores (stock image

‘He’s told me that he’s been doing it for a while by not scanning some items through the self scan,’ she revealed. 

‘I don’t understand why he would do it when he can clearly afford the items! 

‘When he got caught the security guard told him he had been watching him do it for weeks but only pulled him up on it this weekend. He was very lucky as the police wasn’t called and he got away with just being barred from there.

‘I can not believe how stupid my brother has been because he’s ok for money and if he was ever in trouble for money he knows he has us to turn to, I don’t understand it.’

David McKelvey, a former detective chief inspector at Scotland Yard who now runs private investigations and prosecutions firm TM Eye, believes the decision to use self-checkouts have backfired on stores.

He told MailOnline: ‘Self checkouts make it very easy to steal – they’ve simplified theft effectively.

‘Undoubtedly if someone goes in and decides not to scan particular items, then that is theft but it is very difficult for the store to then identify that.

‘They tried to simplify the system and make more profit, effectively, but I think to a certain extent is rebounded on them because people have seen it as an opportunity.

‘If you present people with an opportunity quite often they’ll take it – particularly when it’s well recognized that shoplifting now is in epidemic proportions and that no enforcement action is taken.

 ‘There’s a view by members of the public that you can potentially get away with shoplifting.’

The head of private police force TM Eye David McKelvey (pictured) says increasing the number of staff could only help reduce shoplifting figures - which he believes have 'simplified theft'

The head of private police force TM Eye David McKelvey (pictured) says increasing the number of staff could only help reduce shoplifting figures – which he believes have ‘simplified theft’ 

In July this year, one Mumsnet user confessed: ‘A few years ago (approx 3) I was living alone and struggling a bit financially, I would shop in a supermarket and sometimes not scan all my shopping (it would be really small savings which makes it even more stupid of me). 

‘A few times after doing this I got caught and taken away by the security guard and my ID was photographed and I was let go. I haven’t done this since and the police were not informed. 

‘Fast forward approx 3 years I have a fiancé, a child and a house and my life is totally different.’

One woman on the site spoke of a friend who is a manager of a branch at a national supermarket.

‘According to her most shoplifters are women who are stealing nappies and other basics. She feels very sorry for them, as opposed to those who steal bottles of alcohol.’

But another wrote: ‘I live in a wealthy area with a Tesco express. There’s a guy who often walks in there, helps himself to a sandwich, lunch, whatever, and just walks out without paying. The staff are helpless as there are only a couple of them and they can’t chase him while leaving the shop unattended.’

And another said they know someone who is open about the fact she ‘forgets’ to scan every third item on self-checkouts.  

Last month a persistent shoplifter spoke to the BBC to confess she steals from shops in Nottingham because her partner has an addiction which leaves her with no money. 

The woman said: ‘This morning I stole two Monster energy drinks, I decided to steal some pasties that go in the microwave. I bought myself – well, I stole myself – some soup, some pork pies.’ 

She said she’d also stolen the shoes and coat she was wearing.

‘Trust me, when I steal, I feel very guilty doing it – but I have to,’ she said. 

And she said she thinks police should do more to stop people like herself.   

A man told the BBC: ‘I robbed £400 worth of cosmetics this morning,’ while his girlfriend admitted she had stolen a pink tub of Soap & Glory Body Butter because she couldn’t afford to pay for it.

According to statistics released earlier this month by the British Retail Consortium, shop thefts have more than doubled in the past three years, and currently cost retailers some £953 million a year. About 70 per cent of this figure is for crime prevention costs including security, and the remaining 30 per cent direct losses due to theft.

The Co-op said recently it had recorded its highest-ever levels of retail crime, shoplifting and anti-social behaviour in the six months to June, with almost 1,000 incidents each day.

The trend isn’t limited to larger department stores and supermarkets. The Association of Convenience Stores, the voice of more than 33,500 shops, has also recorded its highest-ever levels of shoplifting over the last year, with 1.1 million incidents reported to the police.

And while most of this is down to the usual suspects – those in need, teenage chancers or criminal gangs – hidden in plain sight is a secret subculture of affluent women for whom shoplifting has become a surprising compulsion.

A retired executive office manager who owns a small portfolio of rental properties close to her home in Gloucestershire, ‘Caroline’ (not her real name) says it all began for her one day in 2021 in a well-known DIY superstore.

‘I’d gone to collect some pre-ordered items but I also needed to buy a £150 power drill on the day,’ she explains. ‘I suddenly had this compulsion to peel the ‘already paid for’ sticker from one of my pre-ordered items and put it onto the power drill instead. To avert suspicion, I picked up a few bedding plants costing around £5, which I put through the till.

‘My heart was hammering, and I fully expected to feel the hand of a security guard on my shoulder. But by the time I got to the car, I felt such a buzz. I couldn’t believe I’d got away with it. I can explain it only as a sudden, impetuous two fingers up to the fact that life was – and still is – very stressful.’

‘As soon as I got home, I confessed I’d stolen something to my husband, who thought I was joking, as I’ve never been one to break the rules in that way before,’ she adds. ‘But despite his horror, he just shook his head, probably because there were bigger worries for us at the time.

‘Since that first time I’ve continued to shoplift sporadically. It’s wrong, but it gives me a sense of being in control when everything else in my life feels anything but.’

She added: ‘I’ve witnessed shoplifters running out of the supermarkets with staff chasing after them,’ she adds. ‘I get away with it because I’m the calm, middle-aged, middle-class woman who looks so normal and respectable. I’ve seen other women like me fill up their trolleys and walk brazenly past security staff without paying for a thing.’ 

She said she usually takes small, fairly inexpensive items of food, stationery and make-up, such as the odd lipstick or mascara. 

Shoplifting is an offence under the Theft Act 1968, punishable under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, with a maximum sentence of six months’ custody if the goods are worth less than £200, and up to seven years if the value is more. 

Post source: The List

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