TikTok videos swap shoplifting tactics and explain how to avoid getting caught amid shelf theft epidemic fears

12 September 2023, 06:02 | Updated: 20 September 2023, 10:13

TikTok videos are explaining and encouraging people to steal
TikTok videos are explaining and encouraging people to steal. Picture: Social media/Alamy

By Will Taylor

TikTok is being used by shoplifters to spread tips on stealing products amid fears of a theft epidemic.

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Stores have been given ratings out of 10 as users substitute words like "stealing" to dodge the social media platform's filters.

They describe shop theft "borrowing" tactics, such as tying shoe laces to attach jewellery to them or using long-sleeved clothes to hide items around your arms.

Users try to encourage others to avoid targeting small businesses.

One account pushes users to steal from Primark - giving it a 10/10 - because the retailer does not check how many items are taken to the changing room.

Basic items are getting security tagged
Basic items are getting security tagged. Picture: Alamy

Discount retailer Wilko, which faces disappearing from the high street altogether because of its financial problems - putting 12,000 jobs at risk - is given a 9/10 as its cameras have blind spots and security stickers come off easily.

Some accounts even give advice about what to do if shoplifters get caught, suggesting they tell security they took items to attract security's attention because they were being followed.

Read more: Supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s Waitrose and Co-op 'will pay police to scan shoplifters' faces' in crackdown

They suggest acting confused and walking out or pretending you were looking for someone outside if the alarms go off.

Matt Vickers, the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party who previously worked at Woolworths, told The Times: "It is completely unacceptable for online platforms like TikTok to allow content that is enabling and encouraging crime in this way.

"Many of the 'creators' behind these TikTok’s are misleading their audiences into believing that stealing from a big company has no repercussions. The loss of stock leads to a price hike on the shelves, leaving the everyday customer paying for the losses."

A spokesperson for TikTok said: "We have zero tolerance for content facilitating or encouraging criminal activities, including theft, as set out in our community guidelines and will remove this content if found."

It comes as high street stores are being forced to lock up or tag everyday items like butter or duvets amid fears of widespread shoplifting.

Retailers are turning themselves into fortresses and bringing in security guards, electronic barriers for self service checkouts and facial recognition systems to stop theft.

One video suggests tips for shoplifters if they get caught
One video suggests tips for shoplifters if they get caught. Picture: TikTok

Ten retailers are planning to bring in "Project Pegasus" - a system where they pay police to scan shoplifters' faces through the Police National Database, which uses facial recognition technology.

This could help forces crack down on shoplifting gangs. Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and the Co-op are among those taking part in the £600,000 scheme they will help fund.

Read more: Everyday goods like butter and coffee locked away in secure cases in stores as shoplifting epidemic bites

Basic items like washing powder are being locked up to stop them being swiped from shelves, while "dummy" coffee tubs have to be taken to the tills to be swapped out for a real product.

In extreme cases recently there have even bouts of organised shoplifting. Last month, a TikTok call for mass theft in Oxford Street forced police to descend on London's shopping district while outlets called in extra security.

It comes as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned widespread shoplifting was contributing to a 27% rise in losses - with about £1bn a year being ceded due to theft.

Last week, Lord Stuart Rose, the chairman of Asda, warned shoplifting has almost become "decriminalised".

"It's actually just not seen as a crime anymore," he told LBC, acknowledging that police have "lots of other things to do".

"We should make it very clear to people coming in to shop that if we do catch them stealing things we will prosecute them if we can and it's become a bit of a game," he said.

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