'Penny trick' nets thief £20,000

Emma Woollacott
british pounds
british pounds

A Margate shop assistant has avoided jail after stealing around £20,000 from her employer using a simple trick.

Jessica Symons, 20, managed to steal as much as £1,500 a month from the vintage clothes store for more than a year, after falling into credit card debt.

To carry out the thefts, she kept a pile of pennies by the till. When a customer used cash to buy something for £9.99, she would give them a penny from the pile, while pocketing the ten pound note. The number of pennies left in the pile let her keep track of the scam.

The shop owner noticed that takings were down, but Symons' theft wasn't suspected until the store owner happened to be in the shop one day during the cashing up - and saw that the till was £40 out.

She was finally caught when the owner decided to check out previous transactions and look at the store's CCTV images, which clearly showed Symons carrying out her fraud.

She has now received a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years, and has been ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work. She hasn't repaid the money.

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The reason stores started pricing items at 99p in the first place was to try and avoid employee fraud: the ideas was that staff would have to ring items through the till in order to give the penny change. Symons found an easy way round that.

Figures published earlier this year by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show that staff theft during 2012-13 was the second-highest for nine years. It only accounts for 5.3% of all retail crime, but the average incident costs £1,200.

Many cases concern simple theft of stock, but some are more elaborate. Techniques include retaining receipts, voiding a sale after a customer has paid and keeping the money, creating false mark-downs and generating credits for non-existent returns.

"On average, each theft committed by an employee costs almost seven times that committed by a customer," warns the BRC.

Some scams target the customer, rather than the store, such as overcharging, short-changing and swapping genuine merchandise for fakes. However, recent research from Gocompare shows that a quarter of people don't check their change, and fewer than three in five always ask for a receipt.

"You should always check your statements against your receipts for purchases, cash withdrawals and your other outgoings, and look out for unfamiliar transactions which could be a result of an error or fraud," says Gocompare credit card expert Matt Sanders.

"If, when checking your statement, you spot a charge for something you didn't buy or expenditure you don't recognise, contact your bank or card issuer immediately."

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