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Self-service theft equates to £5 per person, per month

Unmanned self-service checkouts are a recipe for shoppers to help themselves - literally, according to new research.

Britons are stealing £3.2 billion worth of goods from self-service tills each year - equating to around £5 per person a month.

Almost one in four people admit to stealing at least one item without paying while a study shows theft from unmanned checkouts has more than doubled in the past four years.

The research, carried out by VoucherCodesPro.co.uk, found regional variations with those living in the north more likely to steal than those living in the south of England.

Supermarkets appear to be the hardest hit of retailers with the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Waitrose rolling out self-scan checkouts in the last decade.  

Tesco was the first chain to adopt the technology, running a pilot in 2003 which led to the national introduction in key stores by 2009.

Executives hoped it would be an easier way for customers to pay for their goods while reducing the need and expense of staff to man the tills.

However, the study's findings suggests self-checkouts are costing businesses more money due to a huge hike in shoplifting.

And online confessions show customers have been making the most of the new-found freedom by giving themselves discounts or passing through items for free.  

One woman admits she regularly pays less for Pink Lady apples by selecting 'Braeburn' when scanning the item through.

And a man revealed he once asked a member of staff at Tesco to remove the tag for a bottle of vodka and placed it in his carrier bag without scanning it, while another 25 people professed they regularly exploit the 'carrier bag' system, where shoppers are supposed to pay five pence per bag.

This dishonest trick hasn't gone unnoticed in some stores, however.  

Sainsbury's Local on Kensington Church Street in London introduced a proof of purchase policy for those wanting carrier bags.

Despite the affluence of the well-heeled area, staff said customers were flouting the rules and they were forced to introduce special measures.

The plastic carriers were removed from the self-serve machines and a sign erected, reading: 'Please ask an attendant for a bag and provide receipt once paid. Thank you.'

The study, which polled 2,000 people, found toiletries, fruit and vegetables and dairy products are the most common items to be taken with almost half of those who admitted to stealing claim to do so regularly. 

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