I was a shoplifting addict at 13 & even stole for gangs – so I can spot the telltale signs of a thief that shoppers miss | The Sun

UPSET and tearful after another day of relentless teasing over the holes in her school trousers, 13-year-old Farrah McNutt took matters into her own hands.

After walking into a local store at Haverhill, Suffolk, she slipped into the changing room, tried on a new pair of trousers and brazenly walked out the door, unchallenged by staff.

The cheeky theft was the start of a spiralling addiction to shoplifting that saw the troubled teen raiding shops on a daily basis and even stealing to order for a gang of so-called friends, up to six years older.

But Farrah – one of 11 kids – has now turned her life around and is using her previous experience to advise stores on combating the growing surge of shoplifting through her business, Catch A Thief.

“When I first shoplifted it was for necessities but when there’s no consequences you keep going,” she says.

“People told me no one's being harmed here, there’s no victims and because I was young, I wouldn't get in trouble for it, which obviously is not true,” she tells the Sun.



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“It is not a victimless crime because store owners lose money they need put food on the table, they may have to let staff go or even close, which has a huge impact on the community.”

Retailers have reported a huge rise in shoplifting in recent years, with 365,164 offences recorded by police inn England and Wales in the year to June – up 25 per cent on the previous 12 months. The Co-op estimated theft has cost them £33million in the last year.

Farrah – who appears in a series of Channel 5 shows on shoplifting, which kicks off tonight – helps store owners combat the problem by teaching them the tell-tale signs of offenders and effective deterrents and filing police reports.

“We work with over 30 stores and every member has seen a significant reduction in theft,” she says. “It's really important that we show both the retailers and the offenders that something is being done.”

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Her first theft was school trousersCredit: Supplied

Stealing to order

Growing up in a poverty-stricken household, with ten siblings, Farrah often went without, as her mum couldn’t afford to give her the things her classmates had.

“I got teased because my school trousers had holes so I went into a store and changed them,” she says. 

“When I got away with it I carried on, stealing make-up and clothes, just keeping up with trends at school and trying not to get bullied.

“Everyone at school had nice clothes and make-up and I wanted the same.”

At first, Farrah stuck to the odd item but the shoplifting sprees got more and more frequent.

“After I got away with it for so long, I would be at the stores every school lunch break,” she says. 

“I used to hang around these 19 and 20 year olds and they'd get me to go into the stores and get them stuff, including alcohol.

“Most of them had babies and they struggled with baby clothes, so they’d ask me to go and steal them. 

“One girl wanted something for her child’s first birthday, so asked me to take a blow up bouncy castle ballpit. I went up to the till and asked for the biggest bag they had and they gave it to me. So I went to the shelf, put it in the bag and just walked out.

“It was way too easy. There was no CCTV but no one bothered about CCTV because nothing was being done with it anyway. 

“I never got paid for it, I just did it because they told me to. They used me. They used to say because I was underage, I’d get in less trouble than them but you can still go to prison for it, or get referred to probation or youth offenders and if you carry on it will really affect your life.

“Once you start going down that road, you get the record and the final warnings and you start to feel like you've got nothing to lose because you've already ruined your life with a criminal record.”

Teen mum

At 15, Farrah fell pregnant with her son Bradley, now 13, and after being arrested, and handed a suspended sentence, she vowed to turn her life around.

“I realised I didn't want to go down that road,” she says. "I was getting into more and more trouble but when I got pregnant with my son, I didn't want him to live that life.

“I wanted to set a good example to him and all my younger brothers and sisters, who looked up to me. I didn't want them to go through that life or end up with a criminal record so I stopped and went back to school to do GCSES.

“Then I looked into the statistics and I found out 3.3 million thefts went unreported – and I wanted to know why.”

Farrah began to talk to store owners and realised stealing was far from a victimless crime. 

“They told me the CCTV wasn’t being used as evidence and said  ‘we can't claim off our insurance because the more we claim, the higher our premiums get'. 

“ Shop keepers and staffs have mortgages or rent and kids to feed and if the store had to close down, it has a devastating effect on the community, especially the older people.”

Giveaway signs

In order to tackle the problem, Farrah set up Catch A Thief in 2014, circulating CCTV footage of shoplifters to help identify them, helping store-owners file a police report and chasing to make sure the cases are not closed without proper investigation.

She also advises shopkeepers on how to deter thieves with signage and on technology which helps snare offenders.She says there are four distinct types of shoplifter with differing tell-tale signs.

“There’s the opportunist, the premeditated, the organised gangs and the needy," she says. 

“An organised gang are more likely to use a distraction, so one might engage a member of staff while another one raids the shelves.

“The premeditated shoplifter will go in and out as fast as possible, putting as much as they can in a bag. They are often feeding an addiction so will take, for example, five bottles of detergent or loads of meat, that they can sell to feed their habit.

“One thing to look out for is someone walking really fast down the aisle. 

“They don't look at the staff members, put their head down and will pick up a product without looking at it. 

“The opportunist will seem more nervous and they'll look around a bit more, to see where staff are. 

“People that steal for need will be the ones taking a loaf of bread, milk, biscuits to take home and feed the family. They won't go for expensive stuff, like lots of meat. 

“They often don't know how much help and support there is out there in terms of food banks, grants and low budget loans.”

The retailer went out of his way to say ‘Don't take it off my shelves. Come talk to me and I'll give you some food. '

On one occasion, a client in Sheffield had a regular who would steal a sandwich and a milkshake, almost every day.

“When we identified him we asked the retailer if you don't mind, shall we put them in touch with the food bank and see if that helps,” says Farrah. 

“The retailer went out of his way to say ‘Don't take it off my shelves. Come talk to me and I'll give you some food.'

“For each store we print out a list of local help and support and let them use the phones to call the shelters. This man was only stealing  because he's hungry and homeless, so he needed help.”

Advice to stores

If staff do spot a shoplifter, Farrah warns that you should not confront them directly, but use a polite approach.

“Anyone in a desperate situation will want to escape and could use knives or lash out,” she says.

“My advice is controversial because I always say be polite to them. If you see someone put something in the bag, say ‘Would you like me to take that to the till for you? Most will be embarrassed enough to give the items back or pay for them.

“But always keep over  an arm's distance away in case they turn violent.”

She also advises staff to acknowledge shoppers as they walk into the store, so they know you have spotted them and recommends using new AI technology, which tells staff in real time when a shopper is acting suspiciously.

As well as the list of places that offer help, which are printed out to hand those driven to steal through the cost of living crisis or addiction, Farrah also uses banning notices, handed to offenders to bar them from stores.

“They tell the perpetrator they’ve been caught and if they come back into the store, they can be charged with trespass or even burglary. They  are really effective for the opportunist and that the ones who think they’ll because no one's watching.”

Farrah, whose siblings are also involved in Catch a Thief, has now got son Bradley on board.

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“Bradley’s the age I was when I started shoplifting,” says Farrah. “But he now goes around telling everyone that shoplifting is bad and comes with consequences. Being 13 and having that mindset is something I'm very proud of.”

Shoplifting: Stripping the Shelves is on Channel 5 from tonight at 10pm. Shoplifting: Caught Red Handed, twice a week on Channel 5 Tues & Weds at 7pm.

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