Rising cost of living pushing Australians into petty crime ‘to get by’

Oct 23, 2023
“Money pressure is escalating with a rising number of households in survival mode." Source: Getty Images.

Australian households are turning to theft to make ends meet as they grapple with the ever-increasing cost of living.

According to a recent survey conducted by Finder, which garnered responses from 1,063 individuals, more than one in ten Australians, equivalent to a staggering 2.4 million people, admitted to resorting to theft in the past year as they approached a breaking point in their finances.

The research also revealed that 5 per cent of respondents had pilfered items while using supermarket self-checkout systems, with slightly fewer, 4 per cent, confessing to deceiving the self-serve checkouts by deliberately misrepresenting the items they had scanned.

Essentially, this equates to a significant number of 811,000 individuals who intentionally scanned lower-priced items but bagged more expensive ones, such as swapping an onion for a more costly item such as an avocado.

Head of consumer research at Finder, Graham Cooke expressed concern regarding the trend, noting that many Australian households were grappling with financial hardship.

“Money pressure is escalating with a rising number of households in survival mode,” he said.

Cooke further pointed out that even major supermarket chains, such as Woolworths and Coles, had mentioned an uptick in shoplifting during their recent profit announcements.

“Aussies are clearly struggling to afford basic necessities and some are turning to criminal behaviour to get by,” he added.

“This, combined with the widespread use of self-checkouts, has resulted in opportunistic shoppers leaving with more in their bags than they paid for.”

According to Finder’s Consumer Sentiment Tracker, the average Australian now spends $740 per month on groceries, which represents a 7 per cent increase in the past 12 months.

Cooke emphasised that this rise in illicit activities has prompted retailers to bolster their security measures.

“Retailers have had to crack down on theft by installing cameras at self-service kiosks and employing more staff to monitor checkouts,” he revealed.

One notable supermarket that has significantly enhanced its security measures to combat the rising trend of shoplifting is Woolworths. The retail giant has recently initiated trials for advanced security technology, which encompass rooftop sensors and automated gates at their self-service checkout counters.

Upon entering the self-service checkout area, these state-of-the-art sensors will promptly identify the presence of shoppers and allocate them a unique digital identifier. Initially highlighted in red, this identifier transitions to a green status once customers successfully complete their payment process. Once it turns green, the gates will seamlessly swing open, allowing customers to exit without hindrance.

However, if the sensor detects any attempt by a shopper to evade payment or leave without finalising their transaction, the gates will steadfastly remain closed, effectively obstructing their exit from the store.

In an apparent effort to dissuade Australians from turning to petty crime, Cooke encouraged households in Australia to thoroughly examine their expenses and identify areas where they can trim their budgets.

“Groceries, fuel, electricity, insurance, mortgages and rents have all gone up. But simple switches could save you hundreds of dollars a year,” he said.

Moreover, he encouraged those who are struggling to put food on the table to consider utilising the services of food banks, such as OzHarvest and SecondBite.

“As tempting as it may be, a basket discount is not worth the cost of a potential criminal record,” Cooke cautioned.


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