A Queensland woman has been told to repay thousands of dollars to Coles and Woolworths after admitting to stealing groceries by sticking on fake barcodes and scanning them through at self-service checkouts at a lower price.
Kylie Milner, 35, admitted in Ipswich Magistrates Court to photocopying barcodes from two-minute noodle packets worth less than a dollar and glueing them to much more expensive items, The Queensland Times reported on Monday.
She pleaded guilty to 31 counts of fraud, three counts of attempted fraud and one count of possessing a drug-related utensil, the Times reported.
The stolen goods reportedly included meat, coffee machines, protein powder, toilet paper, disinfectant and bedsheets.
Magistrate Virginia Sturgess sentenced Ms Milner to a suspended jail term of nine months, ordered her to repay $1545 to Coles and $2070 to Woolworths, and also fined her $150.
Ms Sturgess told Ms Milner the restitution was “very conservative” and that it was “very likely you stole a considerable amount more”, the Times reported.
The Ipswich court heard from Ms Milner’s defence lawyer that she was bankrupt, “struggling financially” and motivated by “need rather than greed”.
The case followed a news earlier this week that Coles would place a 12 item cap on the self-service checkouts. Coles said it was to improve customer service, but retail experts suggested the move could also be an attempt to limit theft*.
Ms Milner’s thefts may have been partly in response to the rising cost of groceries – and further rises are reportedly coming.
The latest inflation figures showed that the consumer price index rose by only 0.5 per cent for the December quarter. Despite this overall low figure, a closer look revealed that prices rose in the broad category of ‘other food products n.e.c.‘ by 5.4 per cent and vegetables by 2.5 per cent.
We should expect more price rises in coming months, according to analysts at Swiss bank UBS.
Aggressive discounting between the big chains, triggered by the entry of Aldi, will ease and food prices will remain steady or rise in 2017, UBS analyst Ben Gilbert wrote in the report.
“While we believe the market will remain competitive, the risk of a price war is falling,” Mr Gilbert wrote.
“No listed retailer wants a price war, with discounters and consumers ultimately the only winners.”
* CORRECTION: A earlier version of this story stated that Coles ‘announced’ the cap. It did not. It revealed the move in response to a question. Further, Coles said the reason for the change was to improve customer service.