The prevalence of self-service checkouts in supermarkets has become a normality. These days when you walk into Coles or Woolworths you expect at the end of your shopping trip you will have the option of, being served by a store assistant at a checkout lane or using the self-service checkout.

Self-service checkouts were initially introduced into Australian supermarkets as a response to a social trend. It was recorded that on a weekly basis we were no longer doing one big weekly or fortnightly shop.  Instead it was seen that we were visiting our supermarkets more frequently than ever before, two to three times per week in fact. This means the trolley we used to use was being replaced with a basket containing fewer items.

The introduction of self-service checkouts in supermarkets was intended to offer customers an expedient way to shop. It also allowed customers the control of being able to ring up their own items and pack them how they want. Initial feedback from the installation of the innovation noted that the sense of control tended to lead to greater customer satisfaction.

The benefit of the innovation was supposed to extend to supermarkets too by reducing outlay costs. However, statistics have shown this has not in fact been the outcome. You see, the rise of self-service checkouts is prompting more people to steal, with many using the impersonal nature of the experience to justify their theft.

Loss prevention expert Steven Campbell said The Australia and New Zealand Retail Crime Survey of 9,000 stores highlighted self-service checkout theft as one of the biggest problems facing the sector. People using the [self-service] machines often justify their actions because they believe big retailers already make enough profit, so they are happy to put avocados through as carrots.

Then there is those accidental ‘swipers’ who mistakenly pick the first vegetable they see. Once they check the receipt, they realise they made significant savings and can away with it, so next time they do the same again. Eventually it becomes a trend”.

In New South Wales, the conduct of taking an item without paying for it is an offence of larceny pursuant to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (‘Act’ here thereafter).


To understand the offence of larceny, we need to review the governing legislation. The Act covers larceny under division 5. Division 5 stipulates that the specific charge you will receive is dependent upon the nature of the offence and the value of the item/s stolen as to whether it can be dealt with summarily or as an indictable offence.

As a basic overview of the court system, summary offences are heard in the Local Court. Indictable offences are usually directed to the District Court and the objective seriousness of the offending is a lot worse than offences dealt with summarily.

The punishment for larceny is set out in section 117 of the Act which states:

“whosoever commits larceny … shall, except in the cases hereinafter otherwise provided for, be liable to imprisonment for five years”.

In the context of a supermarket, to be found guilty of larceny the prosecution needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt you:

  • That you took an item;
  • That belonged to someone else;
  • You did so without the owner’s consent;
  • With the intention of permanently depriving the owner of it.

The increased efforts by supermarkets to deter offenders is assisting the prosecution greatly in being able to establish these elements.

Just last month, Woolworths began trialling a new system of surveillance at locations including Woolworths Neutral Bay. Customers were surprised to see themselves appear in an inconspicuous new screen in the corner of the store’s self-serve checkouts. Woolworths told The New Daily the camera is part of several measures they have brought in to stop those customers who don’t “do the right thing”.

On top of the crackdown by supermarkets, authorities are also increasing their efforts. Ku-ring-gai Police announced patrols are being stepped-up at identified hotspots on the upper north shore including Hornsby Mall and the Gordon and St Ives shopping precincts.

Figures provided by North Shore Police show the area had the highest legal action rate for retail theft in NSW with approximately 40 per cent of cases proceeding to court over the last year.

Being charged with larceny can have a negative impact on your career and future prospects. If you find yourself charged in relation to self-service checkout dishonesty, contact our office to discuss your options with one of our Specialist Criminal Lawyers.


A Sydney student has faced court after scanning cashews and pistachios as bags of bananas at a self-service checkout. Stefan Toth, 24, was caught during a random bag check at Coles World Square in the Sydney CBD in January.

His receipt said he had purchased four bunches of bananas, but a guard found one bunch plus a bag of raw cashews, some roasted pistachios and a pack of Tassal salmon. Toth said he must have made a mistake when scanning but was charged.

In court, Toth pleaded guilty to the offence.


Larceny is one of the most common offences our office deals with. We hope you have found this article educational. If you have a topic you would like us to discuss in a future blog, we encourage you to let us know.

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