IT'S IN THE BAG... SHOPLIFTERS WHO BEAT SECURITY TAGS COST YOU pounds 1.5BILLION A YEAR; CONSUMER WATCH.
Big name retailers are trying to hush up the extent of the security breaches in case more thieves are encouraged to join in.
A Sunday Mirror investigation has uncovered evidence that sophisticated tagging devices used by major stores throughout Britain are now routinely beaten by the shoplifters.
In the West Country two separate gangs have been blitzing shops.
A spokeswoman for Cheltenham police said: "We don't want to make a big thing of this.
"People are trying to dodge the devices all the time.
"If the tag doesn't work that is really the shop's problem."
A detective involved in the case said: "This is very bad news for high street retailers.
"The tagging system costs thousands of pounds to install and there is substantial unpublicised evidence that it is now being beaten every day all over Britain.
"The people arrested are just the tip of the iceberg.
"We strongly suspect they have had thousands of pounds' worth of goods away in the past six month and we believe many professional gangs are doing the same things."
The detective said stores should have a fast re-think because their once sophisticated equipment is no longer a match for the professional criminal. "Everybody has kept very quiet about it but all the major retailers know what is happening and are desperately trying to find a way round it," he said.
Retailers put security tags on everything from CDs to expensive clothing, in an attempt to stop the thieves plaguing British High Streets."
But sources close to the stores admit the battle against organised crime is expensive, never-ending - and leaves `consumers footing a massive bill. Mike Shock, assistant director for retail crime for the British Retail Consortium, said: "The thief is generally one step ahead. Our job is to prevent him becoming two steps ahead.
"The retailers have to be realistic about the limits of technology.
"There will always be those elements who want to steal products, whatever equipment we have in stores."
The Retail Consortium estimates that shoplifting costs pounds 1.5 billion a year.
The customer has to bear the brunt of the cost of theft, although the store owners do everything they can to provide effective security devices.
Electronic article surveillance tags - as they are known in the security trade - have been used in shops for the past 15 years.
They work using electro- magnetic rays to set off an alarm if clothes or property are taken out of the shop without the security tag being removed by a member of staff.
Kitchen foil, if it is carefully positioned, can stop waves emitted from certain tags setting off the security alarm.
Tom Reeve, editor of Security Management, said: "The old aluminium foil trick has been around for ages in America. It is just one of the ways of bypassing security equipment."
New tagging devices are currently being developed. But technology expert Jeremy Holland admitted: "We can't win really.
"Either we pay to prevent theft - or we let the shoplifters get the upper hand and pay for the pilfering.
"In the end the customer is always going to have to share those costs."