Criminals are training children to shoplift using TikTok videos that get past the site’s censors using a seemingly harmless codeword.
Some “how-to” theft videos, which evade detection by using the code “borrowing”, even list stores easiest to pilfer and rank them out of 10.
One user, calling themselves the “CEO of borrowing”, has videos explaining how to get away with the crime and show hauls of stolen items.
The Federation of Independent Retailers says groups of four or five people have sometimes targeted a shop to film a TikTok theft video.
Group president, Muntazir Dipoti, said: “The situation is getting worse and worse. It’s not just a financial impact on the retailer, it is mentally as well. I don’t think people realise it is not a laugh or a joke.”
Shoplifting tips shared by video criminals include wearing loose clothing to hide stolen goods, not looking at security cameras and avoiding small businesses, which are more likely to take action.
Other TikTok users have thanked the video-makers for their advice, boasting about how much they had been able to steal as a result.
Similar content has often been published on other social media sites.
TikTok bosses say they have “zero tolerance” of videos promoting criminal activity.
Lisa Perretta, business crime reduction manager for the Brighton and Hove area, said some young shoplifters were living in poverty, needed specific help or were being exploited.
But she warned social media was offering “encouragement and enticing” children to commit crime.
She said: “Shoplifting has increased and probably a tiny proportion of that is because of these types of platforms and social media. It becomes trendy, it becomes the norm, it becomes acceptable to ‘borrow’.
“TikTok needs to be looking at what goes out and there needs to be much stricter boundaries, because it is enticing people to do what they may not have necessarily done.
“For those who have shoplifted, it has given them a channel. They may have shoplifted on their own, but this gives them a platform where it is acceptable.
“It should not be accepted, and the boundaries need to be put in place.”
In September, policing minister Chris Philip said he was “horrified” the posts remained on TikTok and was seeking an urgent meeting with its executives. TikTok said it used technology and moderation teams to pinpoint and remove content or accounts breaching its community guidelines.
A spokesman said: “We have zero tolerance for content encouraging criminal activities.
“We remove the vast majority before it receives a single view.”