Age UK has begun using covert cameras in some of its charity shops to catch volunteers suspected of stealing money or goods.
The charity for older people, which operates more than 430 charity shops in the UK, installed CCTV cameras in 13 of its stores as part of a targeted investigation after what the charity said was a "small number" of incidents in its shops.
Hugh Forde, the director of retail at Age UK, said the charity conducted an internal investigation to work out how it could best prevent theft and internal fraud. "As an extension of our regular assessment and part of our targeted monitoring activity, we recently reviewed 13 out of our 430-plus shops," he said.
"We take our responsibilities very seriously and recognise that we have a duty to protect the value of donations given by our generous donors, the large number of committed staff and volunteers working in our shops, and the older people we support."
The Daily Mirror newspaper reported that cases of dishonesty were understood to have been found at most of the 13 stores and speculated that the charity could have lost millions of pounds if this sort of theft was happening nationwide.
At Nottingham Magistrates’ Court in January, Sean O’Hara, a volunteer at an Age UK shop in Arnold, Nottinghamshire, admitted stealing £1,530 after hidden cameras caught him failing to register sales and taking money from the cash box from April to September 2014. He was given a 12-month community order and told to pay £800 in compensation.
And a spokeswoman for Dorset Police said it was investigating the alleged theft by a staff member of "a large amount of money" from an Age UK store in Weymouth between 2012 and 2015.
"A woman in her 50s from the Weymouth area was arrested on suspicion of fraud and is currently on police bail until the end of April 2015, pending further enquiries," she said.
Asked about the outcome of the investigations and whether cases of dishonesty were found at all 13 of the stores, an Age UK spokeswoman said: "As a result of the investigation, Age UK has dismissed a small number of staff. This has not been the case in all of the shops, but we are unable to comment on individual cases because they are now subject to police investigations or legal proceedings."
Age UK said it had introduced measures to reduce the risk of further incidents occurring, including additional shop audits and training for shop managers, but did not have plans to introduce more CCTV cameras into its stores.
"As well as conducting stringent procedures to monitor anyone managing or banking monies, including signed-for slips to account for any cash handling, we also run full banking reconciliations for every shop, every week," said Forde. "In addition, we have run a series of loss-prevention workshops for key staff."
Forde said that some isolated incidents were inevitable. "As a leading national charity, Age UK has more than 430 shops across the country," he said. "Unfortunately, isolated incidents do sometimes happen and in all retail chains internal losses do occur.
"We have no reason to believe that our risks are greater than those of any other retailer in the UK, and no evidence that we have lost revenue on the scale that has been reported."