SHOPKEEPERS were today warned to be on their guard from a gang of cigarette thieves.
Thousands of pounds worth of tobacco has been swiped from unsuspecting stores in recent weeks.
A complex scam involving fake packets is now widespread in the resort leading Trading Standards bosses to issue today’s warning.
The con works with the fraudsters resealing empty packets stuffed with paper to the weight of a normal, full, packet.
They then replace the plastic film wrapper and take the bogus packets into shops.
After asking for a packet of cigarettes from behind the counter they then inform the sales assistant they have changed their minds and want a different brand.
As the staff member turns their back towards the tobacco stand the thief switches the bona fide packet with a stuffed empty one.
They then leave the store with a free packet of cigarettes.
It is believed the fraud is now widespread around the country.
Tim Coglan, Blackpool Council’s head of Trading Standards said: “It has now become apparent some people are using distraction techniques to swap packets of cigarettes for fake packets within shops.
“The shop assistant is not aware the swap has taken place and then people are buying the packets which are made from real packets but filled with paper and have their plastic wrapping replaced.
“This is something that has become more prevalent and is not only happening here.
“There have been literally hundreds of cases.”
Both retailers and cigarette buyers are warned to check packets of cigarettes before they are purchased.
Mr Coglan added: “We would ask retailers to be vigilant over people buying cigarettes who then change their mind or make an excuse not to buy. “