Irish retailers are being hit by a significant rise in the number of scams since a ban on tobacco display was implemented on July 1.

Criminal gangs are taking advantage of the confusion and extra time it now takes retailers to serve tobacco customers, Convenience Store has learned.

In one widely reported scam, criminals are switching genuine cigarette packs with those they have filled with tissues.

"A customer will order a pack of cigarettes and when the retailer has his back turned, he will swap the genuine pack for the fake," John Player & Sons area sales manager Eoghan Egan said.

"The scammer will then tell the retailer that he had made a mistake and meant to order another brand. The retailer swaps the pack and unwittingly puts the dud back."

One retailer in Blanchardstown, near Dublin, said the problem was so bad that she had put posters on her gantry stating that all returns or swapped items would be checked.

"Tobacco products are hidden from our view as well as customers', which means it is much harder for us to see if the stock is genuine or fake," she added. "The really big problem occurs when a fake pack is accidentally sold on to another customer," she pointed out.

In another scam, tricksters will arrive at the till with a large number of goods and ask for some high-value cigarettes. They will then exert their right to see examples of the cigarette brands on offer and, while the retailer is distracted, will hide the genuine product already handed over and place a fake in the shopping bag. They will then attempt to pay on a card which they know will be refused. After promising to return with cash to pay for the goods, the trickster then makes off with the stolen genuine packs.

"There have always been people out there looking to make a fast buck at someone else's expense, and unfortunately for retailers this kind of legislation is making it easier for them," added Egan.