A young postal worker who got into debt with a payday loan started raiding birthday cards at Doncaster sorting office - but failed to cover her tracks, a court heard.
Covert CCTV surveillance had to be set up at the Middle Bank letter office - which caught Amy Michelle Thornton in the act.
The 22-year-old has now lost the job she held for less than a year, and is finding new employment hard to come by because she has lost her good character, her solicitor told Doncaster magistrates.
The court decided the six thefts of mail packet offences she admitted were not serious enough to warrant a jail sentence, because of the small amounts she stole - in one case three £1 coins.
But Thornton, of Chantry Close, Cantley, must complete 150 hours of unpaid community service as part of a 12-month community order, and pay £400 prosecution costs.
Tim Williamson, prosecuting for Royal Mail, said suspicions were aroused in June when a cleaner found opened greeting cards envelopes in a bin in the ladies toilets at the sorting office.
Managers were alerted and regular checks in the toilets found two more opened packets, so covert surveillance was authorised, which resulted in Thornton being suspected and questioned.
She immediately told investigators: “I’ve been very stupid.”
She accepted she had tampered with packets by steaming or tearing them open to take cash and gift vouchers. When searched she produced the £3 and a £10 New Look voucher.
Defence solicitor David Lockhart said Thornton had ‘taken out a payday loan, not for a large amount but she was not able to repay it, and the interest began to accumulate’.
“She couldn’t afford the payments and stupidly began pilfering very small amounts from packets.
“The consequences have been quite dramatic. She has lost her job, she has lost her good reputation, she has no other skills or experience in the workplace, and the reasons for her leaving Royal Mail make it hard for her to work in retail.”
Mr Lockhart said Thornton had now enrolled on a part-time Doncaster College beauty therapy course and was still on benefits.