A thieving store cleaner was caught after managers put a covert camera in the stock room.
Argos started an investigation after mobile phones went missing from their branch in Russell Street, South Shields.
The camera captured cleaner Julie Mailey, 54, taking an iPhone, South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court heard.
Laura Johnson told the court: “The phones and other valuable electrical items were kept in a locked cage in the store.
“An investigation was started after stock went missing, and managers formed the opinion it must have been someone with access to the cage.
“A covert camera was installed which captured footage of the store cleaner removing a mobile phone.
“When challenged, Ms Mailey said she was in debt and needed the money. Police later found she had sold two of the phones to second hand shops in South Shields.”
Mailey, of Frenchman’s Way, South Shields, admitted theft in October, last year.
Val Bell, defending, said: “Ms Mailey lived with a partner for 18 years. They both worked, but he suffered a series of mini-strokes which led to a cut in his hours.”
The magistrates sentenced Mailey to a community order of 12 months, including 10 days of rehabilitation activity.
Mailey was ordered to pay £300 compensation to Argos at £20 a month.