5 Types of Jewelry Store Thefts and How to Prevent Them
When you see a news story about jewelry crime, you can usually count on it being a smash-and-grab robbery or rooftop burglary. While these crimes are newsworthy for the general public, jewelers shouldn't overlook small-scale thefts.
The number of these types of thefts reported to the Jewelers’ Security Alliance every year remains staggering. According to the JSA annual report, a total of 985 jewelry store thefts were reported in 2018, resulting in $12.6 million in losses.
Each incident may represent a small dollar amount when compared to other types of crimes, but they can add up fast. If you don’t know what type of criminal behavior to be on the lookout for, these crimes will continue to nickel-and-dime (speaking extremely loosely) the industry a few pieces at a time.
Keep these five types of jewelry store theft techniques on your radar and get in the habit of practicing preventative measures.
1. Grab-and-Run Theft
Data from JSA's 2018 Annual Crime report
Data from JSA show that these types of thefts are by far the most common, 65% of the total in 2018. That’s probably because they require more nerves than skill to commit.
What is Grab and Run Theft?
Criminals committing this type of crime will typically walk into a store, appearing to browse the merchandise. Usually they’ll move toward the most valuable merchandise on the showroom floor and ask to see a particular piece. From there, they simply run off with whatever they asked to view.
How do you prevent Grab and Run Theft?
Ask to see a customer’s ID before allowing the individual to try on merchandise, no matter what its value is. Once you’ve verified that the ID is legitimate, retain it until they customer has returned the piece. Remember to show an item only after you’ve examined the ID, though. Multitasking can be risky, because some grab-and-run attempts have featured suspects taking merchandise directly from the hands of sales associates before the ID was deemed legitimate.
Never show more than one piece at a time. If a customer is adamant about comparing pieces side by side, put one on yourself and let the customer compare. Never have more than two pieces out of your showcases at once, as some criminals are bold enough to attempt grab-and-run thefts with entire trays of rings.
Speaking of being bold: many criminals will appear nervous or fidgety before attempting a grab-and-run. Document suspicious incidents like these so if the suspect returns, the rest of your staff will know how to properly react.
Hear from Larry Spicer, Jewelers Mutual Group's Vice President of Loss Prevention and Risk Management about how to prevent falling victim to a grab and run theft. Plus, what to do if it happens to you.
2. Distraction Theft
These types of thefts often come in waves depending on the activity of criminal groups where multiple people work together. However, they are less common and more difficult to execute.
What is Distraction Theft?
A group of criminals will work together to overwhelm sales associates to the point where one of the criminals in the group is not attended to and gains access to merchandise. These groups may enter the store together and disperse, or they may enter separately. Although they don’t appear to be colluding, they have probably cased their targeted location numerous times and are coordinating a well-orchestrated effort.
The lengths that these criminals will go to can be very dramatic. They’ve been known to feign illnesses or appear frustrated over poor customer service and cause an uproar. What’s worse, children have also been used as pawns to create distractions for these thefts.
How do you prevent Distraction Theft?
Greeting every customer who enters your business is a good start – that way, any criminal will know you’re attentive. From there, offer to help them on a one-to-one basis and stay focused on that customer until the individual has left. Politely remind others that you’re in the process of helping someone and will be with them when you’re available.
Don’t feel ashamed to request help from a coworker to handle an influx of people. If your business has issues with handling crowds, you may need to consider a few more serious options:
- Hire additional employees
- Relocate or remodel for better customer flow
- Install an access control system
Lastly, don’t forget to restrict access to your showcases. This means two things:
- Always keep your showcases locked, even when you're showing merchandise
- Never allow your showcase keys to be accessible to anyone but store associates
3. Sneak Theft
Do you allow customers to view more than one piece of merchandise at a time at your business? If so, you could be setting yourself up to become a victim of sneak theft.
What is Sneak Theft?
Similar to a distraction theft, a crook trying to execute a sneak theft will attempt to overwhelm store associates, but in nonchalant fashion, and often acting alone. Most often, the criminal does this by trying on various pieces of merchandise and claiming that they don’t like the fit or style. Somewhere along this process, the criminal will attempt to pocket some of the merchandise if they believe the sales associate is not attentive enough to notice.
The criminal might also attempt slip a hand inside of an unlocked showcase while the store associate is showing another set of pieces. The thief may also simply snag an item from a tray while the associate’s back is turned.
How do you prevent Sneak Theft?
The same showcase restrictions apply to sneak thefts as they do to distraction thefts, but showing only one item at a time is even more important in this scenario.
This can be a difficult rule to follow when you’re on the verge of a sale, but criminals know this and will use it to their advantage as they guilt you into showing multiple items at once.
Don’t fall for this. Let all of your customers know right from the get-go that your business has basic security procedures in place. To assist our policyholders, Jewelers Mutual provides displays, stickers and window clings to help get the point across.
4. Switch Theft
Arguably the most difficult theft for criminals to pull off, this method is still one to keep an eye out for because if it does occur, it can be extremely costly.
What is Switch Theft?
After following the correct procedures of asking for ID, securing your showcases, and showing only one item at a time, you might feel confident that there’s little risk of having merchandise stolen.
However, sophisticated criminals have been known to switch real items with fakes from time to time. This takes an almost magical sleight of hand to accomplish and it regularly involves loose stones. Occasionally, if a criminal has cased a business and tried on merchandise like rings, earrings, and bracelets during earlier visits, that criminal may return with a lookalike and attempt a switch.
How do you prevent Switch Theft?
Other than intently watching your customers, the most surefire way is to always examine items using a loupe before and after someone else interacts with the piece. This technique is not only more effective but also less likely to make your customers uncomfortable than if you were to overtly study their every move.
But why loupe an item before showing it? This simply helps reassure you that what you're giving out is what you're getting back.
5. Internal Theft
Not all crimes are committed by gangs and crime syndicates. Seemingly harmless white-collar crimes can add up quickly if they’re not addressed.
What is Internal Theft?
Internal theft is any employee stealing from your business. This could take the black-and-white form of an associate pocketing merchandise for personal gain, but it can also manifest itself in other ways:
- Employees could process their own transactions at the point-of-sale and apply a discount
- Random amounts of cash could end up "disappearing"
- If you do custom designs, bench work, or have any role in jewelry manufacturing, remember that flakes of gold can really add up
How do you prevent Internal Theft?
Reviewing the footage captured by your security cameras can help you put a stop to internal theft, but prevention begins by hiring trustworthy people and training them properly. Make sure there are checks and balances in place so that senior-level employees don’t abuse the power of their position, either. Having an honest and transparent culture at your business can go a long way for preventing internal theft.
Just remember that if you are going to take disciplinary action on an employee you believe is committing internal theft, make sure your claim is well-founded. If you can’t prove criminal actions and wrongfully terminate the employee, you could open your business up to an employment practices liability claim.