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WHEN SMASH-AND-GRAB robbers wielding hammers hit Facets Fine Jewelry in Brooklyn, NY, last year, they struck at the heart of owner Irina Sulay’s business, taking all of her engagement rings, including centuries-old irreplaceable estate pieces, with a value of $2.5 million.

They also struck a blow at her sense of security.

Sulay is not alone. About 10 percent of the more than 400 jewelry store owners and managers who responded to a question about crime in INSTORE’s 2023 Big Survey said they had experienced a smash-and-grab robbery.

Eleven percent said they’d had an armed robbery; nearly a third, a burglary. Twenty-four percent said they’d had a distraction theft, and 39 percent had experienced theft by credit card fraud.

John Kennedy is president of the Jewelers Security Alliance, which was formed to educate and inform jewelers about crime, as well as to work with police and FBI on jewelry cases. Kennedy says smash-and-grab robberies have been increasing all over the country, particularly in mall stores. Gangs of three to as many as 10 can quickly smash the showcases and take a lot of jewelry. Resistance has occasionally been fatal for the store owner or employee.

“Don’t resist,” Kennedy says. “That’s our cardinal rule. Don’t try to fight back. Don’t reach for a phone. Anything like that can lead to you being shot or stabbed or something bad happening to you. We’ve studied thousands of cases, and the times in which someone has been hurt who did not resist are infinitesimal.”

Using a silent handheld alarm is also risky and can lead to a confrontation. “They may see you reach for it and shoot you,” Kennedy says. “Or the police show up and there’s going to be a shootout.”

Sulay had a locked door that day in January 2023, but she buzzed in a masked robber, and two others followed him in. At that time of the year, many people were wearing COVID masks in her neighborhood.

“He reached in his pocket, and I remember thinking, ‘How is he pulling this long thing out; what is this?’ and it was a hammer. He pulls it out and says, ‘This is how you use a hammer,’ and he just started banging,” Sulay told an ABC affiliate at the time.

The robbers threatened to shoot.

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“There were three women in the store with three armed men,” Sulay says. “We were told not to move, and we did just that. None of us spoke, none of us retaliated. The best thing to do is to not fight back, not try to be a hero. They hammered, they took, they left.”

The masked robbers were in and out in just 38 seconds. Even so, that day changed everything for Sulay. She now employs an armed guard, who also leads classes in crime prevention for the staff. Between the guard and upgraded security measures she prefers not to reveal, her security budget has increased by $10,000 per month.

She displays a sign in front of the store asking people not to wear facial coverings, masks, hats or glasses. If they do, they must reveal their faces to the camera doorbell before entering the shop.

Kennedy says entrance buzzers are a good idea. Man-trap setups are good, too, but they can be a difficult public relations issue. “You can’t look like it is an armed camp. People like to feel safe.” As for armed guards, it’s better to hire off-duty or retired police with experience. “Some private security guards can cause more trouble than if you had nobody.”

He also suggests installing burglary-resistant showcase glass, which is capable of standing up to many blows of a hammer. Even 20 tries won’t break the glass.

Leo Anglo of Vincent’s Jewelers in St. Louis co-manages the Jewelers Helping Jewelers Crime Alert Network (jhjcan.com) with Aleah Arundale, who founded the Jewelers Helping Jewelers group on Facebook. “I have been involved with almost every retail crime,” Anglo says. “Grab-and-run, smash-and-run, armed robbery and credit card theft.”

The armed robbery came in 2018, about 40 days after another store on the street had been hit by what turned out to be the same organization. “I told the staff that the chance of us having an armed robbery was slim to none,” he says. “We’re a big store in a busy area. But I said if we ever do have one, it will be many heavily armed men, and sure enough it was.”

The nightmare lasted 47 seconds.

Four men came in armed with two AK-47s and multiple handguns. One tried to break the showcase glass with the butt of his gun. When unsuccessful, he shot at it, causing shattered glass to fly everywhere and startle another armed robber, who came close to using his weapon in reaction. Another robber injured his hand leaping over a showcase; eventually, the DNA evidence he left in the form of blood led to his arrest and conviction.

Anglo’s staff was well-trained to stay calm. Anglo repeatedly said in a calm voice to the robbers, “Just don’t hurt anyone.”

“We have code words and we have a game plan,” he says. “Our staff followed the rules: Don’t make eye contact. Don’t put your hands up unless asked to. Focus on what they tell you to do. Focus on staying calm. If someone tries to run out the back, everyone could get shot. If someone throws a stapler, everyone could get shot. If they take merchandise, let them have it.”

In 2013, Denise Oros of Linnea Jewelers of La Grange, IL, was violently robbed at gunpoint in her store. One of the robbers grabbed her by her hair, threw her on the floor and stood on her. Then he started opening the cash drawer, yelling, “Where’s the money? Where’s the money?”

Six months later, when she suddenly began reliving the nightmare images seared in her memory, she sought help for PTSD. “I was seeing them hold a gun on my employee — at her head. And feeling the gun at my head. They sprayed us both with mace and kicked us. I had bruises all over my body.”

“Call a therapist or mental health counselor at your earliest convenience,” Oros says. “You don’t know how you will react until it happens to you. I can honestly say I was paralyzed. I couldn’t function.”

Oros worked with a police department psychiatrist for three months to begin her recovery. Another source of help for trauma is Jewelers Mutual’s confidential Relieve counseling service offered free to its customers through TELUS Health.

During the robbery, she was so shocked and upset about the loss of the jewelry she had designed that she chased the robbers into the parking lot, even after being pepper sprayed. Now she realizes it wasn’t worth the risk.

“Jewelry can be replaced,” she says. “Customers can be consoled and compensated. My team is my most important asset; my prime directive is to keep them safe. We train to obey and cooperate in a hold-up situation.”

After the robbery, Oros installed an automatic door lock and buzzer. She also keeps a suspicious incident logbook. The team varies their pattern, arriving and leaving at different times in the morning and evening. She also upgraded her safe and cameras.

These Are the Most Effective Ways to Prevent Jewelry Crime in Your Store

DISTRACTION
THEFT

Jewelers have been particularly vulnerable to distraction gangs in the past 18 months or so, Kennedy says.

Howard Stone, vice-president of global risk and analytics for Jewelers Mutual, says distraction thefts and switch thefts are meant to overwhelm jewelers’ staff, diverting attention away from the theft in progress.

“If a bunch of people come in together, it’s a red flag,” Kennedy says. “Maybe one is carrying a baby. A guy came in with his dog and put the dog on the counter. It’s very distracting to have a little white dog on the counter.”

Check out what they’re wearing. Suspects may be attempting to conceal product under heavy clothing, they may put a jacket on the counter, or they may have firearms or a hammer concealed under the coat, Kennedy says. “If someone appears to be disguised with a hat, sunglasses and a mask, you probably have a problem.”

Dutchy Merten, who owns HMH Consultants, a jewelry theft prevention company, says another technique used by groups of distraction thieves is women who lift their skirts in the middle of the store. “It’s a massive distraction,” he says. “Everyone looks. Meanwhile, someone slips into an office and grabs everything they can.”

Merten has observed staff in jewelry stores who tend to crowd around a suspicious person. It’s better, he says, to spread out. “Divide up your store and know exactly where everyone is going to be so they can watch” from multiple angles.

“Sales associates can be vulnerable if they take out too much product when dealing with someone,” Kennedy says. “They don’t keep track of the product after they’ve taken it out, and they wind up losing jewelry in distraction theft. Sales associates have to keep the showcases locked and show one piece at a time.”

Distraction thieves tend to flash cash to assure the sales associate they are a “hot customer.” They will also ask to be shown a lot of different types of products. Also, during the wrapping process, Kennedy says, make sure the sales associate is the last person to inspect the box and that it contains the correct product. Thieves can put a substitute item in the box, pocket the item they want, and then say they have to run to the bank before finalizing the purchase, never to return. Or there may be nothing in the box.

To avoid being the victim of distraction thefts, Stone says it’s important to carefully examine each piece after it’s handled by another person. Do not leave customers or merchandise unattended. Note suspicious incidents in a logbook and share them with staff. Be sure the surveillance system works properly to capture clear images from the best angle.

Rex Solomon, owner of Houston Jewelry in Houston, TX, suggests having an old-fashioned chime on the front door. When someone enters the store, everyone should look toward the front door and everyone should be greeted. He also asks shoppers to show an ID before looking at anything. “Blame your insurance company,” he says, if you ask for ID and you’re met with resistance.

These Are the Most Effective Ways to Prevent Jewelry Crime in Your Store

JEWELERS HELPING
JEWELERS

Aleah Arundale, diamond dealer with Olympian Diamonds and founder of the Jewelers Helping Jewelers Facebook group, said she began hearing from her clients in the fall of 2022 that more and more of them had been hit by distraction gangs.

One expert Arundale consulted told her that if jewelers would alert even their five closest neighboring jewelry stores when there’s a threat, that alone could help tremendously. Arundale consulted with Anish Desai, president of Star Gems, who set up a system by which jewelers could sign up with their zip codes and be automatically alerted by text if there was a threat in their area.

At the same time, Arundale launched a jewelers’ Crime Alert Facebook group and encouraged store owners and managers to begin posting information as well as photos of suspects. “A lot of people were scared and saying, ‘What if I get sued?’ But I don’t believe in fear. It’s debilitating. It’s not fair that the good guys are scared and the bad guys are not.”

Since its launch in November 2022, 7,000 jewelers have signed up.

Aleah-Arundale-and-Anish-Desai

Aleah Arundale and Anish Desai have taken measures to alert jewelers to crimes in their areas.

Anglo is active in administering the group. More than 20 years ago, he started a crime alert network for jewelers in the St. Louis area, which now has 380 members. He drew on his experience with that platform when he joined forces with Arundale on the national initiative. The key to the success of both the St. Louis network and the Jewelers Helping Jewelers Crime Alert Network is that there are no filters and no delays. Any member can post the information immediately.

“We catch bad guys all the time,” Arundale says. A jeweler called her when one suspect he’d seen a photo of was in his store. She was able to send the police multiple warrants for the suspect in real-time. “Because we can work together, we can give police a reason to detain them and we can put them away longer because we have all this evidence,” she says.

The network’s benefits aren’t limited to identifying distraction thieves.

Gaurav Verma, who owns Nassau Gold Buyers on Long Island, spent $25,000 buying a watch and a bracelet from a customer, who had sold him some smaller items a week before. Soon after, he spotted a crime alert on JHJ’s network reporting a stolen watch. When he realized the serial numbers matched the one he’d bought, he was able to immediately contact the jeweler who had lost the items in a burglary. “I knew the person and I felt terrible,” says Verma, who had followed procedures and had a copy of the thief’s ID. Together, working with police, they were able to identify other stores where the stolen jewelry had been sold and recover nearly all of it, with a value of $100,000. The thief was arrested, and Verma even recovered the $25,000 he had paid for the items. “We were made whole because [the thief] didn’t have time to spend the money because it happened so fast. We got lucky there.”

Anglo says the network has also aided in the arrest and conviction of people who attempt to sell fake watches and gold chains to jewelers. Once a pattern is established by multiple attempts, it’s easier to prove intent. If the seller has already been told it’s a fake, he can’t claim ignorance.

Arundale says she’s happy that JHJ’s efforts are paying off. “We’re better together. We’re safer together. Wouldn’t you want to know if your neighbor was robbed and you’re next on the list?”

These Are the Most Effective Ways to Prevent Jewelry Crime in Your Store

RISK
ASSESSMENT

Dutchy Merten has built his business around jewelry store security. As director of HMH Consultants, physical and digital security specialists, he’s tested 140 stores, predominantly in the U.S., by hacking into their computer systems to reveal vulnerabilities. He also works with store owners to prevent physical attacks.

“We will go in undercover,” Merten says. “Some managers have asked us to steal stuff out of the store. We walk out with chains and watches and report back to the manager how many pieces we could take and how we interacted with the staff in general.”

As part of the assessment, he and his team watch how the staff enters the building and how they lock up. One thing he strongly suggests is putting ALL jewelry out of sight overnight and leaving enough interior lights on to make it clear there’s no jewelry in the showroom.

“Jewelers have magnificent buildings,” he says. “Why not light them up like a Christmas tree? Criminals hate lights. Leave certain lights on so they can see the whole store and see that it’s empty.”

While less savvy criminals might check out a store when it’s closed at night, the organized criminal gangs that the FBI hunts won’t be discouraged by lighting. They’ll go into the store and case it while it’s open, checking to see how many pieces of jewelry they can get the staff to put out on the counter, for example, to see if a distraction theft is viable. “You have to train your staff how to react,” he says.

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Michael Fleck of Occasions Fine Jewelry in Midland, TX, hired Merten in 2020, looking for a third-party perspective on the security of his data and network, as well as an analysis of physical security.

“You can’t ever be too secure,” Fleck says. “There were more holes in my digital security than I thought there would be, but the patching up of that was pretty simple. I handed it off to our IT team and they worked with his IT team to resolve it.”

Merten pointed out some physical issues that Fleck addressed, upgrading the hinges on the doors and improving back-door security. Fleck also replaced the door counter when he learned the one he had could be hacked and used to gain access to his network.

Ninety-five percent of the stores Merten has tested are vulnerable to cyber-attacks, he says. “After we go through the reports, most jewelers are horrified,” Merten says.

While it’s possible to buy cybercrime insurance, payouts can be limited, especially if the company hasn’t had a third-party assessment of their risks, Merten says. And even after those cyber elements have been secured, the human element remains a vulnerability. Merten can certify a company annually for cyber security but he can’t certify “what your staff is going to click on,” he says. “So, we look at training and education around cyber.”

These Are the Most Effective Ways to Prevent Jewelry Crime in Your Store

BURGLARY

Burglaries can occur through rooftops, side walls and with the disabling of electric power in the store. “We’ve seen in the last 18 months a great upsurge in burglary gangs going to the junction boxes and cutting the power, which can disable cameras, electricity and internet service all at once,” Kennedy says. “One of the main things you have to have is line security. If there is an interruption in your alarm service, you will get a signal.” Store owners must respond whenever their alarm service tells them there is a problem or a communication error. “You’ve got to go in with the police, too,” Kennedy says.

He also suggests installing a camera at the rear of the store near the junction boxes. “Inspect the junction boxes regularly,” he says. “Burglars may tamper with them in anticipation of a future attack.”

CAUTION AT
THE SHOWS

Trade show season, when vast quantities of high-value merchandise are in one place, makes everyone in the jewelry industry more vulnerable to crime. “Organized jewelry crime gangs use disguises, attempting to appear as show maintenance workers, shipping carrier employees and even show security to gain access and identify targets,” Stone says. “Recent trends continue to include jewelers being targeted after leaving the show, often in their hotel parking lot.”

Kennedy advises jewelers not to flaunt expensive jewelry when attending trade shows and not to trust hotel safes, because thieves can remove the whole safe. Stone adds that jewelry show attendees should only wear an event badge during show hours. “Keep a low profile outside of the show and be aware of your surroundings. If you feel you are being followed, contact law enforcement to report the incident.”

MORE SECURITY TIPS

  • TRY A BUZZER. “I think everybody should have a buzzer,” says Irina Sulay of Facets Fine Jewelry. “Be more selective with who is allowed to be let in. Ask people to unmask before they enter. That way, you can get a read on who they are.”
  • AIM THE CAMERA. “We advise people to have good cameras at eye level,” says John Kennedy of the Jewelers Security Alliance. “Too many pictures come from the ceiling or from a place that is not capturing the face of the criminal in a way that can help law enforcement solve the case.”
  • WATCH OUT FOR CREDIT CARDS. “With the current use of chips, we’ve seen a dramatic decline in problematic payments,” Kennedy says. “If jewelers follow correct procedures and run the card correctly in the store, they’re unlikely to get a charge back. If you take online orders, you will suffer some percentage of losses. It’s impossible to filter out all fraud. But there are commercial services that use algorithms to filter out bad actors.” Rex Solomon of Houston Jewelry recommends disabling the swipe function on credit card machines to ensure the secure chip is used.
  • WHO IS YOUR NEIGHBOR? If your store is next to a vacant store, let the landlord know you need cameras next door. Placement of shock sensors on the wall can detect intrusion and alert the monitoring center.
  • MINIMIZE LOSS. Disperse high value goods across multiple showcases and toward the back of the store. Take high value pieces and put them in the safe during the day.
  • WINDEX IS YOUR FRIEND. Windex all of your cases after you pull the jewelry at night, says Solomon. That way, you can get fingerprints.

ONLINE ONLY
Q&A with Howard Stone, Vice President, Global Risk & Analytics, Jewelers Mutual

Q. What kind of services does Jewelers Mutual offer to jewelers who have been the victim of a crime?

We have a proud 110-year history of supporting and protecting the jewelry industry and aiding jewelers with our loss prevention and risk management expertise. Over the past year, the jewelry industry has seen an unprecedented increase in crime. One of our primary goals after a jeweler has experienced a crime is to ensure they and their staff are safe. We strive to be there for them when they need us most and help get their businesses back up and running as quickly as possible.

Our strategy to support hinges on (1) risk mitigation products and services, (2) education and training and, (3) inspection and risk counseling support.

Jewelers benefit from services such as asset tracking both while in transit or if stolen in a robbery or burglary, as well as assistance with showcase or exterior window safety glazing product installation.

Through our Safety and Security Academy, the entire jewelry industry has access to 18 modules and over three hours of content in a digital format related to security best practices, tactics and techniques designed exclusively for jewelers – all customizable and free of charge.

Last fall, we introduced new coursework focused on cybersecurity, knowing jewelry businesses face an ever-increasing threat of cybercrimes. These courses equip jewelers and their staff with essential knowledge to help safeguard their digital assets and protect their customers’ data.

We highly recommend jewelers make loss prevention education an ongoing part of their business’s safety and security strategy.

We conduct both onsite and virtual risk assessments of insured properties and provide real-time advice to jewelers on safety and security improvements relevant and customized to their business.

We offer complimentary Relieve counseling services through Telus Health, a leading counseling provider. This service is available to jewelers, their staff and immediate family members to aid in emotional recovery after a traumatic event. It is completely confidential and includes 24/7 telephone counseling with a professional counselor. The service is currently available to the entire jewelry industry across five countries.

Jewelers Mutual customers receive exclusive free membership to Jewelers’ Security Alliance or Jewellers Vigilance Canada, two leading jewelry crime prevention organizations, to help them stay vigilant to crime trends and aware of the types of crimes happening in their area and across the country. Awareness is critical to safety and security.

Q. What advice does Jewelers Mutual offer for how to handle a smash & grab or distraction theft in the store? What should they definitely not do in these situations?

· Smash and grabs

Last year, smash and grab robberies were prevalent. These crimes, while only taking a couple of minutes, often involve the use of a weapon and include damage to store showcases and displays along with valuable products being taken.

Jewelers should place all items in a safe overnight if possible. If they do not have the capacity in a safe, put any lower valued items out of sight in a locked interior room or draw. Any pieces left in sight create an attractive opportunity for thieves.

Do not cover showcases—it signals there are valuables or jewelry underneath.

Additional Advice: Install proper interior and exterior lighting to give visibility to your store; ensure surveillance systems with cameras are positioned to capture faces and are operating and recording non-stop with cloud storage backup; use burglary-resistant glazing material on showcases and windows with extra protection around the windows and doors, such as metal gating; hire a security company to respond to all alarms

· Distraction theft
  • Distraction thefts and switch thefts are common and meant to overwhelm jewelers’ staff, diverting attention away from the theft in progress. It’s important to carefully examine each piece after it is handled by another person, and only show a single piece at a time.
  • Jewelers must make sure they have an operating security system in their store to help catch these incidents, then promptly report them to police
  • Additional Advice:
    -Ask for ID when showing merchandise
    -Show one item at a time
    -Do not leave customers or merchandise unattended
    -Note suspicious incidents in a logbook and share with staff
    -Be sure the surveillance system works properly to capture clear images

Q. Where are jewelry retailers most vulnerable, and what should they do to improve their safety and security?

Tradeshow season is fast approaching, and these events can put jewelers highly vulnerable to crime. With such vast quantities of high-value merchandise in one place, criminals are naturally drawn to these events.

Organized jewelry crime gangs focus on jewelry shows as key targets. We have seen the use of disguises by these groups, attempting to appear as show maintenance workers, shipping carrier employees and even show security to gain access and identify targets. Recent trends continue to include jewelers being targeted after leaving the show, often in their hotel parking lot.

Security tips jewelers should follow include:

  • ·Staying extra vigilant during set up and take down and alerting security if anything feels suspicious.
  • Only wearing an event badge during show hours. After hours, jewelers should store it in a safe location and do not discard at any point.
  • Keeping a low profile outside of the show and being aware of their surroundings at all times. If they feel they are being followed, they should contact law enforcement to report the incident.

Also, many jewelers take advantage of our overnight showcase coverage to help protect their goods at the shows.

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Q. Have there been any recent technological developments that can help jewelers prevent crime in their stores?

Asset tracking has become more advanced, using the latest technology to detect and track an item in transit or if stolen in a robbery or burglary to help thwart criminal activity. Additionally, the use of cutting-edge IoT (Internet of Things) sensor technology monitors for water intrusion and power outages, which may be the result of a criminal act.

Q. How should jewelry store owners prioritize their spending as they work to make their businesses more secure? Where should they start? Better glass in showcases? Better safes? More training?

It starts with education, and the good news is we are able to provide that service free of charge to jewelers with our online training through the Safety and Security Academy. It’s important for jewelers and their staff understand that safety and security education and training is an ongoing discipline and not become complacent.

Strengthening security is a holistic practice, which is not one-size-fits-all for every jeweler. Security priorities should be customized for jewelers’ unique business needs. Investing in quality safes and security systems is certainly part of that. In working with their agent and our Risk Services team, we can help build a security strategy, prioritizing the greatest needs to keep them, their staff and business safe. Together, we can uncover gaps in their security and how best to fill them.

Are there areas where they tend to be under-insured and should increase coverage?

Making sure jewelers are adequately insured in the event of a loss means taking into account their jewelry stock, personal property, equipment and other high value items. We recommend jewelers work with their agent to review their business and make any updates to their policy, including potential adjustments to their coverage limits to help ensure they are insured to value.

For information on Jewelers Mutual’s Risk Services portfolio of products and services, jewelers may visit JewelersMutual.com/riskservices.

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