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Security at Coin Shows

The recent past has seen a number of thefts at coin shows in Michigan and elsewhere. It is clear that some of these shows are being targeted by groups of people with varying levels of organization and modus operandi. In this article I’d like to review the recent incidents and how we can avoid these sorts of problems at our events.  

 

Review of Recent Incidents

A major theft occurred at the Lansing commercial show recently. A Latina woman came to the show in a face mask and hoodie, stayed the entire show, ate lunch at the show, and was present as dealers were packing up. At the end of the show, she grabbed a high value tote from behind the table of a dealer that had gone to his car for his first load, and ran out the emergency exit to a waiting car. A second incident at a show in Allen Park involved a Latino male that entered and stayed the entire show. Video footage showed that he was observing a dealer at length and was seen waiting by the building in the parking lot late in the show. As the dealer loaded his car, he took advantage of a short window in which the vehicle was unattended and grabbed a case of high value coins.  Both of these incidents were crimes of opportunity and would not have been possible if there were anyone watching the parking lot and the show while dealers were loading out. 

 

There have been multiple reports of groups of Romany running cash counting scams at shows. They come into shows, usually on the late end of the show and ask to buy large amounts of gold. After agreeing to a price, they count cash all over the table in piles, pick up and put down piles, reorganize piles, and scoop up and hand the cash to the dealer. At some point, there is a sleight of hand maneuver which results in the count being short. A dealer at the Redford show was victimized by them and did not realize the count was $2K short until much later.  Another one of them came into the same show the following month and tried this scam with this author, making a deal for $16K in gold and started counting the cash.  I picked up piles, counted them back and put the stacks between my cases with my phone on top. Seeing he was unable to perpetrate the scam with someone that verified the count, he canceled the deal and went to another dealer to try the same thing. After failing there, he left the show. There have been some incidents reported in which women come to shows with rings on all fingers and go to jewelry dealers to try on rings. Rings should be given one at a time and verified to ensure that the item returned is the same as the item shown.  One report is of a woman trying on white gold rings, and returning sterling silver rings, not discovered until later. Also reported was a woman trying on a number of rings and just trying to walk off with one or more of them. Keep track of your product. 

 

A dealer at the Meadville, PA show this November left at the end of the show to get his car. When he returned to the show floor a few minutes later, a bag had been stolen.  It is unknown what time he packed up, but there should be a time before the show ends when the floor is secure, just as at the beginning of the show and the public should be asked to leave.Incidents have also been reported of dealers being followed from shows. A Canadian currency dealer was recently followed from a Montreal show on his way home to Toronto and his car was broken into at a rest stop en route.  A Michigan dealer at the State show stopped for dinner after the show and his car was robbed. 

Good Business Practices

Crimes of opportunity can be thwarted by employing good business practices. Good business practices may seem overboard or extreme at times, but they keep you from trouble and they represent only minor inconvenience in most cases.  Specifically,

 

  • Keep all valuables in showcases and keep them locked at all times except when going into them. A coin and currency dealer at PANS left his cases unlocked and went to the concession stand for less than 2 minutes. Someone came by, opened a case and stole a bunch of high value notes. An Ohio coin dealer at the same show had his keys in the lock of a case and when his back was turned the case was opened and a number of high value slabs were scooped up. Keep the cases locked and the keys with you.. 

 

  • When cash is counted by a customer, always pick it up and count it back to them. The Romany cash counting scam, described above, can be easily defeated by counting the cash after it leaves the customer’s hands or running it through a bill counter. 

 

  • If you are offered something at a show and the customer declines your offer and takes back the merchandise, then changes his mind at the show either immediately or later on, you must re-appraise the product, including any authentication or counting.  If gold was Sigma tested, it must be retested.  Bags of 90% must be counted again. A Michigan dealer reported getting a book with a page of 1 oz gold coins that he assessed and made an offer on.  The customer declined, put the book back in his bag, then turned around and said he changed his mind.  The book came back out of the bag and when it was re-examined, all the coins were fake. If you are uneasy about displaying what appears to be a shocking lack of trust, consider how you might feel about paying $20K in cash for a page of fake gold. 

 

  • When showing coins to a customer, keep it to a small number at a time.  Make sure you look at slabs that you hand to a customer and verify that the same coins are returned to you. A dealer that allowed a scammer to pick a Morgan dollar slab out of a case and then put it back was lucky to notice that it was the same date of a PCGS coin, but not the Carson City mint mark that he owned.. The scammer had walked the show with this slab looking for a dealer that had the more valuable mint mark so he could try to effect the switch. 

 

  • When loading out, make sure there is someone to watch your inventory and your car when inventory is loaded.  

  • Many cars have a valet lock option, so the trunk cannot be opened from inside the vehicle. Use this when your car is unattended even for a couple of minutes to avoid a smash and grab where the trunk can be popped open merely by breaking the driver’s side window. 

 

  • Check your bluetooth connections on your phone when you get to your car. If there are any signals you do not recognize, someone may have placed a bluetooth tracker on your vehicle. 

 

  • When driving home observe traffic behind you for signs of any cars following. Change lanes, take a local exit, or make a U-turn  and see if anyone does the same. Avoid stopping on the way home and do not leave the car unattended if at all possible. 

 

Show Security for Collectors

There are opportunistic thieves at coin shows, so you need to keep track of your property. Do not leave bags on tables or chairs.  It creates a situation where a moment’s distraction can result in your bag being lifted. Bags should be in your hands or between your feet so you can feel them being moved when your attention is focussed on a coin.  Also, give the table a once over before you move on to the next table. Loupes, supplies, books, and even coins have been found at dealer tables at the end of shows. 

 

If you have done a lot of business at a show, you may have attracted the attention of thieves.  I recommend finding someone that can walk you out to your car when you leave.  Usually the show will have someone or there will be a dealer that is not busy at the moment that can go with you.  Do not forget to remove your name tag after you leave the show floor which could identify you with the coin show when in the hotel or a restaurant. 

 

Guidelines for Show Promoters

If you are hosting a coin show you have a responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment. Discussions with legal counsel have affirmed that the disclaimers written into dealer contracts will not protect show organizers from potential claims of negligence should such claims be supported by the facts. Unfortunately, there are no safe harbor practices that can be followed, only best practices and recommendations which must be weighed against cost and risk.  I recommend the following:

 

  • There should be eyes on places of dealer loading and unloading during these times.  So far, the crimes have not been ones of violence, but opportunity. A single person watching the parking lot and the show floor would have prevented both of the major incidents. In this, the club shows have the advantage of having potential volunteers to help.  The alternative to the army of volunteers available from a club is paid security, however there should be at least one person at any show that is not vending and that can watch inventory and the parking lot when needed. The two shows that the high dollar losses occurred at had none whatsoever. Under no circumstances should a dealer with inventory be the last person leaving a show. 

 

  • Ideally, the public should have to provide identification and be badged with their full names as MSNS and the Christal Clear shows have done.  Other shows have organized video recording or picture taking of all entrants. If people come to shows in face masks, they should be required to remove the mask so a picture can be taken.  It should no longer be considered a prerogative to be anonymous at a coin show. We will undoubtedly lose some customers to this change, which we should file under “acceptable losses”. Here is an announcement used at a major show in Iowa that implemented this practice.

 

 

·         Shows should have a single entrance and exit for the public. Every facility will have a back or side exit that cannot be locked due to fire codes and at a minimum should be monitored during dealer setup and breakdown. Although I cannot recommend obstructing it in any way, it has been done at several shows and is a way of preventing a quick exit after a theft.

 

  • I would recommend contacting your local police department and letting them know the dates and times of the show as well as loading in and out. Even the simple act of parking a squad car in the parking lot would have deterred the worst of these incidents and in some municipalities, the local police would do even more. 

 

  • There should be time for dealer setup before the public is allowed in and the entrances should be monitored to prevent early entry. I would recommend that if you offer an “Early Bird” early entry, you allow at least half an hour for dealers with tables to setup prior to allowing them in, as done at the PAN show in PA and the Ohio State show.  

 

  • There should also be a dealer only time at the end of the show for dealer breakdown and loadout.  Allowing the public to stay in the show area during breakdown, nominally to do business with the last few dealers setup is how the the criminals in two major thefts were able to see how merchandise was packed up and what boxes had high value items.  This is also how the Meadville, PA theft occurred. If the public had been asked to leave 30 min before the nominal show end, this incident would have been avoided. This is also an opportunity to secure the loading areas as there should be no one remaining at the venue that is not with a dealer or the show, 

 

Insurance Last, but not least, if the worst happens and you suffer a significant loss, you need insurance to make you whole again. I know of people who would never think of buying a $300K house and not insuring it, bring $300K in inventory to a coin show without having insurance. You cannot rely on homeowner’s insurance to cover collectables and bullion as there are often riders excluding or limiting coverage for such items. Specialized Insurance for collections as well as inventory which travels may be purchased at reasonable rates. Hugh Woods (HWI) offers insurance to ANA members for collections stored in both bank vaults and home safes.  Dealers that travel with inventory can purchase policies from HWI, FOA, NACA, Jewelers Mutual, Gallhager, and others that cover inventory in storage, at shows, and traveling to and from shows at reasonable rates. Such policies also often come with transit insurance so anything you ship through common carriers is covered en-route.  I strongly recommend that anyone taking high dollar inventory to shows contact these organizations for a quote. 

The Future There is reason for optimism for the future of coin shows in Michigan. Due to the recent incidents, several of the shows have implemented significant improvements in their operations. The recent Lansing Club show had club members watching both exits and the parking lots during load outs. The Northwest Detroit Club had two Livonia Police officers on site and in the parking lot the entire show, while the Redford commercial show has added video recording at entrances, and a police presence as an addition to the regular paid security.  With continued improvements, vigilance, and solid business practices we can make Michigan coin shows a safe and enjoyable experience for both the public and the dealers.

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