Running a Tighter Ship

You’ve given the nervous groom-to-be a thorough education and engaged in endless pep talks and handholding. Finally, he’s decided on the diamond of his dreams. Your supplier assures you it will be at your door the next day. The groom’s happy, and so are you. You wait for the package and … nothing. The deliveryman shrugs and says he never heard of it. Your life is now a nightmare of forms and phone calls. The shipping service concludes it’s “lost in the system”—which generally means some sticky-fingered employee realized what it was and made off with it.

Shipping thefts have been a problem for many years and are now so common that some write them off as a part of doing business in the jewelry industry.

Consider the following recent incidents:

  • A $70,000 5-ct. diamond ring disappeared en route from Scottsdale, Ariz., to a Denver jewelry store. The box that was supposed to hold it arrived empty. Local police are investigating.

  • A Chicago-area man who worked at a shipping company was caught trying to sell $48,000 in stolen earrings and platinum wedding rings at a local mall.

  • In a new but increasingly common scam, a thief disguised as a delivery person shows up at the retail store or manufacturing company, scoops up the package, and is never heard from again.
    “Shipping losses are still a big, big problem,” notes Jewelers’ Security Alliance president John Kennedy. “You are regularly seeing losses of thousands of dollars. My evidence is that they are not going down at all.”
    Kennedy admits that even taking the utmost precautions cannot ensure that your package absolutely, positively gets there when it should. But there are ways to minimize the chance of a theft. Experts give the following tips:

  • Plan your shipment so the package is always “moving” throughout the system. That decreases the chance that someone will nab it. Overnight delivery is preferable to two-day delivery, and weekday delivery is preferable to weekends. Always double-check the receiving address, and, to avoid repeat deliveries, make sure someone is there to sign for the package.

  • Use extreme caution when writing names and addresses. Most people in the industry know not to include the words “jewelry,” “gem,” “gold,” “diamond,” or anything similar in their return or shipping address. Yet one common ploy—using initials—can be just as dangerous, because it signals thieves that the package contains something valuable, particularly if the initials include a “d,” “g,” or “j.” JSA advises using an alias, which should be changed regularly.
    Addresses also can be a tip-off, especially those from known jewelry districts like 47th Street or Hill Street. Never use a home address: If your package is stolen, the thieves will know where you live. Instead, use the address of a friend or business associate with no connection to jewelry.

  • Avoid anything that could draw attention to your box, such as special security tape. Make sure the air-bill is firmly glued to the box—otherwise, thieves can replace it and send the package elsewhere. Don’t type air-bills; hand-write them so it seems as if you use express services infrequently. Never declare the value of your items on the air-bill, unless you’re required to do so. Keep all descriptions generic, such as “supplies” or “parts.” Include a packing slip in your box, so if the air-bill is lost, the package can still be delivered—but don’t mention jewelry on the inside slip, either.

  • Don’t give packages to delivery people. Instead, take them to drop-off centers, but never discuss the contents of the package, or what your company does, with anyone. If possible, rotate offices. Keep your package disguised in a brown paper bag—people sometimes are robbed en route.

  • Take advantage of software and Web sites that let you follow packages as they pass through the different “hubs.” Keep meticulous notes about what you ship, its value, and your shipping services.

  • When a package is delivered, don’t let the delivery person leave until you inspect it. That’s especially important if you suspect tampering. But don’t open it in the delivery person’s presence.

  • If you suspect something is lost, act quickly—preferably within an hour of the scheduled delivery time. Even if the customer service person advises you to wait, insist they start tracing it immediately. If you’ve had a loss with one company, switch to another, since it’s more likely you’ll be hit again.

Now that you’ve developed your strategy and precautions … change them! Experts advise reassessing your strategy constantly—including your carriers, addresses, and drop-off points—just as you would to avoid other types of crimes.