FBI Agent Warns Jewelers Must Be Aware of Criminals

Jewelers can decrease their chances of being victimized by a crime if they practice more awareness, FBI special agent Daniel McCaffrey told a May 6 meeting of the American Gem Society New York-New Jersey chapter.

McCaffrey, who specializes in jewelry-related crime, said there has been a troubling rise in so-called “tiger” robberies, where business owners are kidnapped and forced to retrieve goods, including a recent home invasion in Connecticut. 

He noted that when these incidents occur, the gang has generally been observing the jeweler for some time. For this reason, businesses should never be opened or closed by one person. In addition, they should not have the same person be responsible for everything—meaning one person should have the main key, the other the safe code.

“It should take three people to open your store every day,” he said.

McCaffrey also warned jewelers should never take merchandise to their homes.

“I know it’s sometimes a matter of convenience,” he said. “But it’s insane to take product home. You have to assume that criminals are watching you.”

He also advised jewelers to limit their exposure on social networks, and never post pictures of their family or residence.

“We understand that people want to be involved in social networks, like Facebook or Linkedin,” he said. “But criminals look at those things.” 

McCaffrey noted that a lot of personal information is already exposed on sites like Spokeo.com. 

He also warned against doing anything that could advertise your profession, like having a vanity plate such as “gemdealer.” It’s also inadvisable to register your license plate to your home address.

He also warned that jewelers and wholesalers should exercise caution when dealing with deliverymen.

“If it’s not your local FedEx guy, ask for proper ID,” McCaffrey said.

Another thing to look out for: Criminals will go into a store ahead of time, and ask “ridiculous questions.”

“They will say: Where are your most expensive watches?” he said. “What customer doesn’t care about price?” 

He urged retailers to subscribe to the Jewelers’ Security Alliance crime bulletins and join local crime networks, to know what incidents are taking place in their area.

McCaffrey also said that, when in a robbery, he always preaches “no resistance and proper insurance.”

“If a person tells you to open your safe, open your safe,” he said. “You want to limit the amount of the time the bad guys are in your store. The people who do robberies are very nervous. You don’t want to set them off. I’d rather be a victim of a robbery than a victim of a homicide.”

For that reason, he counsels jewelers against having guns in their stores. 

“If you get a gun as a jeweler, what is the likelihood of it running through your head: Should I kill this person?” he said. “But criminals don’t think like us. We would hesitate. They don’t care. That minute of hesitation is when you could get killed or have the gun wrestled out of your hand.”

McCaffrey noted that law enforcement officers like him have extensive education in how to handle weapons in high-stress situations, but jewelers rarely do.

“The training just isn’t there,” he said. “You can’t account for what is going to happen in that situation. How tragic would it be if a jeweler ended up shooting a 5-year-old kid?” 

Another bad idea: Hitting the panic button during a robbery. “You never want to be trapped in there with the bad guy,” he said. Jewelers should never chase even non-violent criminals out of the stores, because they could be armed.

Many wholesalers have told McCaffrey they have confronted robbers—sometimes with tragic consequences—because they lacked the right insurance, and therefore worried that their livelihood was disappearing before their eyes. 

“You never want to make a decision based on that,” he said. 

McCaffrey added that jewelers need to make sure they have proper cameras to record any incidents.

“We rely on you to be a good victim and provide us with a good videotape,” he said. “People spend a lot of money on digital camera systems, and then the camera doesn’t record. Or you get shots of people’s heads.”

In addition, keep countertops clean and frequently wiped, to make it easier for investigators to retrieve fingerprints.

He also said that the industry sometimes makes problems worse for itself, because jewelry is so easy to fence. 

“If it would be hard to get rid of jewelry, people wouldn’t steal it,” he said. “I can walk over to 47th Street with a broken pillowcase of jewelry, with all the tags still on it, and readily sell it. Some of the groups now even shop this product around. Buyers will even engage in bidding wars. We have seen crews that are getting 40 to 50 percent of the wholesale value. They are making significant money.” 

McCaffrey concluded by stressing that, despite his often-sobering presentation, “things aren’t so bad out there,” noting that the gangs that prey on travelling jewelry salespeople have been mostly arrested and put out of commission.

Following this presentation, Philadelphia retailer David Rotenberg talked about his store’s crime procedures and echoed many of McCaffrey’s points.

He noted his staff has conducted drills about what to do in case of robbery, and believes in the doctrine of not resisting.

“You want to protect yourself, not your merchandise,” Rotenberg said. 

He advised his fellow jewelers to “stay out in the open,” advising against taking back-road short-cuts. He also urged jewelers to have strong lighting in their homes. 

Other anti-crime tips can be found on the Jewelers’ Security Alliance website and in the upcoming June issue of JCK.

The group also heard from Nancy Lyman of the Diamond Empowerment Fund.

JCK News Director