JSA Sees Spike in Thefts From Masked Criminals

The Jewelers’ Security Alliance has seen a troubling spike in grab-and-run jewelry thefts committed by people wearing masks used for protection from COVID-19, said the group’s president, John Kennedy.

Grab-and-runs happen when a putative customer is shown jewelry, then snatches it and bolts from the store. The recent incidents have taken place from South Carolina to Nevada, mostly in malls, Kennedy says.

Kennedy notes that his group doesn’t recommend that stores forbid masks. In addition to the obvious health risks, many jurisdictions require that they be worn indoors, and jewelers risk upsetting customers.

One possible solution is asking customers to temporarily remove their masks while outside and snapping a picture of them, though JSA isn’t recommending that at this time.

It does advise having a set policy that requires unknown customers to produce photo identification before being shown goods over a certain value.

The irony is that while COVID-19 masks may obscure a person’s identity, they don’t do that good a job of fully concealing it.

“Police can still make identifications based on eyebrows, facial hair,” Kennedy says. “We have seen it happen already.”

Yet criminals may not know that and may feel emboldened by wearing a face mask.

The good news, Kennedy says, is that overall jewelry-related crime, including burglaries and armed robberies, is way down. In addition, while grab-and-runs have risen lately, these new numbers don’t top what the JSA normally sees in non-COVID-19 times.

Here are suggestions to prevent grab-and-runs:

– Show only one item at a time.

– Sales associates should maintain control, with their hands, of every item being shown, to the fullest extent possible given current safety practices.

– Look for red-flag behavior: Does the customer appear nervous or sweating? Does the customer avoid touching the showcase? In addition to a mask for the virus, is the customer also wearing sunglasses or a hat indoors?

– If you become uncomfortable with a customer’s behavior, have a code phrase to alert other employees. After the code phrase is uttered, have another sales associate stand on the customer side of the counter to assist them. The second sales associate is there to act as a deterrent, not to restrain the suspect.

– If you are the victim of a grab-and-run, don’t try to physically restrain the suspect. Jewelers may suffer injuries from a physical struggle with the suspect, and the suspect or an accomplice may have a weapon.

Other JSA advice for reopening can be seen here and on the Jewelers’ Security Alliance site.

(Image: Courtesy of JSA)






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JCK News Director