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Distraction Thieves: How to Spot Them, How to Stop Them

Last month in Nashville, Tenn., two women entered a jewelry store and asked to see several pieces of jewelry. After shopping for roughly an hour, they settled on the items they wanted to buy. But, despite flashing a wad of cash to their sales associate, they said they didn’t have enough money. Leaving $200 as a deposit, they said they would return soon to complete the transaction.

 

Hours later, the store’s manager realized that several rings and bracelets were missing from the shop’s cases. And the two women never returned to the store.

 

Store video footage, reviewed later, showed one of the women slipping pieces of jewelry under her wallet and into her purse. And the pair went on to rob two other jewelers—another store in Tennessee, and one in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.— in similar ways, according to information emailed to jewelers by the Jewelers Security Alliance (JSA) last week.

 

The suspects (who are still at large) are so-called distraction thieves: criminals who use tactics of distraction to draw the attention of store employees away from a theft perpetrated by themselves or someone they’re partnering with. John Kennedy, president of JSA, tells The Zing Report that these types of crimes, which have been happening for decades, are suddenly on the rise in the U.S., and are often perpetrated by individuals from the Roma (sometimes, controversially, referred to as “Gypsy”) culture.

 

The two female suspects, and others who’ve robbed stores in recent weeks, “are international, and due to COVID-19 they were unable to engage in international travel, so we saw very few of these types of crimes during the pandemic,” Kennedy says. “But we recently received information that they are on their way back to the U.S.—they are known by law enforcement. And just a few weeks later, we see these crimes happen. Not a surprise.”

 

He adds that the stores that were robbed “are extremely careful about security; they’re terrific stores and very knowledgeable. But these criminals are very shrewd and experienced. They distract and conceal.”

 

We asked Kennedy for his best advice for retailers on spotting distraction thieves. Here’s what the store security expert recommends:

 

  • “If you have three or more people coming in together, you should be on heightened alert. They will come in with little kids to disarm you, to make you think they are perfectly legitimate shoppers. We’ve seen them hide jewelry in baby’s blankets.”

 

  • Watch for people dressed in flowing or heavily layered garments: “We’ve seen people come in with flowing garments and clothes to better to conceal their thefts.”

 

  • “Show one item at a time and make sure the item is returned to the case before you show the next one. Distraction thieves try to cause confusion by requesting to see multiple items. They want to be shown lots of product—or at least a lot of product in succession—so that as a sales associate you lose track.”

 

  • “Beware of customers who flash a wad of cash. It is a common trick of distraction thieves.”

 

  • “Keep showcases locked during a presentation except when taking out or returning a piece. We have seen this any times – one will distract you, and the others will literally crawl behind the counter. There was one woman who was great at crawling on the floor into the back room; she would get into the safe and take a ton of stuff.”

 

  • “If you are suspicious, have a second sales associate come and help you and be an extra pair of eyes.”

 

If you have information on any jewelry store crimes, contact the JSA at [email protected]

 

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