The story described below is of a robbery of a Baltimore jewelry store that occurred in January of 2013. The origins of the plot began in November of 2012. This was right around the time when we started tracking a transition in the methods used by criminals who were committing jewelry crime.
In the news report, a group of jewelry criminals spent months and used GPS tracking devices and extensive surveillance to target Antony jewelers in the Baltimore area. These types of organized jewelry crimes like the one in the news report have historically been committed by SATGs (South American Theft Groups) or as they are better known in the jewelry industry – the “Colombians”. These groups primarily targeted traveling jewelers as they crisscrossed the country. However, as travelers began to ship more and more of their jewelry rather than carrying it over the road with them, SATGs and other organized criminals were forced to make a change. They adapted the successful methods that they used to target the traveling salesperson and began exploiting the retail environment with the same successful methods.
This has lead to several high profile and successful home invasion robberies and kidnappings of jewelry store employees. The retail jewelry store security posture has been designed to defend against traditional burglaries and quick grab and go or smash and grab robberies. The emphasis has been on protecting the brick and mortar building with little thought about good personal security once a jeweler leaves the store.
When we begin our risk assessments for many of our clients, we find in most cases that the perception of risk starts with and ends at the store, with very little appreciation by the jeweler that the information that they have in their heads is just as valuable as the gems and precious metals stored in their safes and vaults. The perception of risk is simply not there. Typically the conversation goes something like this “Oh I never carry any of the jewelry home” or “Why would anyone want to follow me, I’m just an employee?”
In today’s social media era, you can, in a very short period of time, discover the occupation (LinkedIn), the habits, the hobbies and the patterns of just about anyone. It’s become second nature and part of our culture to describe and chronicle our daily events via social media. It’s now quite common to post about your favorite restaurant, post pics of your kids, their school events, your new car or your latest home makeover project. Each of these postings on social media reveal what you as a jeweler should treat as sensitive information. Each of these snippets of information paint a picture and when collated together provide a fairly detailed and accurate snapshot that can be used by a criminal to target a jeweler and their family members for kidnapping or worse.
Recently, we were working with a client who is a retail store owner. He was adamant that he did not have a social media footprint, or if it exists it would be very small. He simply did not believe that there was a lot of information about him that criminals could use. And he was right, he personally did not have a significant footprint on social media. What he did not factor was his wife. She had “liked” a sales promotion on the business Facebook page. This is where we see the most common mistake. His perception of risk stopped with his store and with him personally. His wife was quite prolific in her postings and chronicling their daily lives with posts and pictures.
In short order we were able to tell him where his kids went to school, all of the family vehicles and the inner workings, the layout and make up of their home – all from pictures posted on his wife’s personal Facebook page. She had not set the pictures and posts to “private.”
There were many pictures of the inside of the home. One in particular showed that the front door had two side windows or sidelights. The dead bolt lock was clearly pictured and we could see that it was a “throw style lock” rather than one that was keyed on both sides. Further study of the picture showed that there was no alarm contact on the door.
Did they purposely take a picture of the inside of their front door and post it on Facebook? No, not at all. The picture was of his two wonderful children in their pajamas playing in the living room and the door was in the background. The fact that sensitive information such as the locking mechanisms and alarm information was also in the photo did not cross their minds as they were taking the pictures. Unfortunately, his story is not unique.
Most retail establishments have some sort of Facebook page or an Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest account that is used for marketing. Its become a business necessity. The downside is that jewelers and employees are using their own personal accounts to “like” or “share” on personal pages which allows criminals to learn who works at the store and who does what. The criminal now simply pulls the proverbial thread and in short order can find family members, friends, home addresses, contact information and habits.
The sad truth is that retail store owners and their employees have not thought about safeguarding their personal information and have a false sense of security and a belief that the business will be the target and not them. Criminals have begun to exploit this vulnerability with great success. We have chronicled several robberies over the last 3 years in which retail jewelers and their employees have been targeted for home invasions and kidnapping in order to gain access to the jewels in the store.
The story out of Baltimore highlights the criminal methods that once were reserved primarily to target traveling salesman are now being used to target retailers and their employees. The good news is that they were caught. The bad news is that the rewards for stealing from jewelers is extremely high and therefor seen by criminals as worth the risk. You can exponentially raise that risk factor and make them go somewhere else by implementing some sound security procedures.
Some easy solutions to develop visible increased security:
- Recognize that every jeweler is a “traveling jeweler”. You drove to work today, didn’t you?
- Adjust your privacy settings on all of your social media.
- Review your business page and ensure that sensitive personal information is not accessible.
- Review pictures that you have on your social media and ensure that they do not disclose the internal workings of your home or other sensitive information.
- Develop multiple methods of arriving and departing from home and work.
- Develop a security plan with your co-workers.
- Speak with your family members about the risks and hazards associated with the business.
- Be wary of unsolicited social contact. Not everyone you meet has your best interest at heart.
- Communicate with one another about unusual or suspicious activity and make a “log book” to record it.
- Talk to your local police and see if they can follow you a portion of the way home periodically.
Be safe, be vigilant and have plan!
Michael Briant is a security professional with over 21 years of combined experience in law enforcement, private security and the US Marines. He is the founder and owner of Skydas Group International, a risk consulting and training company headquartered in Atlanta which has a specialty in jewelry crime prevention. He and his company have provided consulting and security training services for various US government agencies and multi-national corporations. If you would like to find out how The Skydas Group can help your business mitigate risks visit their jewelry services page on their website at www.skydasgroup.com/services/jewelry-industry-services/ or contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org or 678-614-9008.