Artist Theft Prevention Tips
Artists have long been targets of criminals, whether the “casual” shoplifter who snatches an item from your display at a busy show or a gang of professional thieves who has “cased” your operation, and followed you and your art inventory to a vulnerable point in your travels.
Most of the art theft cases CERF+ hears about are the latter, and usually it involves a jewelry artist whose artwork includes precious metals and/or precious gems.
These thefts most commonly occur while the artist is:
1) Taking down the display and loading a vehicle at the end of a show;
2) Going back to the hotel with the inventory at the end of a show day; or
3) Stopping for a meal or a break while traveling after a show.
Regardless of your craft and where you sell it, any artist can be a target of criminals. Take steps to protect your artwork and other business assets from theft, and be sure to have business property insurance coverage at your studio and while your artwork is in transit and at sales venues. The checklists below include things to consider when trying to reduce the likelihood of a business loss to theft.
Insurance for Theft
Be Clear on Your Insurance Coverage
- At a show, the show producer’s insurance will not cover you, nor will it cover theft of your artwork.
- In your studio, your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance likely has little or no coverage for your business assets, including coverage for theft.
- If you don’t have property insurance for your business, it’s time to learn the options and get some quotes. See the Business Insurance section of the Studio Protector for more information and a listing of business insurance plans for artists.
- If you do have property insurance for your business, conduct an annual review to make sure you have the coverage that best matches your risks and ability to pay.
- You will probably need a special coverage on your business insurance to cover items away from the studio, like at a show. This coverage is often called “inland marine.” Be sure you understand the limits of your coverage and your options to extend coverage away from the studio.
We provide this information on theft prevention as a resource only. CERF+ assumes no liability in connection with the security methods and procedures included.
Theft Prevention Checklists
Security Checklist for Art Shows
You can take some steps before you exhibit at an art and craft show and while you are there to reduce the likelihood that you will be the victim of criminals intending to steal art. Plan ahead and be prepared so that you can feel good about attending to the vast majority of show attendees who are there to enjoy themselves and purchase great art!
Design your booth so that you will be able to see all areas of your display. Have good sight lines from your normal positions. No blind spots
For best view of customers’ actions on the front side of vertical displays, consider mesh or see-through material for the background, not a solid material
The smaller and more valuable the artwork, the more secure it should be (realizing some of the security measures taken may reduce sales somewhat as customers will be less likely to touch and try the artwork)
- Consider displaying them closer to your normal positions in the booth
- Consider displaying them attached to something larger (a large label, a box, on a rack in such a way as to make it take some effort to remove)
- Consider displaying them in a glass case. For the most valuable items the case should be lockable, and only unlocked when showing an item from the case. The key(s) should be kept on your person at all times.
Consider how mirrors and their placement in the booth can enhance its design and offer customers a chance to view themselves with the artwork, while also providing you with additional sight lines
If it makes sense to have a mirror built into the back wall of your display, then consider doing so. Thieves will likely think it’s a one-way mirror that allows them to be observed or filmed.
Some artists have set up a security video camera in their booth. Be aware that professional thieves can usually tell if the camera is nothing more than a dummy.
Plan to keep all jewelry trays completely filled, either with goods or with markers.
Have an assistant, if possible. This is one of the best theft prevention measures. An assistant allows for:
- More eyes on the artwork and visitors. Thieves are less likely to try anything
- The booth to be attended when the artist needs a break
- Better attention to valuable items during setup and breakdown. Thieves are likely to be more active during these more chaotic times and often artwork is packed, allowing for theft of more than one or two items
Handling of cash, checks and charge slips
- Keep these items on your person. Use a “fanny” pack that has dividers for bills of different denominations as well as checks and receipts
- If not on your person, consider having these times in a lockable cash box that is secured to a part of the display or other large, heavy object
- Avoid having large sums of money in the booth or with you. If possible deposit cash periodically in a bank during multi-day shows, or convert to travelers’ checks. The show producer may have a safe available.
- Use something other than a bank pouch when carrying cash.
Never take your attention off your valuable items during setup and breakdown. If this is not possible, have them in an absolutely secure place, as reported thefts occur often at these times.
Be completely set up when the show opens. Thieves will take advantage of the distractions of finishing setup
Never stow personal items behind your booth where can it be accessed from behind your display.
The busier the show, the more likely you will not notice the actions of a thief. Consider moving more items to secure displays as the traffic increases.
When the show is closed during multi-day events, consider fully blocking entry into your booth with a tarpaulin (down to the floor).
Try to acknowledge each visitor with eye contact and a greeting. Thieves would rather not be noticed
If attending to one visitor, it’s okay to quickly and politely acknowledge a new visitor. Thieves sometimes work in teams with one member distracting the artist while the other grabs the goods, but it’s best to work with one customer at a time
Don’t turn your back on a customer
Don’t leave a customer alone with merchandise, and make sure a busy time at the booth doesn’t provide an opportunity for your artwork to “walk off” with the customer
After a customer handles an item, you should be the one to return it to the case, making sure it’s the original item while doing so
Be especially wary of customers carrying volumes of bags and extra clothing that would more readily conceal thievery and stolen goods. Be aware if any such items are placed on your display or held in a way to easily slide your merchandise into them
Consider having a code word or phrase to use with your assistant when a suspicious acting customer is in or at your booth.
And don’t assume a thief will look like thief. Artists have lost high-valued items to some of the best dressed show attendees.
Show Producer Contact
Know the show producer’s policy on booth “sitters.” If you don’t have an assistant, then a sitter could provide booth attention when you take a break.
Find out if the show producer offers reservations for a secure lockup space or an in-booth lockable safe rental.
Know the show’s security arrangements for show hours and at other times. Most exhibitor contracts state the show producer is not responsible for exhibitor’s lost or stolen items.
Know the location and phone number of the show’s security office.
Security Checklist While Traveling
Craft artists are particularly vulnerable to theft or robbery while on the road with their inventory. Review this checklist to learn what crime prevention steps would make sense for you when transporting your art and yourself to and from a sales venue.
The vast majority of crimes involving craft artists or salespeople being robbed of their high value inventory while traveling are committed by South American gangs. The FBI has estimated these gangs have a few thousand members and believe gangs travel to every major jewelry show.
Assume you are being followed, even if you’re in a safe place. Do not for a moment leave your work unattended, unless you are 100% sure its location is secure and will be covered by your insurance or the insurance of the holder if there is a loss. Be especially mindful at moments of transition — arriving at or leaving a hotel, booth setup or breakdown, for instance. Call the police if you are being followed or have reason to believe your exhibit or hotel is being “cased.”
It is likely that most robberies and thefts associated with trade shows would not have occurred if exhibitors had used an armored courier service to deliver the inventory to and from the show. Some artists work together to get a group rate on this service.
Convention center vaults are far more secure than hotel safes/vaults. Use this service if it is available at the show.
For multi-day shows, consider changing hotels for the night of the last day of the show if you will be carrying your inventory. If thieves have been watching your movements, they may be waiting for you at the first hotel.
You should have an inventory record of your merchandise stored online or other offsite location that includes art images. Ideally, that record system will allow you to easily track which items are part of your current traveling inventory.
Your small, high-value inventory should not be so large that you can’t carry it with you easily as you go from the show, restaurant, hotel, etc.
You should keep your car well maintained.
It is better to have your inventory in the trunk than in the passenger area. Disable the trunk release lever if your car has one.
Your car’s alarm should activate when the trunk is tampered with.
To thwart quick theft from a trunk (and possibly to have insurance coverage for an unattended vehicle loss), chain and lock your inventory in the locked trunk
Consider securing your work in the trunk in a locked box that is bolted to the frame of your car.
Inspect your car when you get back to it:
- Tires inflated, no fluid leaking, rear light lenses okay, no signs of tampering?
- Thieves have been known to use GPS tracking devices attached to a target vehicle. There are devices to detect or block the signal of these devices, but before going that route it would be good to get into the habit of checking inside your car’s fenders and bumpers, under its doors and around the roof rack.
If renting a car, know your license plate state/number, car make/model in case you have to notify the police that you are being followed.
Have your cell phone fully charged.
Park as close to your destination as possible in as public a place as possible.
Use valets when possible (Provide them with just the ignition key.).
Thieves have a history of following jewelry artists for hours on the highway, and then breaking into their cars when they stop for the night, or even for a quick trip to the restroom. Plan to have a full tank of gas after the show and whatever you need in the vehicle to travel a long distance without stopping. Some thieves may give up after hours on the road.
Your inventory should be carried with you when you stop at a restaurant and during any restroom visits while there.
Jewelry Theft Article from The Jewelry Loupe
“How to avoid jewelry theft when you travel” by Cathleen McCarthy
Security Checklist for in the Studio
While your art inventory is less likely to be a target of thieves when it is in your locked studio or gallery than while in transit or at a sales venue, it is still vitally important to take steps to protect it there. After all, chances are, while you still own it, it spends much more of its time on premises than off. Look this checklist over and start doing more today to protect the art you worked so hard to create.
A light on in the studio can be a strong theft deterrent. Consider having one on a timer. Security lights outside the studio are an important theft deterrent as well.
Know your neighbors well. Whether other businesses or residential neighbors, the better you know them, the more likely they will recognize and report suspicious activities around your studio.
Meet with the local police to explain to them the value of your merchandise and the higher possibility of theft. Ask for their advice on theft prevention.
Have a safe for valuable items. The more valuable the items kept in the safe the higher the rating the safe should have. Your insurance company may have suggestions (or requirements) on the rating of your safe and its best location in your studio
All precious metal and gem stock, work in progress and finished work that is not in the safe during the day should go into the safe at the end of the work day.
Minimize the number of people who know the combination to the safe, and if you feel you must write it down, have it in a secure location off site. If a keypad combination, change it often so all keys stay clean and wear evenly.
Consider keeping the most valuable precious metal and gems as well as finished inventory in a bank safe deposit box.
Have a high security deadbolt lock installed on your studio door. Ask the locksmith to inspect the door frame and strike to make sure they are strong and secure. Consider purchasing a lock with key control. The keys for this kind of lock can only be copied when proper identification is shown. Keep the keys in a secure location. Even if your studio door has a good lock, have the lock changed if moving into a new studio or if you lose a key. Don’t have identifying information on the studio key or its key ring.
Make sure all your studio windows have high quality locks and that they are engaged whenever you leave your studio.
Can your wall or window mounted air conditioning unit be easily removed from the outside to allow access to your studio? Can it be removed without tripping your alarm?
Have an alarm installed. A monitored system with “line security” is more secure because you are contacted immediately when the system detects an intrusion and contacts the police if you don’t quickly verify it as a false alarm. These systems are more expensive to purchase and install, and require a monthly fee. Regardless of the system, make sure the sticker or sign indicating its presence is prominent from outside your studio.
Test and maintain the alarm system regularly.
Some alarm systems, when set off, can activate a video camera.
Consider adding a webcam or two (dropcam.com). You can not only view your studio live at any time, but the camera can send you an alert when sound or motion is detected. For a monthly fee, the live stream can be recorded and stored online for a period of time.
Respond to every alarm as if it is real, even after multiple false alarms.
If you have a car alarm with a remote panic button, keep the car keys with you in the studio and at your bedside. If there’s an intruder, hitting the alarm could be enough to stop a crime in progress.
Special considerations for an open studio event
Clearly mark areas that are off limits with ropes or signs.
Clearly designate handicapped access.
If your studio is in or near your home, have someone in your home during the event so your personal property is covered while you are attending to customers in your studio.
Shipping valuable items to customers
Understand your insurance coverage (as part of your business insurance or through the shipper) for shipments.
It is best if the return address doesn’t have wording that implies a valuable item may be inside (i.e. “jewelry”).
If shipping smaller valuable items, package in a box that’s larger than necessary, and it’s best if there is a box within the box.
Always include a packing slip.
Always require the recipient’s signature.
When a Crime Has Occurred
The most important thing to do when you encounter a crime in progress, or when you think a crime has been committed is to react in a way that is likely to keep yourself and those around you safe. Regardless of the value of objects that may be lost due to a crime, your wellbeing is far more valuable.
Crime in Progress
Robbery (unlawful taking by force or fear)
Do not resist and cooperate. Even if the assailants are not brandishing weapons, there is a good chance they are armed.
Do not speak to the assailants unless spoken to.
The most important thing to do when you encounter a crime in progress or you think a crime has been committed is to react in a way that is likely to keep yourself and those around you safe. Regardless of the value of objects that may be lost due to a crime, your wellbeing is far more valuable.
Do your best to get a good description of the assailants without staring at them or making eye contact.
Contact the police as soon as the assailants leave.
Theft (unlawful taking without force)
Be clear that you have seen the suspect remove an item from your display and conceal it, or that the suspect is holding or wearing an unpaid for item while leaving your display area.
While maintaining continuous observation of the suspect, let your assistant know what has occurred and then catch up with the suspect. You should have procedures in place for this eventuality. A code word would be useful and the assistant should know the policy that is to contact show security (unless you have a different plan in place).
When you have caught up with the suspect, identify yourself and tell them you would like to talk with them about the item from your display in their bag (or however they concealed it)
Do not attempt to restrain the suspect. In most cases, the person will cooperate, handing over the merchandise and will agree to meet with show security.
Burglary (breaking in with the intent to steal)
Upon arriving at your home or studio, if you see something that indicates there may have been a break in, leave immediately and call the police from a safe distance.
After a Crime
Contact the local police
Get witness names and contact information
Contact your insurance company
Contact the FBI
If you are a jewelry artist, call the Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA)
Working with your insurance agent
- Your agent should be helpful, but these claims guidelines from insurance consumer group United Policyholders are also helpful.
Attempt to locate the stolen items
- Pawn shops are required to record the identification information of the person pawning items and must hold the items for a number of days (The number depends on what state the pawn shop is in.). It is important to take action as soon as possible after the theft, before the items change hands.
- Do an internet search for the region of the theft on “We buy gold” or other appropriate search phrase. The results will be mostly pawn shops. Find the email addresses for as many as possible. Send them a mass email with information on the theft and images of the stolen pieces.
- While working with pawn shops and dealers is something the police do regularly, there is a good chance they will not have the resources to do as complete a job as you. And, the personal appeal could make the difference.
Though professional criminals use fences to unload their stolen goods, an amateur thief who has stolen a few items from you may sell them to a local pawn shop or dealer
Strive to heal emotionally after a crime. This information from Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company may be helpful