ahead prepares collectors for security risks Tracking devices
may be newest threat
BY CINDY BRAKE COIN WORLD STAFF
with coins is as simple as ABC - Always Be Careful.
When traveling, collectors and dealers can
be targets for thieves and robbers. And while a multitude
of practical means may lessen the risk, the risk remains and
thefts do occur. "Security risks can never be eliminated,"
states veteran collector and security specialist Steven K.
Ells-worth. He adds, "one out of three collections will
eventually be stolen" and "few full-time coin dealers
with 10 years experience have avoided being a victim of theft."
Given those warnings, Ellsworth offers suggestions that may
deter thieves. He has written a series of articles that are
posted on his Web site www.butternut.org. Ellsworth warns
that "next to homes, vehicles are the most likely place
for a theft to occur."
He adds that the single greatest security mistake is leaving
coins unattended in a vehicle. Jean and Joe Gallo of Louisiana
can vouch for that fact.
In spite of using numerous pre¬cautionary
measures when traveling home from a coin show in November,
they lost more than $500,000 in rare coins and merchandise
taken from their vehicle when it was left unattended. The
Gallos drove four hours, going on and off the Interstate to
deter any vehicles that might be following them, a precaution
many knowledgeable dealers take after leaving a show. The
Gallos stopped at a rest area. They stopped at a gas station.
Each time they kept .their eyes open for any vehicles that
might be following them. They never saw anything suspicious.
But they were being watched. It appears that thieves attached
a tracking device to their vehicle.
When they checked into a hotel, the thieves
struck. A security camera revealed two men. One was acting
as a lookout. The other popped their vehicle lock; he also
appeared to remove a tracking device from the vehicle.
The Gallos returned to the vehicle to get
their luggage and a beverage in a cooler located in the same
area as the coins. All appeared to be secure. They then drove
across the street to eat at a restaurant with lots of people
coming in and out. They even parked under a light. When they
returned to the vehicle, Mr. Gallo noticed a strap hanging
from the vehicle. When they checked the vehicle for their
inventory, they found that everything was gone. "It is
devastating," Mrs. Gallo said, adding that the coins
were their retirement investment. Authorities have been alerted
and the Gallos are praying that someone, somewhere saw something.
The use of GPS tracking devices may be the latest wrinkle
criminals are using in targeting dealers after a coin show
has closed. Some show sponsors consider the possibility of
someone monitoring a dealer's vehicle from afar using a tracking
device a very real possibility and acts accordingly.
The Money Show of the Southwest is one show that inspects
vehicles for tracking devices.
"We are somewhat nuts about security
for our dealers," writes show chairman Carl Schwenker.
"We have three Houston Police Department individuals,
who are techno-type personalities and specialize in security,
electronically and visually (on their hands and knees and
with mirrors) inspecting every dealer vehicle for GPS devices."
Schwenker explains the check takes about
six minutes per vehicle and devices have been found infrequently.
"You have to consider how the thieves pick out their
prey. At our show, since our loading dock is three stories
above ground and obstructed from street level view and guarded
on both entrances, the thieves more than likely select the
dealer from inside the hall, then follow him/her to the parking
lot where they identify the dealer's vehicle. Then they come
back the next morning [departure day], walk the lot until
they find the selected vehicle and place the GPS device on
it," Schwenker states.
Five years ago, according to Schwenker, one
collector "showed his complete collection of very high
grade nickels to everybody and anybody." After leaving
the show, he placed the set on the floor of his vehicle behind
the front seat, placed a blanket on top of it and then two
large bags on top of that. He checked his mirrors all along
the way, finally stopping after 70 miles for gas and to use
the restroom. "The gas station's security cameras showed
that as soon as he went into the restroom, a red foreign car
quickly appeared, stopped next to his, [and someone in the
car] broke the driver's side window, opened the door, then
opened the sliding side door, took the bags and blanket off
and took the collection all in the space of 20 seconds. The
last thing he saw of his collection was on the security tapes
as the thieves' car disappeared onto the highway."
Schwenker states that thieves prefer older
single drivers. Seasoned dealers traveling with a compan¬ion
will take turns when stopping for restroom breaks, ensuring
that someone is always in the vehicle. Ellsworth, however
has his doubts about tracking devices.
"There have been claims by those who have left their
vehicle unattended and had theft occur to feel that there
must have been a GPS tracker attached. There has never been
any evidence to support this claim or theory," Ellsworth
writes in an email.
Remembering that "security is a personal responsibility,"
Ellsworth recommends coin dealers "try to think like
a thief" when traveling with coins by casing the facility
and looking for problem areas. "Trust your instincts,"
Before beginning a trip, Ellsworth recommends
a visual inspection of the vehicle's exterior. Check the tires
and tire pressure. Check for leaking fluids by looking under
the car and under the engine. Start with a full tank of gas
prior to loading coins, and a cell phone is a must. Just remember
when using the cell phone to keep conversa-, tions private
by making sure no or is within earshot while you are oil the
phone. "When packing your vehicle,"1 always remember
'Coins in last when departing. Coins out first, when arriving,'
" Ellsworth states. Some thieves have struck when a dealer
arrived home and left the vehicle unattended for a few moments.
Drivers should "be very alert and drive defensively,"
keeping night driving to a minimum. Plan a course or route.
Decide early where to stop for fuel and food, using only drive-
j through restaurants. Keep the car] locked when refueling.
Vary your routine.
Be cautious and aware of being followed by
another vehicle. Ellsworth suggests traveling at different
speeds for 20 to 30 minutes. It becomes more obvious if a
vehicle is following when traveling at slower speeds. During
the first hour of travel, take an exit and then return to
Ellsworth states that "most robberies
of jewelry or coins occur in parking lots, alleys, parks,
public transportation centers, financial institutions and
When sleeping or taking a shower in a hotel room, Ellsworth
recommends using a bicycle lock to attach valuables to a fixture.
He also suggests bringing a stubby door wedge and little flashlight.
And never open a hotel door to any stranger. All deliveries
should be made to the front desk. "Most hotel experts
agree that in the United States, Miami, New Orleans and New
York have the greatest number of thefts," Ellsworth writes.
Outside the United States, in "Mexico and anywhere in
South America you are not only more vulnerable to theft, but
also to kidnap-for-ransom abductions that are now near epidemic
According to Ellsworth, the "world leader
in hotel theft" is Jamaica. When making a hotel reservation,
Ellsworth recommends requesting a room on the second or third
floor and not next to a stairwell or across from or near an
elevator. Electronic locks or plastic slide cards are "the
single greatest deterrent to theft in hotel/motels."
Hotel lobby safe deposit boxes and in-room
safes "are not foolproof," Ellsworth writes. When
carrying coins, use a nondescript, zippered bag rather than
the aluminum cases some dealers prefer to carry.
Ellsworth recommends travelers with coins use the five Ps
principle: prior planning prevents poor performance.