March 16, 2022
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This type of theft often comes in waves, depending on the activity of criminal groups where multiple people work together.

What Is Distraction Theft?


A group of criminals will work together to overwhelm sales associates to the point where one of the criminals in the group is not attended to and gains access to merchandise. These groups may enter the store together and disperse or they may enter separately. Although they don’t appear to be colluding, they have probably cased their targeted location numerous times and are coordinating a well-orchestrated effort.

The lengths that these criminals will go to can be very dramatic. They’ve been known to feign illnesses or appear frustrated over poor customer service and cause an uproar. What’s worse, children have also been used as pawns to create distractions for these thefts.

Here is a recent example of a reported distraction theft in Nashville, Tennessee.

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.  The pair went on to rob two other jewelers in similar ways, according to information emailed to jewelers by the Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA).

According to John Kennedy, president of JSA, the two female suspects, and others who’ve robbed stores lately, 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. “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.” Kennedy said.

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 products 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 many 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.”

Here are a few more tips on how to prevent distraction theft from the loss prevention and risk management team at Jewelers Mutual® Group.

Greeting every customer who enters your business is a good start—that way, any criminal will know you’re attentive. From there, offer to help them on a one-to-one basis and stay focused on that customer until the individual has left. Politely remind others that you’re in the process of helping someone and will be with them when you’re available.

If your business has issues with handling crowds, you may need to consider a few more serious options:

  • Hire additional employees
  • Relocate or remodel for better customer flow
  • Install an access control system

Want to learn more on how you can keep your jewelry store safe 24/7? Read this comprehensive Jeweler Security Guide from Jewelers Mutual Group.

Interested in other tips, tools, and techniques aimed at helping you run a more secure and successful jewelry business? Browse more of our Business Tips.

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