Planning ahead prepares collectors
By Cindy Brake
Traveling with coins
is as simple as ABC – Always Be Careful.
Most coin shows and conventions have onsite
security to help protect collectors and dealers
from thieves. However, criminals have been known
to follow dealers after a convention closes and
wait until an opportune time to steal their
inventories. Hotels are another location to
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. Ellsworth. 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."
Greatest security mistake
He adds that the single greatest security
mistake is leaving coins unattended in a
Jean and Joe Gallo of Louisiana can vouch for
In spite of using numerous precautionary
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
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
Schwenker explains the check takes about six
minutes per vehicle and devices have been found
"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 companion will take turns when stopping for
restroom breaks, ensuring that someone is always
in the vehicle.
Ellsworth, however has his doubts about tracking
"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," he suggests.
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 conversations private by making sure no one
is within earshot while you are on the phone.
"When packing your vehicle, 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-through restaurants. Keep the car locked
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 the highway.
Ellsworth states that "most robberies of jewelry
or coins occur in parking lots, alleys, parks,
public transportation centers, financial
institutions and retail stores."
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
"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
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