Switches of diamonds for fake or lesser goods are done by both highly skilled thieves posing as customers and by dishonest employees. Switch artists are sleight-of-hand thieves who will most often attempt to substitute a cubic zirconia and sometimes Moissanite for diamond merchandise. The types of goods switched include loose diamonds, earrings, pendants and rings, and can range in price from less than a thousand dollars to many tens of thousands.
As with other criminals, switch artists come in different sizes, shapes, attire, coiffure, ethnicity, ages, vocabularies and genders. However, they all have developed the art of disarming an unsuspecting target with practiced charm and the ability to take advantage of an unguarded moment. A jeweler should be alerted when a customer attempts to overtly impress them with their wealth, occupation or ancestry.
Switch artists will case a jeweler's premises to find out about the jeweler's inventory, and the settings and tags used, and then leave the store and return with a fake item that looks as real as possible.
In addition to switch artists, it is believed that there are a significant number of cases of dishonest employees conducting switches, almost none of which are ever proven. Many switches, whether by employees or switch artists, are discovered only long after the switch has occurred, sometimes weeks later.
New York, NY - July 18, 2008 - A sales associate was assisting three male suspects in viewing diamond solitaires. She first presented and returned to the showcase a 3⁄4 ct diamond ring on which she used a nearby diamond tester. The sales associate and the three suspects then moved to another showcase, away from the tester. The sales associate presented another ring but did not test the item because she did not want to walk away from the presentation. After the sales associate received the ring back, she realized that a switch had occurred, and it later turned out that a cubic zirconia was returned with a tag from a genuine item at the store. When the sales associate attempted to lock the door, the three suspects pushed her out of the way and fled.
Boston, MA area - September, 2008 - A gemologist at a retail jewelry store noticed that $87,000 diamond earrings and a $36,000 diamond ring had been replaced by cubic zirconia. The store does not know when the switch was made.
Elyria, OH - November, 2008 - A mall retail jewelry chain store had two diamonds worth nearly $50,000 switched for imitations, which were discovered when sales associates were checking the cases. The store does not have security cameras.
To prevent switches by thieves posing as customers:
- Show only one item at a time.
- Don't turn your back on any customer.
- Wait on only one customer at a time.
- After a customer has handled an item, re-examine it to make sure it is the same item before returning it to the showcase. It could be a CZ, Moissanite or an inferior stone. You must either loupe it, or use diamond and Moissanite testing equipment.
- Eye-level cameras that focus on the selling surfaces where diamonds are presented discourage switching by thieves. In addition, cameras may provide the evidence you need if a switch does occur, allowing a retailer to prove the event and avoid a mysterious disappearance in which the retailer cannot provide information regarding how the real goods were lost.
- While inspecting an item, if a customer drops it, begins to faint, claims to be ill, asks for a drink of water, or engages in some other distracting activity, be especially on guard for a switch. Don't allow yourself to be distracted by any disturbance or commotion. If you are uneasy with a customer, request help from another salesperson or manager in the store.
- Use identification tags on jewelry merchandise. Do the customers seem unusually interested in the tags? Perhaps they're planning to return, or have an accomplice return, with an item to switch and a tag just like the one used in your store.
- When placing an item back in its tray, be certain it has the genuine store tag, and that the item and a fake tag have not been substituted. Never allow a customer to return an item of jewelry to a tray.
- Keep all trays completely filled, either with goods or with markers. Do not leave empty spaces. Accordingly, if a space is empty, you will know something is missing.
- When showing loose stones, use locked tweezers.
- Be careful for a box switch after an item has been placed in a box but before the customer has paid and left the store. Always check the item in the box again after a customer has looked at it "one last time." Pay very careful attention if a customer brings his own gift wrap or seems overly concerned that an item be placed in the box in a certain way. A common ploy is for the thief either to switch the box itself or palm the item in the box, and then say that they will go out to the car for a checkbook or a wallet and return shortly to pay.
- Be especially careful of customers who wear or carry items that could assist them with a switch, such as newspapers or parcels, and who place such items on the showcase counter.
Switches by employees
- Properly positioned surveillance cameras discourage dishonest employees from switching merchandise, or can provide evidence regarding a dishonest employee.
When receiving shipped goods
- Switches are also an important issue when suppliers receive back shipments of memo or other goods or when any diamond is returned, whether in person or by any shipping method. Is the item coming back the same item that was either sold or shipped? Checking each item coming back, either with a loupe or testing device, is the only effective way to guard against switched goods.
Most of JSA's urgent crime prevention information is supplied to members through weekly E-mail Crime Alerts, and through cases, photos and videos on JSA's website, www.jewelerssecurity.org. If you are not already receiving JSA's E-mail Crime Alerts, contact the JSA office today so that you can begin receiving these valuable warnings on crimes, suspects and scams.