Loss Prevention

A Continuing-Education Series from Chalk & Vemilion Fine Arts, Inc.


Did you know:

  • After private homes, where the majority of burglaries take place, the next two highest targets for theft are art galleries and museums

  • Art theft in the United States and overseas has more than tripled in the past two decades

  • Stolen art is the third largest illegal trade, after drugs and arms.

Because art galleries carry expensive items, they are obvious targets for determined thieves. However, contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal of art thieves – black ski mask, black clothing, and high-tech nighttime raids – theft happens in many ways, perpetrated by many kinds of people.


Shoplifters come in all sizes, colors, genders, etc. It’s imprudent to buttonhole one particular “type” or “look” as a possible shoplifter, because someone who is impeccably dressed can be a shoplifter as easily as someone who looks like a panhandler, but there are some tell-tale signs:

  • Look for someone wearing a raincoat in clear weather, a heavy coat in warm weather, or very baggy clothes. Beware also of someone carrying a coat over their arm or shoulders. Large, loose clothing can very easily hide objects inside.

  • Be aware of purses and backpacks, and try to stay aware if they look empty when the person enters the gallery. Similarly, watch baby strollers.

  • Be suspicious of customers who get behind a desk , into a stockroom, or anywhere they shouldn’t be (if they can’t get their hands on a sculpture, they might try to snatch an employee’s purse instead)

  • Often you can spot a shoplifter because they don’t seem to focus on the art, but instead are looking everywhere, searching for alarms, mirrors, cameras, etc.

How to prevent shoplifting? The best prevention is an alert and trained staff. Simply practicing good customer service and rising to greet each customer into your gallery sends a message: I know you’re here. Bonafide customers are flattered and potential thieves may now think twice. Keep enough staff on the floor, and be especially alert when you are all busy at the same time, since this is a common ploy that experienced thieves use. Use theft-prevention devices, such as hidden cameras, silent alarms, inside lighting when the gallery is closed, etc. Don’t overlook the obvious, or lapse into careless behavior; for example, if there is a key needed for a cabinet with expensive items or money, don’t leave the key in the lock all the time (you’d be surprised how often that occurs). Talk about theft with your employees – discuss it on a regular basis to keep it current. One suggestion is to make up a brief, cryptic phrase to be used to alert staff that there might be a shoplifter in the gallery.

Employee theft

Sadly, employee theft is a reality in almost every kind of business, especially retail. The reasons range from personal financial trouble, to a simple crime of opportunity. Ironically, just as your best defense from outside theft is your employees themselves, when it comes to inside theft, the weakest link in protecting inventory is the human element. Every procedure in your gallery involving inventory or financial transactions should be backed up by a system of checks and balances, so that no one does their job without supervision of some sort.

Theft can be devastating to a small business, and can be just as difficult emotionally. Educate yourself and your staff and accept the fact that at some point, you will probably be someone’s target, then do something about it. Why not invite a local police officer to visit your gallery, perform a security assessment, and provide loss prevention tips at your next staff meeting? Or, speak to your insurance agent about what you can do to protect your gallery (and maybe save on your insurance costs). Reduce temptation and the probability of a theft by taking precautionary measures and developing a disciplined approach to banking, inventory management, and store security. And remember – you are more valuable than anything that’s in your store!

55 Old Post road #2, Greenweich, CT 06830 (800) 877-2255

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