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Coin dealers in crosshairs

Coin thefts and robberies are increasing at conventions, coin shops and in homes. And all too often, they’re becoming violent.

The 89-year-old owner of a coin shop in Sherman Oaks, Calif., was tied up and robbed at gunpoint in June. That same month, two masked men waving guns attempted to rob a coin shop in Roseville, Mich.

“Right now, with the economy facing hard times and high unemployment rates, people are going to drastic measures to survive and some are teetering on a balance of whether to do something illegal,” said Doug Davis of the Numismatic Crime Information Center.

And robberies are surely desperate measures.

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“We’re seeing more of them,”Davis said, “even in the jewelry trade, where people are buying gold and silver and paying cash.”

Often it’s a crime of opportunity, he said. The key is not to give the robber that opportunity.

“Dealers can’t have apathy to think it’s never going to happen to them,” Davis said.

The high prices of gold and silver are tempting criminals across the country, he said.

“We are especially beginning to see a growing number of violent robberies of retail establishments advertising to buy gold and silver,” Davis said.

That is especially so for dealers and shop owners offering to pay cash, he said.

Thefts are also on the rise, a fact Doug Nyholm of Mt. Olympus Coins in the Salt Lake City area, knows all too well. Thieves entered the home of his friend Ben Hippler of Salt Lake City in July and absconded with a 5-foot gun safe that contained about $500,000 in coins.

“None of the coins have turned up yet,” said Nyholm, who has been contacting dealers and the media to alert people to the stolen coins. (A list of the stolen coins is available at numismaticnews.com.)

The owner, who thought the coins were secure in the safe, is “absolutely devastated,” Nyholm said.

“A big safe is not a complete security,” Nyholm said. “This safe wasn’t bolted to the foundation or the wall. You need to go all the way with your security. You’d think a thousand-pound safe is going to be a deterrent, but get a big dolly and three or four big guys, you’d be surprised what they can lift and carry out.”

The Numismatic Crime Information Center facilitates the gathering of information about numismatic crimes from law enforcement, dealers and collectors.

“Everyone can be a part of helping us solve these things,” Davis said. “Communicate what is going on in the industry so we can put that information together to put trends together. It’s critical for us to know what’s going on.”

It’s risky nowadays, said Nyholm.

“Everybody needs to be reminded,” he said.

NCIC and Davis can be reached at 817-723-7231 or doug@numismaticcrimes.org.
(Next week: Specific tips for safeguarding coins and not succumbing to fraud.)

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