A Mel Ott game-used bat. A 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. A Goudey Ruth. A high-end modern rookie card. Dealers at the National Sports Collectors Convention have lost some nice things to crooks over the years. While the vast majority of the people who will walk the floor in Chicago are simply there to spend money, visit with other collectors and lose themselves in a mind-blowing mass of great sports stuff, others may be there to spoil someone’s day for 100% profit.
Anticipating perhaps the largest crowd in the show’s 41-year history, the NSCC has hired additional security for the event. Not all of the officers will likely be wearing a uniform. You may not know there’s a person with a badge standing next to you.
Some dealers we spoke to are investing in safes–or renting them.
The show floor will have, at times, thousands of people on it and doing what you can to avoid becoming a crime victim should be on your NSCC preparation list, whether you’re one of the hundreds of exhibitors or one of the thousands of guests.
Protecting Your Cash
While show exhibitors will often accept Paypal or credit cards, cash is usually the primary method of payment at the National.
While most collectors will be content to carry money how they always do and simply try to be cautious, Kristin Bolig, the founder of Security Nerd, suggested several ways to mitigate the risk of potential theft at a show like the National.
“Always travel with an anti-theft bag,” she told SC Daily. “There are plenty of anti-theft backpacks or briefcases on the market that provide excellent security benefits, such as combination locks. Keeping your money in a secure bag is critical. Also, consider dividing up your money in different places. Don’t carry all of your cash on you at once. Carry some in your wallet, some in a safe backpack, and keep some in your hotel room safe or another private location.”
She also suggested a body wallet, covered by a shirt to make money less accessible to pickpockets and keeping a regular count of your cash.
As much temptation as there will be to show off some great purchases or exceptional cards they have to trade, collectors carrying around valuable cards should be discreet. Levine says that’s something a lot of people do every day, but not everyone is used to crowds.
“If they grew up in cities like New York they have probably learned never to display what they have and to be aware of what is going on around them at all times.”
Like the collectors who walk around with it, dealers who are taking in a lot of money should be careful, too. Don’t leave your cash box in a place where someone can get to it. Keep some of it in your wallet or an anti-theft bag as mentioned above, make use of the hotel safe and when carrying a lot of it from one place to another outside the facility, have another person with you. If you’re a relative newcomer to setting up at a big show, ask some veterans how they handle money.
Theft at large shows is nothing new. While most collectors don’t have bad intentions, big events almost always attract people who are looking for an opportunity to steal. Dealers used to working their booth alone at times or treating the National like their local event, are encouraged to have plans in place for dealing with crowds of people in front of their booth, especially when they leave to go to the restroom, concession stands or to leave the area to visit other booths.
“Even when an exhibitor asks someone next to them to ‘keep an eye out for them’, that person may become distracted.,” said Barry Levine, the Founder & CEO of SperryWest, a manufacturer of covert video cameras and systems and a long-time trade show attendee. “Distraction is a key factor in aiding theft. Sometimes it is just several visitors at once creating a difficult security situation.”
“Ideally cameras with a concealed recorder work well, but sometimes adding a covert camera helps to identify thieves who thought they knew how not to be seen stealing. This plan works best with multi-day shows as the thief is likely to return several times.”
The larger crowds at major shows like the National mean vigilance will be all the more important for both vendors and those who carry items around the show hoping to sell or trade. Never take multiple cards out of your carrying case or bag at one time if you’re showing them to other collectors if there’s a crowd in close proximity.
Long-time dealers suggest putting anything of significant value inside a display case, preferably locked, or on a shelf or table behind the booth. Leaving expensive cards within reach of anyone at your booth means turning away for even two seconds can mean a thief can grab something before you know it’s gone. Thieves will sometimes work in tandem, with one person asking to see an item or items while a partner several feet away distracts the vendor so the first person can pocket what they’ve asked to “see.”
Some thieves will take advantage of a crowd at a dealer table and a dealer that’s trying to handle multiple requests at once. Others will wait for a table to become nearly empty so there aren’t any potential witnesses to their crime. While promoters know the increased size of this year’s crowd meant the need for more security, those hired to keep tabs on the crowd can’t be everywhere at once.
“It is always important to make sure you have eyes on your booth at all times,” Bolig warned. “Train your employees to be aware of the activity at your booth, and don’t fully rely on the general event security to give you that layer of protection. You are the only one who knows how important and valuable your product is. Make sure you are never leaving important merchandise unattended.”