A Warning to All Shopkeepers: Confidence Tricksters Ply Their Dreadful Trade

Some scammers have an elaborate strategy, don’t fall for their tricks! Photo: SakSa/Shutterstock.com
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It’s 7 July 2022. An approximately 45-year-old woman who seems to be from Southern Europe enters a coin shop in Tübingen. The shop could be anywhere, the woman could be a man, be older or younger; she could look like she’s from a southern or a northern country. However, one thing is sure to be the case: she will be very likeable and perfectly speak your language. After all, phase 1 is all about gaining a coin dealer’s trust while simultaneously spying on their shop.

Phase 1: Spying on the Shop

In the Tübingen coin shop, where customers can also sell gold items, the likeable woman – who says about herself that she originally comes from Croatia – asks for a ducat. She attentively observes the coin dealer. The latter has to get the piece out of the safe where he keeps the gold coins. And that’s exactly what the woman wants. After all, she’s here to gather information. She verifies whether the coin shop ticks the most important boxes for her to pull off her scheme.

So, she looks to see if the safe is open or if the coin dealer has to open it first. And where is the safe located to begin with? Is it easy to get there from the customer space? Is there a way for an accomplice to enter the shop while the woman distracts the coin dealer? There are several requirements that need to be met to carry out the scam.

The nice woman pays 200 euros for the ducat. She pays in cash to gain the coin dealer’s trust. A trust she is soon to abuse.

Phase 2: Reviewing the Plan

Not even a week has passed and the nice woman is back in the Tübingen shop. She says that she needs another ducat, a gift. This time, the dealer doesn’t have a ducat in his shop. No problem for her, after all, she’s only here to check that nothing has changed in the meantime, and that everything’s ready for her to implement her plan.

The safe with the gold coins is still open, the second door of the shop is still unlocked. The observations of her first visit have been confirmed. Now she knows some of the victim’s habits. And so, after this second visit, she can tell her accomplice that the theft can be carried out the next day.

Phase 3: The Raid

So, she comes back as soon as the following day. By then, the coin dealer bought a ducat. But she does not only want the ducat, she also wants a second gold coin. In this way, she ensures that the coin dealer’s safe is open. And anyway, she saw a few coins in the display case outside and has a few questions about them. So, she asks the coin dealer to go outside with her for a moment so that she could show him the tray on which the coin was lying. It all seems completely unsuspicious, of course. The woman is sympathetic, interested, a customer. Thus, the coin dealer follows her to explain exactly what she wants to know. And that’s a mistake as it clears the way for the accomplice. The coin dealer is out of his shop for five minutes at most, but that’s enough for the accomplice, who has been waiting for these very five minutes.

He slips into the shop through the second door. The shopkeeper can’t see that because the woman carefully directed him to stand in a position where he’s with his back to the second door, looking at the tray in question. Thus, the accomplice can go around the counter to the open safe and clear it out without anyone noticing him. He doesn’t pay attention to the coin trays with rare pieces. He’s mainly interested in precious metal and cash because that can hardly be traced in a sale. He places the BeBa trays with gold coins out of the safe, takes the cash as well as some envelopes and briefcases that look like they could contain cash and – of course – the fused gold that is ready for shipment. And before the woman’s last question is answered, before the coin dealer turns around to go back into his shop, the accomplice has left the shop with his loot.

Phase 4: The Flight

It only takes a few minutes for the coin dealer to realise that he was robbed. But these minutes are enough for the tricksters to escape with their loot. They meticulously prepared their flight – by car, bike or on foot. They know that they only have a few minutes, and they use them to pass on the goods to another, unsuspected member of their group. Even if the police were to catch the original customer. What would they charge her with? Asking a few questions about a coin?

Warning Signs of Confidence Tricksters

So, stay alert! The modus operandi of confidence tricksters is as varied as coin dealers’ shops are, but the pattern is similar. To gain trust, a likeable, unsuspicious person is sent to the coin dealer to buy an object that isn’t that expensive. This person will come back quite soon. Ask yourself: how often do you go to the same shop three times in a row to purchase something? You tend to buy everything at once, don’t you? The mere fact that a previously unknown customer comes back so soon is a clear warning sign.

And then there’s still this carelessness – or rather convenience – that many colleagues display. Of course, it’s a nuisance to keep opening and closing the safe for customers. But it’s better to keep a small selection of common gold coins out of the safe throughout the day than to grant a thief access to all contents of the safe.

In addition, we want to open up to customers. Have an open-door policy during opening hours. No. Don’t do that. Especially if you’re usually alone in your shop. Having to ring the doorbell before entering won’t keep any serious customer from buying something from you. For a thief, on the other hand, it’s a real deal-breaker.

Crime as Part of Our Society

Sad as it is, every society has its criminals who thrive on exploiting others. No one can avoid crime altogether. Just remember the robbery that was recently carried out during TEFAF with a sledgehammer and a machine gun. Even the best security measures couldn’t have prevented it.

But let’s keep one thing in mind: we shouldn’t make it too easy for criminals either. Therefore, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to our colleague Dr. Michael Brandt, who – although I’m sure it’s painful to him – shared his experiences with us to prevent you from making the same mistake. Maybe the tricksters will even get caught while trying to pull of the same scam in your shop. If something seems suspicious, don’t hesitate to call the police.


We published a list of the stolen items in the last issue of CoinsWeekly.