Art theft is on the rise. Did you know that the FBI estimates that the black market for art is worth $6 billion annually, and that art theft falls within the 4th largest area of criminal activity worldwide, according to Interpol? 2011 has seen a number of high profile thefts from homes, art galleries, museums, and hotels worldwide.

Take the case of Mark Lugo, who walked into a San Francisco art gallery on a July morning this year, plucked a Picasso sketch from the wall, and walked right back out. Luckily for the gallery, a pub next door happened to catch the thief on its sidewalk security camera. When they searched his apartment, detectives learned that Lugo had quite a collection of stolen artworks from various institutions, including several art galleries.

Or how about the Rembrandt drawing worth $250,000 lifted from the walls of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Ray, CA in August while the curator was “distracted?” Luckily for the hotel, the thief apparently got wet feet and dumped the 1655 drawing not far away in an LA church.

While these two high profile cases were resolved quickly, most art thefts are not. To bring it closer to home, one of our private collector clients experienced a home burglary in Los Angeles, California in 2011 while they were out of town. Thieves stole hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of fine art, as well as other possessions. Among the items stolen were original paintings by Gordon Onslow Ford, Gerome Kamrowski and Jimmy Ernst as well as valuable prints by Miro and Matisse. In addition, some glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly and Toland Sand were taken. The burglars were never apprehended, and to date the art has not been recovered.

What can you do to prevent theft from your home and secure your fine art and collectibles? A few key measures can increase the security at your home immensely for little cost:

  1. Do you have a complete inventory list—including names, descriptions and values—of all of your valuable articles, including fine art, jewelry, wine and other collectibles? Keeping track of your assets is the first important step in putting together a home protection strategy. You may be surprised at how much you have to protect .In addition to the written list, photographs or video of each item where it is placed in the home can help you identify what is missing in the event of a burglary as well as substantiate what has been lost in the event of an insurance claim.
  2. What sort of home security system do you have? A central station fire/burglar (CSFB) alarm that monitors all entrances and windows at your house is the best way to ensure 24 hour security from theft and fire, 365 days a year—when you are at home and away. You can obtain a basic CSFB system for about $35 a month. In addition, there are many affordable home surveillance systems on the market, which can provide video footage in the event a break-in does occur.
  3. Who has the keys and alarm codes to your home? Do you trust each of these people completely with all of your home possessions, including your fine art or other valuable articles? Also, have you trained them each to lock up and set the alarm properly when they are the last one to leave your home? Ensure that family members and others (e.g., friends, domestic staff, business associates, etc.) who have open access to your home understand the importance you place on security and protection. Consider including a paragraph in your contract with domestic staff regarding their responsibilities that relate to your home security.
  4. Do you have indoor and/or outdoor lighting that comes on automatically every day? An inexpensive electronic timer can be purchased at your local hardware store, so that lights come on at dusk and stay on until bedtime, indicating to outsiders that someone is home (even if you are not). For less than $5, you can install one easily on a lamp inside your home.
  5. In addition to automatic lighting, when out of town, make your home appear lived in.
    1. Place a hold on mail/newspaper at the post office.
    2. Ask someone to mow grass or shovel snow.
  6. Do you consider security when placing artwork? Do you think about the balance between security and aesthetics when determining which location to place particular pieces? For example, placing a valuable vase in a front window may look beautiful inside and from outside the home; however, could it also draw unwanted attention. Likewise, displaying an outdoor sculpture on your front lawn to share its splendor might be tempting, but it could also be an easy target for robbers if your property is not secured by a perimeter fence and gate.
  7. In the event a theft or other loss does occur, are you properly insured to protect yourself and mitigate any financial loss?

Taking the time to consider these and other security measures before a theft occurs can save you a great amount of time and expense. The negative consequences of a home break-in and theft—or of a fire or other natural disaster—can potentially exceed your expectations. In today’s economic environment, no one needs an extra hardship to face, and yet theft has risen partly as a result of the economic conditions.

If you would like more information about protecting your valuable assets, please contact Tom Pratt at tpratt@faceins.com.