Maybe you’ve worked in retail and are used to handling cash, but there’s a bit of a difference in handling it at a trade show like an artist alley. In a regular store, usually there’s a cash register set up to keep thieves from leaning over the counter and grabbing cash easily, and the register itself is too heavy to pick up. At a convention, however, you’re forced to use a portable setup, and you can’t dictate the space arrangements as much as a store can.
Get a box or a bag to hold the cash that you can take with you if you leave the table. You want one with a lock. Not because the lock will keep anyone from stealing the money–heck, it’s simple to pick up the entire thing and take off with it–but because it will keep the contents from flying all over the place when it falls off the table.
Some people prefer a box with separate compartments for each denomination of bill. I use one that has one compartment for all denominations because it’s smaller and easier to pack into my bag and carry discreetly back to my room without screaming HEY! I HAVE A CASH BOX! What you choose is up to you.
Try to keep the bills in your cash box ordered by denomination. It makes keeping track of your money much easier. (That way, you shouldn’t be surprised by running out of ones, either.)
Know where your cash box or bag is at all times. If your attention is distracted for a moment, it’s half a second’s work for someone to reach over and grab it. If there’s a disturbance at your table, like someone dropping their stuff, try to make it your first reflex to drop a hand onto the cash box before seeing what’s up. If someone truly needs help, you can put the box behind you on the floor or give it to one of your minions before you help them, and you’ll discourage thieves who cause or take advantage of disturbances.
This is another tip I’ve gained from working in the dealers’ room: do not let anyone you don’t know help you pack up or set up, even if you’ve been talking with them for an hour and they seem fine. If someone claims to be with the con and offers to help, ask the artist alley staff if that’s the case and if the person is authorized to do so. This is a common scam in dealers’ rooms – thieves show up, assist with setup or breakdown, help dealers load merchandise into their cars, then take off with the cash box when the dealer’s back is turned.
If someone seems to be following you when you’re carrying a cash box, or that new acquaintance follows you, talking, don’t go to your room, your car, or any isolated place like an empty hotel corridor or elevator. Find a convention or hotel security person, or someone you know. Do not get on an elevator with someone if you’re the slightest bit unsure. If you get off the elevator and someone gets off at your floor and follows you, turn around and get back on the elevator. Do not let them know where your room is. If you have to, ride the elevator up to the top and back down to the lobby floor, or punch the button for the next floor and get off there. Sure, the person might think you’re weird, but it’s better than getting mugged or them learning where your room is and coming back to rob it or hurt you. This is good advice if you think you’ve picked up a stalker, too. If someone follows you when you’re doing weird stuff, find Security as fast as you can.
If you get a decent amount of money in on Friday or Saturday, don’t take it all back to the artist alley the next day. Bring just enough for change. If you are in a hotel room with a safe, use it. Many hotels offer free safety deposit boxes to guests that you can use for extra cash and small electronics like mp3 players, and as hotel staff might be able to get into room safes, it’s a good idea to use safety deposit boxes if they’re available. Don’t leave cash in your car, even if it’s hidden. Parking garages and mid-city parking lots are not secure places.
Don’t leave unsecured cash in your hotel room. Your roommates might bring someone untrustworthy back to the room. Any hotel employee can access your room at any time. Even if the hotel employees and your friends’ friends are all honest, when Housekeeping cleans the rooms on your floor they usually leave the doors of several rooms open at once, and anyone can walk into the room and grab stuff. Hide computers or electronic equipment so they can’t be seen from the door, for this reason.
While you are unpacking and packing your car, don’t leave the cash box unattended on the front seat while you pack the trunk, or vice versa. I’ve known dealers who were robbed that way, when they just took their eyes off the cash box for an instant.