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Prevent Copper Theft - A Growing Epidemic

Around the globe the theft of scrap metals has steadily been on the rise. It is a problem that affects cities and rural areas, construction sites, businesses, churches, and homes. This increase in global copper theft can be blamed in part to the elevated value associated with copper in many countries. From less than a dollar in 2003, copper in the U.S. has risen to an astounding $4.50 a pound in 2011 and over $3.50 early 2013. It has been estimated that over 50,000 incidents of copper theft have occurred across the U.S. at utility sites at a national cost of $1 billion annually.

  • Theft of Scrap Metal Guide: This PDF guide discusses the theft of copper and other metals such as aluminum, nickel, bronze, and platinum. The guide reviews the harm caused by scrap metal theft, contributing factors, a description offenders, targets, and places where theft occurs.
  • Copper Theft Research Report: A report that summarizes what copper theft is and its impact. The report also reviews what steps are being taken to prevent it from occurring.

People steal copper from a number of locations. The most popular and vulnerable locations are in areas where there are large amounts of copper and minimal activity or surveillance. Construction sites at night are one of the most common victims to this type of theft. Areas with abandoned or foreclosed homes are also attractive to copper thieves. A thief may break into a vacant home and tear down walls in order to reach copper pipes, wires, and cables. Kitchen and bathroom fixtures and plumbing are also frequently ripped away. To reach gated utility yards, some thieves may cut through gates, or if they are bold enough, drive through them. Large spools of copper cables or wires may be stolen from unsecured storage areas or even from the backs of utility trucks. Underground vaults are also a draw as their power lines have copper wiring. A thief or group of thieves enter the vaults by climbing down manholes. Danger is often not a deterrent for some thieves as it isn't uncommon for them to climb utility poles to reach copper transformers or dig to reach high-voltage sub-stations. In efforts to reach the copper coils from roof-top air units, copper thieves may even climb to the roof of a building. Thieves may use bolt cutters, saws, or even axes to cut cables. Other items that are commonly stolen are the coils and tubing from air conditioning units, generators, and even sprinkler systems.

Businesses, homeowners, and the community as a whole can take certain steps to decrease the number of copper thefts. Security measures are an ideal first step. Areas that house copper should never be secluded or hidden. This makes it too easy for criminals to break in unseen. Cut back any shrubs or bushes that may serve as a hiding place for thieves. Increase the amount of outdoor lighting. Motion detecting lights are an option, and will only turn on if there is movement. Place security cameras around the property or work site. In addition, post signs that indicate the presence of a surveillance system. The knowledge that an area is being recorded will often be enough to deter a potential thief. Basic security measures shouldn't be overlooked either. In vacant homes or empty buildings, use deadbolt locks and ensure that all windows, garages and other potential entrance ways are locked. Spray paint copper tubing or have it engraved with the address or phone number of the property where it belongs. Construction sites should ensure that no copper wiring, pipes or other copper items are left about. They should be secured in a locked building until ready for use. Air conditioning units should be kept enclosed in a locked cage in a highly visible location so that a thief will be easily seen.

  • Copper Theft Prevention Tips: A bullet point list of tips on how to stop the theft of copper. The tips are provided by the Fort Wayne, Indiana Police Department.
  • Preventing Household Fixture Metal Theft: This is a PDF document that reviews what efforts law enforcement and homeowners should take in preventing the theft of copper and other metals.
  • Risk Alert - Copper Theft Continues to Plague Religious Facilities: This is a PDF document from Church Mutual Insurance Company. It provides information on items that are regularly targeted for their copper, such as air conditioning units. It gives advise on to be prepared and prevent theft. The article is directed toward churches but gives valuable advice that can be used for homes or businesses.
  • Metal Theft Prevention: A Nationwide insurance article on metal theft, with an emphasis on copper. The article reviews methods that thieves use and ways that businesses can prevent theft from occurring.
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