In California, thieves shut down numerous Web sites operated by state agencies when they ripped copper wire from a mile-long stretch of highway. In Illinois, a man was electrocuted as he attempted to steal copper wire from a live line. In Washington State, copper thefts near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport disabled the approach lighting for one of the airport's runways.
After a rash of copper thefts from trucks carrying copper along Virginia highways, authorities in Virginia, working with NICB special agents, arrested a man at the center of the Virginia thefts.
All across the country copper thefts are making the news day after day and, in many areas, they are reaching epidemic proportions. As the market for copper fluctuates, so does the theft activity and in recent times copper has been worth the risk.
In some cases, the crimes are committed by drug addicts looking to get some quick cash. In other cases, the crimes are committed by organized groups or opportunistic thieves, such as employees of businesses that work with metal. Regardless of the motive, the damage caused by such thefts is often several times the value of the metal stolen, leaving the victims with hefty repair costs which are then often passed on to insurance companies.
The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that metal theft costs U.S. businesses around $1 billion a year. Some states and cities have taken measures to combat metal theft, such as requiring scrap yards to check identification of any individual who sells them scrap metal, note the license plate of the vehicle used to transport the metal, maintain the information on file, pay the seller with check instead of cash, or retain the scrap metal for a designated amount of time to allow law enforcement an opportunity to identify stolen materials before it is recycled.
However, identifying stolen metal is not always possible and opposition to these laws from the scrap industry has made it difficult to get effective measures passed in some areas. Even in areas where such laws exist, some unscrupulous scrap dealers do not abide by them and enforcement of the laws has not always been a major priority until recent years when increases in metal thefts brought more attention to the problem. Some states and local governments have increased the penalties associated with metal theft, or are charging thieves with additional crimes if the theft caused damage to infrastructure or created a hazard to the public.
From January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2012, NICB analysts identified 33,775 insurance claims for the theft of copper, bronze, brass or aluminum—32,568 of them (96 percent) for copper alone. This shows a 36 percent increase in claims when compared with the 25,083 claims reported between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2011.
Ohio ranks first among the top five states with the most insurance claims for metal thefts followed by, in order, Texas, Georgia, California, and North Carolina.
Although communities are cracking down on copper thefts, it remains a significant problem across the nation. Hopefully, with enhanced awareness and reporting of suspicious activity, ordinary citizens will help reduce these thefts.