Monday, October 3, 2011

Copper Prices Fall Below $3 Dollars; Metal Theft Still Rising

Stolen wire, a death suspected to be the result of an electrocution, and fires at area buildings all have one connection that inspectors know all too well - scrap metal.

Managers at scrap metal recyclers have taken precautions to avoid buying stolen scrap metal, but the issue is drawing the attention of state legislators. "There's only so much stolen material you can knowingly buy," states one recycler. "You'd be a fool to think you're going to get away with it."

In September alone, more than 250,000 pounds of copper were recycled in the metropolitan area. One legislator believes that scrap metal thieves see it as an easy buck. "I think people think there's a lot of money in scrap, but it's a lot of work for the amount that you're stealing. " he said. "It's really not worth it."

However, copper is bought for a far higher price than steel or other metals, he said. Copper prices can reach up to $4 or more for one pound.

Metal recyclers have begun taking inbound and outbound photos of loads, are capturing the license plate of each vehicle coming in, and are holding loads for a week - just to be sure none of the metal has been reported stolen - in anticipation of new state regulations.

Most buyers of scrap metal, particularly those that deal in cash, will likely encounter stolen scrap. "Metal theft has become a major problem because stolen metal can easily be recycled for cash. You ask questions about where it's coming from just to make sure," he said of dealing with sellers. "You can catch a liar really quickly."

A recent university study showed a relationship between the price of copper and the number of scrap metal crimes. As the price went up, incidents of copper theft also went up. "Economic hardship, in most instances, may drive an individual to uncharacteristic behavior, " one researcher said. "Economic desperation might provide sufficient justification to break the law."

Peter Coyne /
October 3, 2011