Protect Yourself from Metal Theft

Mar 8, 2009

With unemployment levels in Arizona climbing to record highs, many Phoenix residents are desperately searching for ways to make money. Sadly, some have turned to crimes such as burglary and theft. One crime that has become extremely popular in recent years is metal theft.

High Voltage Warning SignMetal theft occurs when thieves take raw materials from construction sites, homes, and vehicles and sell it to a scrap recycler for profit. Precious metals such as copper, silver, brass, bronze, platinum, aluminum, and steel are in high demand and recyclers are paying high premiums for every pound of metal recovered.

Theft of precious metal is a citywide epidemic according to statistics published by the Phoenix Police Department, which reported a 430% increase from 2003 to 2007. Based on my own research for this article, I have compiled a list of "high risk" places where metal is often reported missing:

High Risk Areas for Metal Theft:
  • Construction sites
  • Public infrastructure
  • Abandoned or foreclosed homes
  • Ground-based appliances
  • Swimming pool pumps
  • Rural farm/irrigation equipment
  • Trucks, SUVs, and high-clearance vehicles
Metal thieves are a ruthless bunch of people. If they're not endangering public safety by stealing manhole covers and sewer grates, they're making off with spools of copper wire from construction sites or pipes from homes up for sale.

Metal thieves have even gone as far as stealing catalytic converters from private vehicles for the cadmium, nickel, and other heavy metals inside. Phoenix blogger Jay Thompson recently posted an example of copper bandits who dismantled an air conditioning unit for its metal content at a property for sale.

Like other forms of theft, metal theft hurts the victims because they not only have to bear the expense of replacing the stolen items, but may lose productivity or working days as well.

In response to the surge in metal theft, Arizona legislators passed a new law in 2007 that requires scrap metal recyclers to take detailed information about their customers. This includes sales transaction logs, customer vehicle information, photographs, and even fingerprints! All transactions over $25 are logged and scrap metal worth more than $300 is now paid by checks which are sent through the mail.

These measures have reduced the number of metal theft incidents in Phoenix, but it has not completely erased the problem. So what can you do to protect yourself from metal theft?

Many construction companies have started posting night watchmen on active sites, in addition to fences and video cameras. In the real estate market, some realtors have stopped posting "For Sale" signs at the curb, which are dead giveaways to thieves. If you're selling a home privately, ask a neighbor to keep an eye on the place and report any suspicious activity.

People who are frequently away from home should consider installing a home security system, motion-sensing lights, or other home security features. A low-cost alternative is to disguise any exposed copper pipes by painting them white. This may fool thieves into thinking the pipes are made of inexpensive plastic.

Outside the home, ground-based appliances such as air conditioners, water heaters, and pool pumps are easy targets for metal thieves. Enclosing outdoor appliances in locked sheds or surrounding them with prickly desert plants are two good ways to deter thieves.

If you drive a lifted truck, sport-utility vehicle, or other high-ground clearance vehicle, you are at risk for catalytic converter theft. Park your vehicle in the garage if possible or consider installing an alarm system. You might also look into a skid plate for the underside of the vehicle, or do us all a favor and return your vehicle to a sensible ride height.

The best defense against theft is a good offense, so take some basic precautions and don't make yourself a target! Always be alert and do not hesitate to report any suspicious activity to the Phoenix Police Department.

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