Metal Theft and Its Impact

Demand and Global Impact

Scrap metal is in high demand throughout the industrial nations of Asia, particularly China and India, driving demand for essential scrap metals such as copper and steel, making them more of a high-value money-making target.

Domestic demand for consumer, industrial and defense purposes far outstrips these countries' metal deposits.

Scrap metal thefts present some unusual risks. As early as 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that copper thefts were a threat to the nation's critical infrastructure. The electrical power grid, cell and landline telephone service and public and private water supplies all require large amounts of copper wire and tubing. By stealing from these infrastructures, scrap metal thieves are threatening the important services these infrastructures provide such as electricity, transportation, and telecommunication.

A 2013 report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau states the war against metal theft is far from over, citing Ohio as the No. 1 state for metal theft crimes, boasting a whopping of 3,228 insurance claims. Behind Ohio follows Texas with 2827, California with 2489, Pennsylvania with 2345 and Georgia with 2067 claims.

Scrap Metal Prices

Scrap metal prices vary because of geographical market differences. As of February 2014, an aluminum radiator containing iron and copper was worth an average $1.46 per pound in the U.S. A mostly brass radiator brought slightly more than $2.00 per pound.

Pure copper topped $3.00 per pound, while items containing nickel were above $4.70 per pound. Items containing the rare-earth metal molybdenum were worth a whopping $11.00 per pound or more.

What is Commonly Stolen

Copper, aluminum, scrap iron, nickel and stainless steel are the most commonly stolen metals.

Radium, aluminum and palladium, used in automobiles' catalytic converters, are favorite targets. As of late, car batteries are being targeted as well.

Nearly any metal is valuable as scrap according to a study conducted by the University of London in 2012.

Lead from roofs, bronze statues and cemetery plaques, cast-iron manhole covers and stainless steel beer kegs represent only a few sources tapped by scrap thieves. Air conditioning units are particularly attractive because of the copper contained in their condensers and coils.

Computers are popular because of the copper in their wiring and hard drives. Copper-containing items such as downspouts, electrical wiring, flashing, gutters and water lines are routinely stripped and removed from construction sites, industrial sites and commercials buildings that are either occupied or vacant.

The sad part is that the scrap metal thieves usually only make a few hundred dollars while causing thousands in repairing and replacing cost, which ultimately fall onto the consumers and taxpayers through higher costs for goods and services.

Who Steals It and Where

Scrap metal thieves tend to fall into two general groups. The actual thieves can be loosely or well-organized groups of people. One of the most common perpetuator of metal theft are drug addicts, particularly, methamphetamine substance abusers, who are looking to get a quick buck.

Even though scrap metal theft in general has declined by 26% between the years of 2011 and 2013, it is still prevalent, costing US businesses up to 1 billion in costs.

State and local legislatures are beefing up laws and requirements for scrap metal transactions between sellers and buyers in hopes of making it more difficult to profit from illegal transactions.

Scrap metal theft happens everywhere but are concentrated in and near urban areas with a high number of scrap yards. As long as there is money and demand, metal theft will continue be a problem, but hopefully with new laws and enforcement of these laws, metal theft crimes will continue to decline.

About the author:

Jason Kane is a professional blogger for Federal Steel Supply, Inc., the preferred steel and steel pipe supplier of the global community since 1979.