Hot Metals: The New Crime

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Non-ferrous Metals

A couple of years ago, Stuart told me about a few metals related thefts in his area including his own 20 ton aluminum container worth about $60,000 (at the time). Stuart maintains an ownership stake in a specialist stocking company in the UK. Then, just two weeks later, a truckload of copper worth $100,000 was stolen just outside his warehouse. They never caught the perpetrator and the police could not be bothered. I remembered thinking how clever it must be to steal semi-finished or raw metal materials. Unlike stealing the same dollar amount from a bank, a metal theft is typically not a felony (unless of course the goods are transported across state lines). So in a sense, smart criminals may find such materials well, crime-worthy, if you will. Of course they would have to do a little work to realize the fruits of their labor. I would imagine it would be hard to come up with mill test certificates. But, it’s relatively easy to create a packing list, invoice etc. One would only need to pull and test a few samples to determine the alloy, chemical composition etc to pitch it to the local scrap dealer. But I had taken Stuart’s story as a random act. Random and stand-a-lone. But given rising metals prices, dear Stuart is not the only victim of metal theft. Consider these examples:

  • Newsweek recently reported that thieves were stealing catalytic converters (for the platinum content) from police impound lots.
  • In Washington state, thieves stole bronze headstones from a cemetary  .
  • In a more outrageous example, two vans with five people carried off approximately $60,000 worth of lead from a UK concert hall roof.
  • Continuing on the outrageous or not-what-you-would-think theme, I saw this headline…about thieves stealing brass water valves.
  • Unfortunately for this fellow, who was electrocuted stealing copper from an abandoned building,  he didn’t get to reap the rewards of his theft.

Our research indicates a few other interesting findings such as these crimes are not only occurring in the US. They are occurring all over the world. It is no longer just drug addicts that are committing the crimes for a quick buck. The primary buyers of these materials include scrap yards and scrap dealers (which may not appear as a surprise to anyone) Because there is such great demand for metals, scrap dealers, historically, have not questioned their sources of supply in terms of product origin.

The good news however, is that many local governments  are looking at new regulations and laws to curb metals-related thefts. Some of the provisions include things like scrap dealers registering their business and keeping detailed records, sellers would need to show a photo ID and in some cases provide a thumbprint, age requirements for sellers and limitations on those that can sell scrap air conditioning parts made of copper (e.g. compressors).

The Scottish Business Crime Center  has published a wonderful checklist of preventative measures any industrial products company can take. For those of you considering making your catalytic converters a little more secure, consider buying yourself a spot welder! Apparently, a little spot weld makes it trickier to rip them off!

–Lisa Reisman

Comments (8)

  1. Armin Auth says:

    you know that early 2006 some 5 kilometers of railway tracks have been stolen in Germany?

    see in the Frankfurter (german only, unfortunately:
    FAZ on Metal theft

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’m afraid the issue is all too common nowadays…LAR

  3. Amy says:

    There’s a fascinating article on the scrap metal industry in the Jan. 14 New Yorker (pages 46-59). It also mentions several metals thefts — everything from bronze theft from statutes to lead theft from church roofs. In Minnesota, a seven-foot bronze statue of Buddha was stolen from a temple shrine. And in Ukraine, even a 36 foot metal bridge was stolen directly from a river in 2004!

    Hot metals seem to be quite the — ahem — hot topic. Another recent article directly dealing with American thefts:

  4. admin says:

    Thanks Amy! I think it would be interesting to see what the scrap dealers have to say about this…LAR

  5. This is something I have been keeping up with for a while. Besides losing a shipment of metal myself, I have also seen stories about football stadium lighting being completely removed and metro lighting being stripped as well.


  6. admin says:

    Out of curiosity, is this a common problem in China as well? I have seen a couple of stories from Taiwan but it would be interesting to know. LAR

  7. I am not sure how common it is. Metal has value in China, and there is a very liquid market for scrap. On one hand that is good because recycling rates are near 100% of all metals.

    But, that also makes 2 tons of AL moving from one factory to another tempting to a driver when he is getting ready for Chinese New Year…


  8. Daniel says:

    In Tokyo, the statue of the loyal dog Hachi was stolen for its metal content.

    I currently live in Saigon and haven’t heard any stories about such theft…but I imagine that every single bit of scrap with a dollar value on it is separated out and brought to a dealer (much the same as China).

    Anyway, I think it’s interesting enough that Minnesota had a 7 foot statue of Buddha let alone that it was stolen.

    I’ve often thought that churches should be selling this stuff off anyway, as well as most of their much-appreciated real estate in cities around the world. Liquidate, consolidate, and invest in those who the religious at least profess to care about would be my strategy. But then I am not religious…

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