Scrap Metal Thefts Surge

Scrap Metal Thefts Surge
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Scrap Metal Thefts Surge
Soaring prices for salvaged metals have sparked a wave of unusual property crimes. With the rise of commodity prices, scrap metal thefts began to soar 12 to 18 months ago and have become rampant today.

We scoured the news headlines to see what items thieves are targeting and what else is taking a hit. You may end up asking yourself, "What's next? Door knobs and baseball bats?"

First Up: Manholes
Manhole covers are becoming a "hot" item in many towns and cities. Take Philadelphia, for example. According to 'The New York Times,' "thieves have so thoroughly stripped some neighborhoods on the city's north and southwest sides that some blocks look like slalom courses, dotted with orange cones to warn drivers and pedestrians of gaping holes, some nearly 30 feet deep." It goes on to report, "More than 2,500 covers and grates have disappeared in the past year, up from an annual average of about 100."

Next: Forget Cars, Thieves Want ...
Forget the car, the real payoff for thieves is being found underneath in the catalytic converter -- which contains between three and seven grams of the precious metal platinum. Platinum was trading at $1,471.50 an ounce, as of Aug. 29, so you can see the lure for those of the sticky-fingered ilk. The thefts were only a sporadic problem nationally until about a year ago but have grown to a near-epidemic.

Next: (Empty) Beer Kegs
The 'USA Today' reports: Across the country, crooks are snatching stainless steel kegs in alleyways behind bars and breweries or not returning them after keggers to sell for scrap metal. The trend comes as the stainless scrap price has more than doubled in the last five years, making an empty 18-pound keg worth more than $13, according to price data for steel scrap sold in Chicago. Prices in other parts of the country are even higher, with kegs selling for $30 and up.

Next: Copper
According to the 'Washington Post,' Copper thefts "have become increasingly common now that the metal is selling at record high prices, driven by worldwide booms in electronics and construction. Thieves from the professional to the bumbling are scaling cellphone towers, ripping off baseball field lights, looting construction sites, tearing out potentially lethal live wires, removing huge spools from utility company grounds, hauling off massive sculptures in the middle of the night and even stealing gravestone plaques."
Next: Restaurant Grease
'The New York Times' reports, "processed fryer oil, which is called yellow grease, is actually not trash. The grease is traded on the booming commodities market. Its value has increased in recent months to historic highs, driven by the even higher prices of gas and ethanol, making it an ever more popular form of biodiesel to fuel cars and trucks. In 2000, yellow grease was trading for 7.6 cents per pound. On Thursday, its price was about 33 cents a pound, or almost $2.50 a gallon."

Next: Neighborhoods at Risk
Why are troubled neighborhoods at increased risk of being pillaged by scrap metal thieves? 'The New York Times' explained it this way: "Houses ... are the greatest targets of commodity scavengers in the United States. Neighborhoods depopulated by the rising tide of foreclosures make easy targets. So many houses have been stripped of siding and copper pipes that neighborhoods [in Cleveland] must be abandoned and turned into green spaces."

Next: Demolition Derbies
Another victim is demolition derbies. Tory Schutte of the Demolition Derby Drivers Association says participation is down nationwide, "easily cut in half." reports, "Soaring scrap metal prices are making crashable cars more expensive and harder to find. Owners who used to sell their worn-out wheels for $50 to $100 are turning to scrap dealers instead, getting nearly triple the price. That creates a double whammy for drivers ... who must burn more high-priced gasoline in an ever-expanding search zone."
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Next Gallery: 10 Game Changers