Surge in theft of untraceable, valuable copper wire

By: Kate Tillotson
By: Kate Tillotson

August 25, 2006

It may look like scrap metal to you and me, but to thieves, copper wire looks likes dollar signs.

And it's difficult it is to trace stolen scraps. There are no bar codes or tracking numbers...just bare copper.

That's why these crimes often go unsolved.

At first glance, they look like large spools of thread...

And lately, copper thieves have been on a roll themselves.

"You know the copper market has just jumped up in the past six or seven months to where it's close to 300 percent increase," says copper sales representative Joe Miglionico.

Electrical Equipment Company is a recent victim, losing 80 feet of 500 MCM wire two weeks ago.

A Mastec truck was also targeted for 1200 feet.

A 30 pound, 18 foot roll of copper is worth roughly $100.

"We do have copper wire - copper piping - stolen periodically year long, but not on this large a scale," says Sgt. Ken Eschew of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.

Investigators have yet to solve either of the two cases.

They say it's difficult because the copper is often stripped then sold to scrap yards.

By burning the outer insulation, only the bare copper--untraceable metal--would remain.

Chase Taylor of Don's Recycling buys scraps every day but admits he doesn't always ask for ID.

"You know we try to at least ask you where you got it, where'd it come from, who'd you get it from, at least something to try to get an idea of where that came from," he says.

But even that isn't required.

Unlike some other buyers, Chase does keep receipts of purchases made...and oftentimes they become evidence.

There is one other big reason why copper thieves are difficult to find. They often strike at night, which means there are rarely any witnesses. Without a physical description or license plate number, it's an even bigger challenge for investigators.


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