Scrap metal thieves could target your air conditioner

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NEW YORK - JUNE 13: Papo, a metal scavenger, picks up copper taken from an old air conditioner June 13, 2006 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Theft of copper is at the highest it has have been in a decade, and includes such items as electrical wires, vases from grave markers and plumbing pipes. Copper is currently down 25 percent from a record $8,800 on May 11, but prices have doubled in the past year. It was recently found that a massive fire in Greenpoint, Brooklyn last month was started by scavengers burning the protective coating off copper wire. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It’s one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States—scrap metal theft—including copper, aluminum, nickel, stainless steel and scrap iron. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the cost of copper theft alone is about $1 billion a year.

In Davenport, Iowa, thieves recently stripped a cell tower of its copper ground wire and plates.

“Any location where metals are available and a theft may not be easily detected could be a target,” said officer Brent Biggs of the Davenport Police Department.

Briggs said the copper in old air conditioners is a hot item for scrap theft as are vacant homes where plumbing can be stripped. Even historical markers and cemetery plaques aren’t off limits.

In Illinois, after years of trying to figure out how to combat the problem, the state formally established a Recyclable Metals Task Force. Launched in January 2016, the task force plans to release its first formal report this fall.

One of the challenges is figuring out how to more accurately track metals theft.

“Often theft goes unreported for a number of reasons and in some cases may go unnoticed for a long period of time,” said Mark Carpenter of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI).  The ISRI started an online reporting site to help police and scrap  recyclers. The site lists recent thefts and offers an alert system to help keep an eye out for stolen material.