The Marketplace Report: Stealing Copper Wiring The price of precious metals has climbed so high that thieves in the United States are climbing telephone poles and stealing copper wire for resale on the scrap market. Madeleine Brand talks to John Dimsdale of Marketplace about the rise in "scrap metal bandits."
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The Marketplace Report: Stealing Copper Wiring

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The Marketplace Report: Stealing Copper Wiring

The Marketplace Report: Stealing Copper Wiring

The Marketplace Report: Stealing Copper Wiring

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The price of precious metals has climbed so high that thieves in the United States are climbing telephone poles and stealing copper wire for resale on the scrap market. Madeleine Brand talks to John Dimsdale of Marketplace about the rise in "scrap metal bandits."

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with Day to Day. Oil is not the only commodity that's pricey these days. Copper and aluminum are expensive now too because of hurricane reconstruction and building booms in China and India. But here's the downside, materials like aluminum siding and electrical wiring are attracting a lot of attention from thieves.

John Dimsdale joins us from Marketplace's Washington bureau.

And John, what's your evidence of these materials have become so expensive?

Mr. JOHN DIMSDALE (Marketplace): Well, police in Montgomery, Alabama arrested a guy who stole all the copper downspouts from a church. Streetlights in Tucson, Arizona went out when somebody took eight miles of copper power cable. A bunch of aluminum light poles went missing in Maryland. Air conditioners, solar panel tubing, radiators are missing, all this kind of theft has taken place before of course, but there appears to be a rash recently caused largely by record-high prices for copper and aluminum and also lead and zinc.

BRAND: So what do people do with this material once they've stolen it?

Mr. DIMSDALE: Well, they're reusable, so there's always been a thriving market for old materials. Scrap yards are used to trucks pulling up with pipes or wiring from construction sites, or when a building or house is being torn down. Scrap copper goes for as much as $1.80 a pound these days which is double what it was a year ago. Bob Garino with the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries says, in such an active market for used metals it's tough to screen for stolen material.

Mr. BOB GARINO (Director of Commodities, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries): At the lowest level, say the peddler level where the guy is, you know, drives around with a pickup truck looking for material, all we have to do is listen to the radio or see a newspaper and you'll pick up on this. There's always demolition going on somewhere, somehow. So people are attuned to what's going on in the marketplace and they're opportunistic and entrepreneurial.

BRAND: So John, is there a solution, a way to crack down on this?

Mr. DIMSDALE: Well, the experts say that the volatile price for used metals should solve the problem. High prices for scrap are always, or usually anyway, temporary, and as they fall, so does theft. But some are predicting that these high prices and big demand for used metals will be around for a while, and in that case, scrap metal dealers are gonna have to start registering their suppliers and tagging and tracking materials like siding and electrical wire. It's all gonna make overall construction much more expensive.

Coming up later today on Marketplace, it's our last day of hosting the show from China and we asked, should the U.S. be afraid of China's growing clout?

BRAND: John Dimsdale of the show, Marketplace. They join us regularly at this time for discussions about money and business, and it's produced by American Public Media.

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