AT&T goes after copper wire thieves

Copper thefts on rise as value increases

Copper thieves targeting Atlanta are now being targeted themselves by AT&T which is now offering $3,000 for information leading to their arrest.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that in one recent three day stretch, nearly 7,000 customers and two schools lost land line phone service. A cell phone tower also was temporarily knocked out. AT&T saw 11 thefts in a week in one location, including an incredible eight in one morning. Damage to telephone lines exceeded $500 in each case. Georgia law makes that a felony, punishable by jail time and fines, the AJC report states.

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The FBI has said in the past that the rising theft of the metal is threatening the critical infrastructure by targeting electrical substations, cellular towers, telephone land lines, railroads, water wells, construction sites, and vacant homes for lucrative profits.  Copper thefts have increased dramatically since 2006; and they continue to disrupt the flow of electricity, telecommunications, transportation, water supply, heating, and security and emergency services, and present a risk to public safety and national security, the FBI stated.

The FBI report shows that industry and local officials are taking countermeasures to help address the scrapper problem, but apparently much more needs to be done. For example, while a variety of physical and technological security measures have been taken there are limited resources available to enforce these laws, and a very small percentage of perpetrators are arrested and convicted. Additionally, as copper thefts are typically addressed as misdemeanors, those individuals convicted pay relatively low fines and serve short prison terms.

Atlanta isn't the only place seeing copper theft problems. In this report, Appalachian Power said more than 100 miles of copper wire has been stolen from the company's southern West Virginia facilities alone. Replacing stolen wire can cost up to $1 million a year, the utility stated. Other thefts have been reported all across the country in recent days. One location in New Jersey has been hit three times in the last two months seeing some $13,000 worth of copper stolen. A utility in the same state this week reported a $75,000 theft of the metal.

Experts say copper is up to around $3 per pound making it a lucrative target for thieves who resell it to scrap yards mostly.

The FBI reported in 2008 that China, India, and other developing nations are driving the demand for raw materials such as copper and creating a robust international trade. Copper thieves are receiving cash from recyclers who often fill orders for commercial scrap dealers. Recycled copper flows from these dealers to smelters, mills, foundries, ingot makers, powder plants, and other industries to be re-used in the United States or for supplying the international raw materials demand. As the global supply of copper continues to tighten, the market for illicit copper will likely increase, the FBI stated.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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