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Copper theft prevention

With copper prices still high, thieves are targeting copper in every form and selling it to scrap yards for cash. The most popular items being targeted for their copper are outdoor air conditioning units. Buildings left unoccupied at night, as well as those located in rural areas, are considered easy targets. Also, these types of facilities tend to have large or multiple air conditioning units with a greater amount of copper than a single residential unit.

Consider this typical scenario Church Mutual hears: an individual complains the building is too hot and the air conditioner must not be working properly. A custodian inspects the air conditioning units and finds that they have been disassembled and stripped of their copper. If the building is not used daily or temperatures are cooler, days can pass before the damage is found. This allows thieves valuable time to dispose of the copper in a scrapyard.

Other items are vulnerable, too

Stealing copper for scrap metal is nothing new. Copper is 100% recyclable and selling scrap pieces has become lucrative. Some of the sought-after items for copper scrap metal include wires, plumbing pipes, air conditioning coils and rain gutters. According to scrap metal dealers, it is virtually impossible to tell whether copper has been stolen. Old and new copper wire or piping look the same, and most copper does not display an identifying label or have a serial number or another way to track to whom it really belongs.

The high prices have made thieves bolder and more inventive than ever before. Gone are the days of the quick yank-and-run for copper guttering in the middle of the night. One scheme Church Mutual has learned of involves thieves posing as construction or repair workers. They presume that if they pose as professional-looking workers, organization staff and neighboring individuals won't question their activity around air conditioning units or gutters. It’s important to note a professional company will always have proper photo identification – don't hesitate to request to see it.

Thieves return to the scene of the crime

Another alarming trend Church Mutual has found is repeat theft. After repairs have been completed or equipment is replaced, the location is once again targeted. One incredible example is a Church Mutual customer that had copper stripped from their air conditioning units four times in a six-month period. If no additional risk management measures are implemented, you may see the same theft scenario repeat itself.

The work and expense needed to replace or repair the damaged items might not be the only problem. The damage done during this type of crime also can create threats to your building's electrical safety if wires are damaged or stolen. Free-flowing water from damaged or stolen plumbing can instantly turn into a major restoration project. Missing gutters and downspouts also can lead to significant water damage.

Be prepared

The following safeguards can help proactively reduce your organization’s risk of copper theft:

  • Protect air conditioning units with cage guards, using nonreversible or tamper-resistant screws and bolts in the installation. Consider adding pressure-sensor alarms.
  • Consider the location for new air conditioning units. Roofs of buildings might be an option.
  • Don't leave ladders outside that can be used by thieves to gain access to rooftop units.
  • Consider adding video cameras. They should be positioned so they are visible to would-be thieves, but so they cannot be easily disabled.
  • Restrict entry onto the grounds during low traffic periods to one entrance.
  • Check that the exterior perimeter lighting includes all outside equipment.
  • Cut back trees and shrubbery to increase natural surveillance and eliminate hiding places.
  • Request law enforcement officers patrol your facilities on a regular basis.
  • Secure materials nightly during construction projects. Do not leave wire spools or piled piping out in the open.
  • Mark your metals with a telephone number or other identifiable mark in ink not easily removed.

Time is of the essence

If you are a victim of copper theft, do not try to stop thieves yourself. Immediately notify local law enforcement and gather information such as a description of perpetrators, vehicle description with license plate number and an explanation of what was taken. Provide immediate notice to recycling centers and scrapyards of what has been stolen – including a detailed description of the materials – as they are instructed to take the names of individuals who bring in materials. Report your claim as soon as possible so we can capture details and address your claim quickly and fairly.