Monday, September 15, 2008

Catching the Copper Crooks

Sara Shookman

Criminals looking for a quick cash fix by selling stolen scrap metal may be out of luck.

A new state law aims to prevent the crime by requiring scrap metal dealers to ask for identification and keep better records of the metals they purchase.

State Senators passed Bill 171 in March to slow metal thefts brought on by the high prices scrap dealers pay for recyclable metals such as copper and aluminum.

After the House and Senate disagreed over whether Ohio cities should be allowed to have their own tougher laws, Ohio legislators okayed a compromise plan in May.

The law took effect Thursday, September 11.

Scrap sellers are now required to show a photo ID and must prove that they own items such as utility wires, beer kegs, catalytic convertors and other high dollar scraps.

Bad for Business

The crime has become increasingly common across the nation, including in Athens.

Danny Cullison owns Cullison Metals in Athens County.

Cullison says that he's been asking for identification for months after a rash of thefts made him nervous about his business.

Cullison makes changes after being hit hard with scrap metal thefts.

Just down Salem Road, another scrap metal dealer is thinking about how the new law could affect his business, but Terry Boch says he hasn't heard anything from the state on how to follow through.

Scrap dealer Terry Boch says he's not sure what the new law will mean for business.

Desparate for Dough

Scrap items have become increasingly valuable and in these tough economic times the temptation to steal the precious metals and sell them to scrap yards is high.

Across the state, thieves have been ripping air conditioners and aluminum siding from homes and offices, copper wiring from telephone lines and cutting catalytic converters out of cars.

Boch says a single catalytic converter can earn a seller anywhere from $10 to $100, depending on the make and model of the car.

Scrap sellers can find the current market values for each type of recyclable on the Web.

Athens Police Lt. David Williams says local police have been fighting converter crimes all summer.

Athens Police Lt. David Williams says metal thefts are common in the city.

Williams says the new law will help them catch and prosecute metal muggers, but preventing these crimes is also important.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI), the national trade association for the scrap recycling industry, has partnered with the National Crime Prevention Council to raise awareness of scrap metal thefts.

ISRI has instituted online theft alerts to help "take a bite out of crime."

Williams says he hopes Athens County scrap dealers work closely with police as the new law is enforced.

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