Although it may not be the most talked about topic on network news, copper theft is on the rise, and its implications for insurers, the public and our government are huge.

A new report from the nonprofit organization National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), which provides statistics on overall metal theft claims from Jan. 1, 2009 through Dec. 31, 2011, tells the tale. Today’s report identified 25,083 insurance claims compared with only 13,861 identified from the 2006-2008 report—an 81 percent increase.

The top five states generating the most metal theft claims are:

- Ohio (2,398)

- Texas (2,023)

- Georgia (1,481)

- California (1,348)

- Illinois (1,284)

Further, the NICB offers information on the top five Core Based Statistical Areas generating the most metal theft claims:

Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL (963)

New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ (921)

Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA (823)

Dallas-Ft. Worth-Arlington, TX (674)

Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI (587).

In particular, since August 2009 thefts steadily increased across the nation as a result of rising prices for base metals—especially copper.

The 25,083 claims identified for the theft of copper, bronze, brass or aluminum were submitted to ISO ClaimSearch during 2009, 2010 and 2011. Of the 25,083 total claims, 96.1 percent pertained to the theft of copper. Fifty-five percent of the claims were on commercial policies, while 45 percent were on personal policies.

“When the number of metal theft claims per month and monthly average copper prices are compared, the number of claims filed is found to have a statistically significant correlation with the price of copper,” notes the NICB. The distinction between other metals and copper is not just evident in terms of frequency and severity; it is also evident in terms of loss outcome.

In an unclassified intelligence assessment first released in 2008 and modified in 2010, the Federal Bureau of Investigation wrote, “Copper thieves are threatening U.S. critical infrastructure…and present a risk to both public safety and national security.”

A recent theft of copper wiring, which blacked out runway approach lights, at the Modesto, Calif., regional airport along with similar incidents elsewhere have rendered traffic controls at busy intersections inoperative.

In February 2011, reports the NICB, Gregory Allen Alexander of Roseville, Calif., was electrocuted as he attempted to cut through a high-voltage wire at a municipal sports complex in Sacramento.

Although copper theft is increasing in frequency and severity, depending on the circumstances of the theft, those incidents may not generate an insurance claim, or even a police report, notes the NICB. “Consequently, comprehensive empirical data is elusive,” notes the report.

As a result of the surge in copper theft crimes, a cottage industry of technology solution providers offering prevention services has emerged.

Security technology provider Videofied, which provides real-time video surveillance technologies, reports that pipes, wires, cables and gutters are being torn from walls and buildings. Roof-top air units are being stripped of their copper coils. Thieves target copper in vacant buildings or difficult to secure areas, often without power or communication lines, including:

Construction Sites - theft of copper plumbing, wiring, generators and materials.

Vacant Buildings - theft of copper plumbing, wiring and air conditioners.

Communications Towers - theft of copper busbars, wiring and cables.

Electrical Sub-stations - theft of copper grounding bars and cables.

Foreclosed Properties - theft of copper plumbing, wires, sprinkler systems and cooling systems.

“In addition, the collateral damage done ripping pipes and wires out of walls far exceeds the actual cost of the copper stolen,” says the vendor.

The Coalition Against Copper Theft, an advocacy group made up of trade associations concerned with the widespread outbreak of copper theft, is pushing for legislation that will help curb the problem, which it calls a “pervasive, opportunistic crime targeting transportation, communication and electricity networks.”

The Coalition warns of the danger of theft of copper from telephone lines, electrical substations and highway infrastructures. The group also says there is a human cost tied to “a clear and definitive link between stealing copper and illegal drug use, primarily methamphetamines.”

In Oklahoma, where in Tulsa alone thieves made off with 50 tons of copper, authorities are employing the use of DataDots technology to help track stolen copper. DataDots, microscopic discs (microdots), that contain unique information, can be brushed or sprayed onto copper, and remain stay there for the life of the asset. An examination of DataDots under a black light reveals unique serial numbers. The unique etched code on the DataDot is stored on a verification database, DataBaseDNA.

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