Doorway Signs Pushing Back Copper Theft

By: Lindsay Veremis Email
By: Lindsay Veremis Email

Little by little, Lansing is getting rid of its vacant homes. Tuesday, 38 were sold at the tax forclosure auction, but there are still plenty left empty and those properties can be an invitation for copper thieves.

They will tear through walls, rip up ceilings and trash cabinets to get access to valuable copper wiring and piping.

The crimes aren't new, but one approach fighting them may surprise you; signs reading "no copper" posted on the doorways of homes up for sale.

"That's just an indication you know, that if you're after copper this isn't the place," Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing, with the Ingham County Land Bank said.

The land bank is trying the direct approach, hoping to disuade ongoing thievery.

"When the land bank renovates a house we don't put copper back in, we use a differnt material, it's a plastic," Schertzing explained.

Prices for copper and other scrap metal have fallen in recent months, but are still at historic levels. That has made vacant homes a magnet for criminals, who assume they can earn a pretty penny reselling metals.

"On the tax foreclosure side, on the blighted more run-down properties, we've certainly had a number of copper and aluminum siding and things that have gotten scavenged," Schertzing said.

But according to the land bank, Lansing is making progress.

Realtors say the rate of copper thefts has actually improved from last year. Could it be the signs? They say perhaps, or perhaps it is the tighter policies scrap dealers are employing.

"We have an electronic record for the person and on that record they are stating that they own that material," John Lancour, with Friedland Industries said. "With that comes finger printing, copy of their driver's license, copy of the license plate of the vehicle that brought in the material."

Still, he says scrap yards can only do so much, while keeping their business alive. The added measures are costly and profiling customers is difficult, stolen metal looks like any other.

"We're not out here trying to facilitate buying stolen scrap, we don't want that, we don't want those people coming to our yard," Lancour explained.

Lancour says scrap yards work often with police to catch copper thieves. He says they're happy to do it, but concerned about some recently introduced legislation. It could force scrap yards to hold metals for 30 days to ensure those metals are legitimate.

Right now, yards do short term holds, but say with 200-300 transactions a day they don't have the room for such long term storage.

According to realtors, the damage copper thieves do, often exceeds the value of the items they steal. For example, thousands of dollars in dryway damage to pull out $30 of copper wiring.


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