FBI: Copper thieves jeopardize US infrastructure

LazyLion

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The FBI today ratcheted up the clamor to do something more substantive about the monumental growth of copper theft in the US.

In a report issued today the FBI said 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 from these targets have increased since 2006; and they are currently disrupting the flow of electricity, telecommunications, transportation, water supply, heating, and security and emergency services, and present a risk to both public safety and national security.

The agency cites a number of scary examples:

* In April 2008, five tornado warning sirens in the Jackson, Mississippi, area did not warn residents of an approaching tornado because copper thieves had stripped the sirens of copper wiring, thus rendering them inoperable.
* On 20 March 2008, nearly 4,000 residents in Polk County, Florida, were left without power after copper wire was stripped from an active transformer at a Tampa Electric Company (TECO) power facility. Monetary losses to TECO were approximately $500,000.
* As of March 2007, farmers in Pinal County, Arizona, were experiencing a copper theft epidemic as scrappers stripped copper from their water irrigation wells and pumps resulting in the loss of crops and high replacement costs. Pinal County's infrastructure loss due to copper theft was $10 million.
* A of April 2008, highly organized theft rings specializing in copper theft from houses and warehouses were operating in Minneapolis, Minnesota. These rings or gangs hit several houses per day, yielding more than $20,000 in profits per month. The targets were most often foreclosed homes.
* Reports in March 2008 indicate an organized copper theft ring used the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's foreclosure lists to pinpoint targets in Cleveland, Ohio. Perpetrators had 200 pounds of stolen copper in their van, road maps, and tools. Three additional perpetrators were found to be using the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's list of mortgage and bank foreclosures to target residences in Cleveland, South Euclid, Cleveland Heights, and other cities in Ohio.

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.

On the plus side some states such as California, Missouri and Arizona now require scrap metal dealers to thumbprint sellers, pay them by check, keep stringent records and report transactions to police, according to an Ithicajournal.com story. There is a federal bill that would mandate such background data on scrap dealers and a move to further involve the FBI in chasing down scrappers.

Copper theft is an epidemic crime across the nation and the world. Of course, not all criminals are the brightest bulbs; some have been killed or maimed pulling out live wires. Layer 8 reported last year that there was a growing movement by telecommunications vendors to offer rewards leading to the arrest of copper thieves. Since 2004, the price of copper has at times hit $4 a pound as demand grew in China, India and Brazil, experts say.

And I thought this was just a South African problem! :eek:
 

porchrat

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http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/35946



And I thought this was just a South African problem! :eek:

Surely with all this copper theft going on it is just cheaper to start using fibre rather than continuously replacing the copper? How many times do you have to replace a copper line before the fibre starts making economic sense?

Can someone explain it to me? i.e. the costs involved, what network infrastructure would need to be changed etc.
 

LazyLion

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Surely with all this copper theft going on it is just cheaper to start using fibre rather than continuously replacing the copper? How many times do you have to replace a copper line before the fibre starts making economic sense?

Can someone explain it to me? i.e. the costs involved, what network infrastructure would need to be changed etc.

I dunno... I agree with you. But I think it might have something to do with a lot of telecommunications still needing the old switching type network. Especially where secondary industries have sprung up around that architecture. But ja, it would make sense to migrate everyone.
 

sox63

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On the plus side some states such as California, Missouri and Arizona now require scrap metal dealers to thumbprint sellers, pay them by check, keep stringent records and report transactions to police, according to an Ithicajournal.com story. There is a federal bill that would mandate such background data on scrap dealers and a move to further involve the FBI in chasing down scrappers.

Great idea. And if they refuse, there is some funny business going on there.
 

sox63

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Too bad we don't have the organisational skill to implement that here.

I think we do, its not brain surgery. Any transaction that is not backed up by biometrics and documentation is now suspect.
 

alisiaoh

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Yeah i also though cable thieves were just here in SA.....
But in the USA they actually catch and convict the b@st@rds - here the cops help them out....
 

sox63

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Yeah i also though cable thieves were just here in SA.....
But in the USA they actually catch and convict the b@st@rds - here the cops help them out....

Even if they get off lightly like it says in the article?

Stiff sentences should be handed out to the scrap dealers for fruad. That should keep them on their toes.
 

porchrat

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I think we do, its not brain surgery. Any transaction that is not backed up by biometrics and documentation is now suspect.

Can you really see the government applying these sort of measures effectively?
 

d0b33

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Copper theft is everywhere, why would you just suspect SA? There was a report in the US about this years ago.
 

porchrat

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You know what the funny part is. This stuff gets brought into scrap yards, shipped over to China, put into motherboards and various other items and is then sold back to us. The circle of life.
 

Xarog

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Surely with all this copper theft going on it is just cheaper to start using fibre rather than continuously replacing the copper? How many times do you have to replace a copper line before the fibre starts making economic sense?

Can someone explain it to me? i.e. the costs involved, what network infrastructure would need to be changed etc.
Fibre only helps so much. You can't really use fibre electricity cables. :p

Anyway, I will bet that copper theft will decline in the coming months. That's because I expect the price of copper to fall rather dramatically, making copper a not-so-attractive target. bursting bubble economies ftw.
 
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