back to article Las Vegas crooks go mad for copper

Telcos and data center operators, watch out for your copper. As the price of the metal skyrockets copper is suddenly looking very appealing to thieves. So much so that Embarq, which offers communications services in 18 states, is offering a $5,000 bounty for information leading the prosecution of people who steal its cable in …


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  1. Tom

    Darwin award winners

    As usual, we need to have more Darwin award winners for those who:

    "... have been electrocuted while attempting to steal live wires".

    All the wires need some nice high voltage impressed on them to add to the award(s). I'm sure that the proper BOFH will see to this!


  2. b shubin

    Darwin award

    erm...these guys (the ones zapped while trying to steal copper off the poles) are retarded.

    an inductance coil multimeter can be had for under $20, and it will easily detect live power lines. the human race is better off without this sort of optimist.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Charged With A Crime

    So ironic that the police would charge the with a crime, when the culprits have often already charged themselves....

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Networking section...?


    Sorry, just thinking out loud, realized it sounded like 60 Hz (or 50 Hz)....

    Appropriately placed in the Networks section?

    Networking = making contacts? OK then.

    Re: Darwin Award

    Yes, they may seem dim at first, but then consider their ultimate conduct - they've achieved their potential and transformed themselves to one of the brightest on the circuit....

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So now the dishonest person has a dilemma: To steal cable TV, or just steal the cable.

  6. Dan Grabski

    AC coil thieves...

    Not long ago, some thieves hit a local Gleaners (organization that collects and distributes food to food pantries in the area) and stole the coils off their fridge -- they lost some hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of perishable food that, wait for it, was intended to help the needy. The only good thing that came of it was that local radio stations had a fund drive to replenish their stocks, and they ended up with a good deal more money than the replacement cost of the lost food.

  7. J. Cook Silver badge

    re: b shubin

    "erm...these guys (the ones zapped while trying to steal copper off the poles) are retarded."

    Partially. My money is on drug addicts and/or homeless, who are trying to get money for their next fix/food/whatever.

    "an inductance coil multimeter can be had for under $20, and it will easily detect live power lines. the human race is better off without this sort of optimist."

    Yeah, but who's going to do that when $20 will get them another fix or a reasonably warm meal?

    We've had a smiilar problem in the Southwest US (Arizona, to be specific). People have destroyed irrigation water pumps costing upwards of $3,000 USD for $100USD worth of 'scrap' metal...

  8. kain preacher

    they wont get zapped

    these theive know what they are doing and know to only take stuff at the bottom of the pole(low voltage) also they know what the lines look like

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    there be some nice fatty cables

    in the local power substation no one watches it either,

    about three years ago I was working in a bar and noticed

    someone had stolen all the empty beer kegs I heard

    later they were made of aluminum and were worth

    about $30 apiece to scrappers the answer to the beer

    companies was just to make them from stainless steel

    which apparently wasn't such a hot commodity.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Consulting opportunity for South African expertise

    We've been doing this for years, with great success. High voltage not a problem, (un)natural selection has ensured that those currently in the business know what they are doing.

    The highest voltage cable theft I've heard of was 50kV railway catenary - just let a metal pole drop against it where the railway line passes through a cutting.

    Human nature being what it is (i.e., a createure of habit) when our telco changed to fibre to try and reduce cable theft the thieves would still rip it out in the hope that it was copper.


  11. Stuart Van Onselen

    Endemic in South Africa

    We (i.e. the entire country) have been having problems like this for decades. Many suspect that one of the principle reasons the local incumbent telco is switching to optical fibre, is to dissuade cable thieves! The black-market price for glass/plastic is a lot less than for copper!

    And they also don't care if people are left without telephones or power. Children have died when walking past the "scene of the crime", because the despicable thieves left high-tension lines lying on the ground.

    They also steal manhole cover lids. People have died in car crashes because of this, too.

  12. Greg

    I've noticed recently

    That the scrap merchants around here have started advertising on billboards and on the radio, which hasn't happened before. One near me is even getting bikini-clad babes into its posters, and running a money-based prize draw for people bringing scrap to them! I get the feeling that that's only going to encourage these arseholes to destroy infrastructure.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here too

    The current and ongoing cockup with Network Rail's 'upgrade' of the Portsmouth area signalling system:-

    was partly exacerbated by the local pikeys nicking the drums of cable that Railtrack's contractors had so thoughtfully left lying around trackside.

  14. Neal

    It happens in the UK as well

    As anyone who has the misfortune to travel on the rail network can tell you, train services are frequently suspended because thieves have stolen copper wires from the tracks. There is also a thriving trade in "recycled" road signs.

  15. Ronny Cook

    Darwin awards

    Some people are just so *literal* when they want to be inducted into the Darwin Awards.

    Perhaps they feel insulated from current affairs. Disempowered, they strive to spark a reaction with we who only laugh at theur poor conduct.


  16. Peter

    Stealing copper

    Last Xmas we came home to no telephone service. Turned out some **** had stolen the ancient (and rather horrible) collection of telephone cables running down the outside of our block. We have the older style of flats with outside stairways and individual front doors. They'd done both 'sides' of the block.

    They were replaced within a week or two with new (tidier) cabling but running in the same location and similarly exposed. (good old BT)


  17. Lawrence Geib


    Hang on.. if they started pulling that stunt over here.. would BT replace the nicked copper with fibre? ;)

  18. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Google GIG?

    Stealing cable = stealing Intelligence/disabling Communications Flow. Probably therefore a Federal Offence to allow the Offence in the first place.

    A Nice Plug for Wireless Networking though.... which Security always thinks to deny with Walls/ and fears of bad news escaping.

    Simple Rule ...... Don't Share any bad is all Good...... and there is no Effective Real or Virtual Attack that can Defend against it ....except for pulling the Plug on Servers [the Dummies way of Turning Off].......

    But it only identifies the Coffin nailer putting in the last screws?

  19. Oliverh

    Copper thieves? Ones that steal Fiber?

    "Copper thieves often drive vans, don hard hats and scale telephone poles, in an attempt to blend in with legitimate telephone workers. But instead of fixing broken lines, they pilfer the FIBER used to connect ATMs, emergency 911 call centers and phone service."

    Not very good at copper thieving then! Trade descriptions!!!!!!

  20. amlendu

    Third worldish

    This disease was endemic to the developing countries. Any pipe wire metal manhole cover fences that can be lifted and shifted are good enough for a fix and possibly some regular income.

  21. amanfromMars Silver badge


    "Hang on.. if they started pulling that stunt over here.. would BT replace the nicked copper with fibre? ;)" .... and Wireless BroadCast Control for a Total Information Awareness Program?

    A Supply and Demand Business Information/Intelligence Hub to Exchange Worth in Subliminal BetaTest Programming.....AIXChange.

    Which might be IBM AIXChange Territory .....

    The question the IBM blog doesn't answer though is what IBM do when Open Source Programmers knocks on their Kernel. I Imagine the Impertinent Stealthy Stars would be Content with AI QuITE Deserved Enrichment, for you would only be able to guess at what they can do a Font/Source/Eternal Spring/Sunny Flame, to imagine everything or anything else.

  22. JP

    Copper => Fibre

    Lawrence makes a good point.

    If everyone starts ripping out the copper wires for "scrap", BT have to replace it. If they replace it with copper, rip it up again. If with fibre, wahey!

    Also, if enough of this happens, then eventually BT will replace all the copper themselves, so THEY get the scrap value of the copper, not just a write-off...

    One way of getting fibre "to the door"!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not Suprising

    This doesn't surprise me one bit. In our relatively small city, copper plumbing has been stolen from empty / abandoned houses and buildings for years. Stealing it from poles is simpler as you don't have to break into the house and rip up the walls.

    In terms of people doing stupid things to thwart those helping them, a good friend of mine shared his experience trying to rebuild the infrastructure in Iraq. US soldiers that were part of the army corp of engineers would go out, lay bricks in the irrigation troughs during the day only to have the locals tear them up. They didn't have to look very far for the bricks either - the shiny new walls around peoples houses showed them were they went.

  24. laird cummings

    Old houses, too...

    When the Nav mothballed the old Bainbridge Naval Training Center, they leased part of the base to the Job Corps (think boarding school/vo-tech center for at-risk students) for a while. The inhabitants of the school would sneak out at night and go into the old Naval Housing complex, and rip out the pipes, wiring, and fixtures to sell or trade for beer & drugs. You could hear them in there, night after night, tearing at the old buildings.

  25. Dan

    @Here too

    With Paulsgrove in Portsmouth, (site of the Paedophile riots 7 years ago,) and Leigh Park in Havant, (which was the worlds largest council estate, and is now Europe's 2nd largest,) are you really surprised that stuff is being stolen in the Pompey area ??

    I grew up in Havant, (regrettably,) and know how its filled with thieving little chav's. Thankfully every single one of them is a potential Darwin Award winner :)

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Look, just leave these people alone, who are we to stand in the way of such natural selection !

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Better yet

    In the western US, persons searching for scrap will slip into military firing ranges and cut up what appear to be dud rounds. Now and then the cutting or concussion is just what the round will have needed to go off.

  28. Petrea Mitchell

    Been a problem for a few years

    There have been stories like this from all over the US since the current commodities boom really got going. Manhole covers and aluminum guardrails from highways are also popular targets.

  29. Jon Tocker

    Sounds very Post-Apocalyptic

    Very Cyberpunk/After the Holocaust/Nuclear Aftermath.

    Gangs roaming the landscape scavenging the metal out of anything they can find, like in all the "best" post-apocalypse movies.

    The irony is, if they bugger up enough of the infrastructure, they could probably create the "collapse" that would plunge civilisation into the anarchy usually portrayed in such movies.

    Great premise for a new film: the collapse comes when thieving mongrels do more damage to the telecommunications infrastructiure, power networks and rail services than the various companies can afford to repair in a timely fashion. Our information/electricity-dependant society goes down the gurgler and those same gangs are then roaming the devastated landscape scavenging any metal they can find. Real "Mad Max" potential.

    Saying "oh, well, they can just run cable to the door to discourage copper thieves" but in reality that costs in materials and labour - both of which have to be paid for which means the telco takes a loss and then charges its customers more for the upgraded lines.

    In reality, such theft means a serious impact on us, the consumers and a lot of extra work (read more expense as extra contractors are called in and more material is ordered) for the telcos etc who already have a scheduled upgrade plan to follow and now have to contend with unsheduled upgrades in order to keep the infrastructure working.

    In previous posts, deaths have been mentioned due to exposed live wires and missing manhole covers. The potential is there for deaths to occur because someone couldn't phone the ambulance in time or their home medical alarm could not be monitored etc.

    I'm not seriously suggesting that stealing copper is going to reach the point that it threatens the stability of our society, but it certainly can and does have a serious impact.

    Perhaps a few huge-looking cyborgs stomping around the place with huge effing guns and just shooting the thieves on sight would be a suitably "post-apocalyptic"-style deterrent to repeat offending...

  30. James Butler


    Who buys a bunch of manhole covers?

    Or a bunch of copper wire, even a spool of it?

    Or, even more odd, guardrails?

    WTF?!? Sounds like a job for some state/federal law enforcement. Find the buyers, find the rippers. How tough can it be to shut this "business" down (South Africa notwithstanding)?

  31. kain preacher


    5 months back a a crew took down 20 street lamps in one night. Then even tied the lines off proper .

  32. kain preacher


    5 months back a a crew took down 20 street lamps in one night. Then even tied the lines off proper .

  33. heystoopid

    Easy Fix

    Easy fix , all scrap metal dealers are required to be fully licensed . All purchases except crushed Aluminium cans above 8 ounces or 250 grams to be recorded with ID of seller his/her fingerprints and photo at time of sale , and all purchases greater then fifty dollars/euro's / peso's or whatever are to be handed in at the local cop shop at the end of the month.

    Finally all shipping companies shipping overseas recycled material , like wise for all shipping containers !

    Should a dealer fail to comply on any one procedure, the minimum court penalty for any offence even the smallest , is instant license termination followed by on the spot total business and personal asset confiscation ! Now that would certainly encourage enforcement by all but most foolhardy and will knock down at least 95% of the illegal trade in stolen metals 95% of the time !

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    21CNetworks by amanfrom mars

    Is this a coded message? Maybe there is something in there that is an encrypted message. Certainly the writing is incoherent.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    21CNetworks by amanfrom mars

    >Is this a coded message? Maybe there is something in there that is an >encrypted message. Certainly the writing is incoherent.

    Take no notice of him, he's from another planet.

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