12 Common Signs of Scrap Metal Thieves – Eyewitness Surveillance

12 Common Signs of Scrap Metal Thieves

Eyewitness Surveillance Blog: 12 Common Signs of Scrap Metal Thieves

The opportunity for a quick buck entices ne’er-do-wells to sell stolen scrap metal to their local industrial recycling yard. Unfortunately, this action has dual consequences. First, businesses and organizations must replace the stolen goods, since the metal may never be recovered (or in a usable state if recovered). Meanwhile, scrap yards lose the money they paid for illicit material and the material itself.

Throughout the country, law makers and police officers are cracking down on scrap metal theft through databases and detective work, but that’s not enough. With so much on the line for scrap metal business owners, it’s vital your yard employees and managers recognize suspicious metal offerings before they purchase stolen goods. Here, then, are 12 commonly stolen metal items and potentially suspicious situations for your people to watch.

Twelve Common Metal Theft Warning Signs

1. Lots of Cable and Electric Lines

If somebody brings in a load of old cable line, it might be stolen. This is especially true if a “civilian” brings in the load, considering that cable companies dispose of old lines when upgrading customers to fiber optic, rather than leaving them at the residence.

It’s not uncommon for thieves to snip lines at abandoned buildings, since old cable lines often consist of copper. Plus, thieves may steal the lines from construction sites or wherever crews are running lines, possibly damaging transformers in the process. Remember to keep an eye on your local scrap metal theft database for reported cable theft, and compare the weight of the stolen goods against the quantity brought in for sale.

2. Air Conditioner Components Without Paperwork

Of course, legitimate scrappers do acquire air conditioners and break them down for copper and aluminum. In certain areas, they must provide receipts of purchase of the defunct unit. Or, they might need paperwork certifying they’re an authorized agent for a company authorized to sell these components for scrap.

However, watch out for individuals who bring in especially large amounts of air conditioner components and don’t offer that documentation or certification. Air conditioners are especially vulnerable to unscrupulous metal thieves, located outside as they are.

3. All Cemetery Items

Cemeteries are a huge target for scrap metal thieves due to the metal vases, headstones and brass markers. Frankly, we’re hard pressed to think of an occasion where an individual will legitimately sell cemetery goods. Even bringing one or two items from a cemetery should cause concern.

4. Large Quantities of Copper Pipes

On the one hand, homeowners and businesses do exchange their pipes when they’re no longer functional. However, a large amount of copper pipe sends up a red flag.

These pipes often come from abandoned homes, and may not be immediately reported on the stolen metal databases. It’s wise to separate large copper pipe purchases from the rest of the non-ferrous metal for a short time—just in case the police come looking for it.

5. Local Restaurant Kegs

Restaurants and bars are common targets for those looking to make some money off aluminum or stainless steel kegs, especially when ferrous metal prices rise. Breweries and restaurants reuse kegs, which make it a double tragedy of less beer available and illegal metal theft. In fact, keg thefts cost businesses more than $33 million in 2015—and many of those kegs were sold at a fraction of their value to scrap metal yards.

Thieves will steal unsecured kegs from local bars, restaurants, and taverns. (After all, those things are heavy and awkward to transport.) So if you suspect that offered kegs are stolen, make an excuse and call your fellow businesses. They’ll thank you for the heads up.

6. A Suspected Drug or Alcohol Problem  

While it sounds a bit stereotypical, watch for people who appear to have a drug or alcohol problem. They’re less likely to legally obtain metal because they’re more concerned about getting money for another hit, instead of the long-term consequences of metal theft.

If you’re not sure what a drug addict looks like, head to Narcanon for signs of heroin addiction. And, if you suspect a drug addict has stolen goods, run a quick background check on their provided name in case they have a history of selling stolen metal.

7. Local Foreclosures and Sheriff Sales Are Announced

When someone loses their property, it becomes a prime location for scrap metal crooks to rob whatever is on the property. Scrap metal thieves steal everything from the piping to the wiring.

Keep an eye on the local news for foreclosed properties. You may see some of its metal make its way onto your scales.

8. “I could’ve sworn we bought that yesterday…”

Thieves will take portable, unidentifiable non-ferrous scraps from your own scrap yard, only to come back the very next day to sell back your own metal.

Ideally, you want surveillance cameras covering your entire scrap yard—not just the weigh station—so you’re able to record the appearance of everyone who enters and exits your yard, day or night. If that’s not possible, try to limit access points to the yard during the daytime. Require employees to manually take photographs of everyone who goes in or out as part of a database tagged with their name and the date.

9. Open, Long-Term Construction Sites

Tired at the end of a long day, construction crew members often leave their equipment and supplies in easily accessible places to make the next day that much smoother. Unfortunately, it’s also easily accessible to thieves.

Why is that your problem? Why, you might easily buy the stolen goods from those open construction sites. Therefore, generating relationships with the local contractors and builders in the area before you buy stolen scrap will help mitigate losses for everyone.

10. Exposed ATMs and Cash Reserves 

Even if your yard no longer deals in straight cash transactions and offers ATM services onsite, it’s still a target ripe for the taking by unscrupulous thieves. The more vulnerable your ATM and other cash reserves appear to be—attached to a trailer, say, or without open security protecting it—the more likely it is someone will try to take it.

We heard of one scrap metal yard that kept their ATM attached to the main services trailer on-site. An individual drove their truck through the (open) scrap yard gates, roped a chain around the ATM machine, and tried to drag it off the trailer. The truck managed to rip the whole trailer in half, dragging the ATM half down the road. Eventually the ATM split open, and the driver stopped to rake in the cash.

Make sure your easy cash targets look tougher to break than that ATM.

11. New Employees With No Background Checks

As you know, employee turnover is high for metal scrap. Many jobs don’t require apprenticeship or much practice at all, which make it easier for those vulnerable to corruption to creep in.

If you’ve got a yard that’s not thoroughly checking the backgrounds (and drug status) of its employees to avoid corruption and employee theft, then you’ve got a serious security breach. You could also place cameras in strategic locations to monitor employee activities—and let them know they’re being watched.

12. Increased Area Car Thefts

Finally, always check the VIN of vehicles you scrap. Criminals have been known to steal cars and sell them to the yard wholesale, unwilling to try a more convoluted (and profitable) scheme on the black market.

Remember that they’ll also take batteries and catalytic converters from cars on the street and in dealership lots, as many of our automotive dealership clients will attest. They’d appreciate your keeping an eye on these things. Maybe you could set up an informal weekly email to your contacts in the car business, asking if anyone’s experienced parts theft lately—then keep an eye out for those pieces.

Hopefully we’ve given you a good idea on how to protect against these 12 signs of potential scrap metal theft. If you’d like a hand installing a professional security solutions that’ll save you thousands every year in deterred theft and increased daytime operational efficiency, we’d be happy to design a custom security solution that’ll protect your scrap yard, day and night.

Or, if you’d like to try it on your own, we’ve got this completely free guide to the top six most popular security systems currently available for commercial customers. It’ll help you figure out what sort of system you need (and what you don’t need) to protect your property.

Security Systems 101 Free Guide Download


  1. Yacon Root on September 8, 2017 at 10:39 am

    Fantastic Blog. Very much enjoyed reading.

  2. idm crack onhax on September 14, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    Good article, lemme know when you’re in southern california next

    • Ashley Stryker on September 18, 2017 at 2:54 pm

      We’ll let you know when we’re in your area! (Zip code?) I’ll make a note now.

  3. Caver on September 19, 2017 at 11:43 am

    Hiya, I’m really glad I have found this info. Today bloggers publish only about gossips and internet and this is actually annoying. A good site with interesting content, this is what I need. Thank you for keeping this web-site, I will be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Cant find it.

    • Ashley Stryker on September 20, 2017 at 8:16 pm

      Yep, we do! Should be on the side bar, but just in case it’s not showing up for some reason, click this link here and it should take you to the blog signup.

  4. […] is to identify scrap metal thieves before they can sell bad scrap to your yard in the first place, which we’ve covered before. But, how can you encourage the honest scrap metal sellers without turning your facility into Fort […]

Leave a Comment