I have my mind on metals this week. Investing in them, that is. Is buying gold worth it? Does silver really make you money? What about steel, is it a good bet considering the infrastructure building in China and rebuilding in the United States?
Mere minutes into my metals research, I discovered the dark underbelly of metals investing. In recent years, scrap metal prices have doubled. As a result, enterprising citizens have started taking it upon themselves to remove pieces of public- or private property—copper wire, bronze statues, brass doorknobs—to sell for a profit at scrap yards. Like pawn shops, most scrap yards turn a blind eye to the origin of the material presented, giving enterprising thieves a platinum opportunity to get paid for the objects they steal.
Five metals—copper, aluminum, brass, bronze, and platinum–are particularly valuable (note: each recycler has different retail prices; these are wholesale prices):
Prices: Though it used to fetch nearly $4/pound, copper isn’t doing badly at around $3.05/pound. Heck, 35 pounds of telephone wire would garner more than $100 in profit. Time to practice using the ol’ stripper.
Where people find it: Light poles, junction boxes, telephone wires, transformers, extension cords, industrial spools (at construction sites or storage yards), statues, grounding wire, sprinklers.
Prices: In the period of a year, aluminum went up in value from $1.10 to nearly $1.40. The fact that it’s dropped again still may not deter ambitious thieves (who admittedly may also be a trifle behind the times when it comes to stock market quotes).
Where people find it: Gutters, guardrails, siding on houses, bleachers, recycling yards,
Prices: A pound of the stuff pulls in about $2.40. Luckily, brass objects are heavy, making payoffs high.
Where people find it: Vases, doorknobs, bolts, irrigation valves, fittings.
Prices: Like brass, bronze is in the $1.50/lb range. Jacking a full sculpture…heck, even stealing the head off a bronze likeness would fetch you its dollar price in weight. Get yourself a bodybuilder accomplice, and you’re primed to hit up this market.
Where people find it: Sculptures, bells.
Price and place: Platinum’s extreme value—it’s worth more than $1,500/oz—has thieves looking in unlikely places for scraps. Catalytic converters, for example, have platinum linings. Several states have reported catalytic converter thefts, especially from high-clearance SUVs, for which they can get up to $50 per converter. If you fit into the high-clearance vehicle category, get your converter welded to the frame of your car* to thwart these irksome bandits.
Other metals people steal: Tin, steel, zinc, nickel (and nickels), and, if they’re really good, bars of gold.
*ask your mechanic for an opinion first.