Metal Theft

December 2009

by Julia Verdi

For more up-to-date material please see our 2013 update.

High demand for metals such as copper and aluminum tend to encourage metal theft in the United States. Metal thieves remove wiring and piping in empty homes, then sell the materials to scrap metal dealers and recyclers. During the past few years, theft of copper wiring from utility property also has become a serious problem for utilities and ratepayers. In 2009, 25 states introduced scrap metal legislation. This legislation focuses on increased availability to law enforcement agencies of the records and identities of metal scrap dealers and sellers, and creates penalties for metal theft and metal recyclers who purchase stolen property.

Metal Dealers/Sellers/Purchasers


In 2009, five states introduced legislation that required dealers and processors of scrap metal to keep records regarding purchase, receipt or accounts of metal property. Idaho enacted legislation that requires scrap dealers to have a record of all commercial accounts. Indiana enacted a bill that requires a valuable metals dealer to photograph the seller and to record the source of the valuable metal. The law also removes a provision exempting valuable metal transactions under $100 from reporting requirements. Legislation is pending in New Jersey that requires metal dealers to maintain records regarding purchases. Nevada enacted legislation that not only requires metal processors to maintain records of all purchases, but also requires metal purchasers to be licensed. Oregon enacted legislation that requires scrap metal businesses to create and maintain certain records of purchase or receipt of metal property or other transactions related to metal property. South Carolina law requires scrap metal purchasers to keep records. This law also prohibits unlawful purchase of nonferrous metals and makes it unlawful for a person to posses or transport specified quantities of nonferrous metals under certain circumstances.


Three states proposed legislation that requires identification or a registry to track dealers, sellers and those convicted of metal theft crime. Kansas and New Jersey introduced bills that would require a record of the identity of the scrap metal dealer. Kansas law requires a record of a scrap metal seller's sex, date of birth and driver's license or passport identification number. New Jersey enacted a bill that requires scrap metal dealers to verify the identity of individuals delivering or selling scrap metal and to maintain records of all scrap metal receipts or purchases for a specified time. Pending New Jersey legislation requires operators of scrap metal businesses to verify the identity of those delivering or selling scrap metal and to maintain records of all scrap metal purchases for a specified time.

Legislation pending in Georgia would require a registry for those convicted of metal crimes and would require certain metal thieves to register before they are released from prison. The bill also would require sheriffs to maintain and update a list of metal thieves residing in the county.

Criminal Acts/Penalties

Criminal Acts

Arizona and Connecticut enacted legislation that criminalizes the theft or damage of metal property. Arizona's law makes damaging utility property -- including irrigation and water conservation property -- a criminal act. It also prohibits purchase of a catalytic converter except by a motor vehicle repair business or recycler and prohibits purchase of certain metals altogether. Connecticut law makes theft of wire, cable or other equipment used to provide telecommunication services that causes an interruption in emergency telecommunication services  larceny in the third degree.


Seven states introduced legislation that augments or adjusts metal theft. A bill pending in Georgia states that, if the proven theft is regulated metal property and the aggregate amount of such property exceeds $500, the penalty will be imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both. Illinois law makes subject to seizure any vessel, vehicle or aircraft used in the attempt to steal or the theft of a precious metal or scrap metal. A bill  pending in Minnesota would increase penalties for metal theft. Pending legislation in New York would permanently revoked the license of a scrap metal processor convicted of possessing a stolen memorial plaque. A new Texas law amends the Penal Code to punish as a felony theft of tubing, rod, and watergate stems valued at less than $20,000 and consisting of at least 50 percent aluminum, bronze or copper. Utah law now makes a defendant liable for damages caused during the course of committing or attempting to commit  theft of regulated metal; the victim also can bring civil action for damages. A  bill pending in Washington would increase the dollar threshold for metal property crimes.


Pending New York legislation would create the New York State Metal Theft Task Force that would be required to issue a metal theft findings report by Nov. 30, 2010.


Four states introduced legislation involving scrap metal recyclers. Three bills in Georgia address scrap metal recyclers. The first law regulates payments to people selling copper items to secondary metals recyclers. The second and third pending bills require secondary metals recyclers to maintain legible records of all purchase transactions to which the metal recycler is a party.

Illinois has four pieces of legislation. The first law amends the Recyclable Metal Purchase Registration Law to include iron, steel and other ferrous metals in the definition of "recyclable metal." The second law amends the same registration law by requiring a recyclable metal dealer to obtain and record certain information for each transaction involving purchase of metal street signs. The third pending bill amends the Illinois Vehicle Code to prohibit a recyclable metal dealer from acquiring or possessing a vehicle process it into a form other than a vehicle unless the recyclable metal dealer also is a licensed scrap processor. The fourth pending bill prohibits a recyclable metal dealer from acquiring or possessing a vehicle, junk vehicle, vehicle cowl, or essential vehicle parts to process them into a form other than a vehicle unless the recyclable metal dealer also is a licensed scrap processor.

A pending bill in New Jersey that requires scrap metal recyclers to maintain records of purchases, including information gathered from a seller's identification. These records must be accessible to law enforcement agencies. Certain types of metal recyclers would not be allowed to purchase without reasonable documentation that the seller is authorized to sell such metals. It also authorizes individuals to notify recyclers of metals that have been stolen and prohibits purchases from minors.

Three bills are pending in Rhode Island. All would create the Copper Theft Prevention Act, which would require secondary metal recyclers to obtain a license from the attorney general's office in order to purchase certain types of ferrous and nonferrous metals.