Businesses and individuals in B.C. are spending millions of dollars every year replacing stolen metals and wire, thanks both to thieves and to unscrupulous dealers willing to look the other way when offered "hot" scrap.

A CBC-Vancouver Sun investigation this week has revealed that while many scrap dealers refuse to buy metals from people without proper identification or who offer metals that are likely stolen, other dealers are not so reluctant.

And the costs of the black market trade are mounting.

Advanced Integration Technology, of Langley, B.C. has been hit at least six times in the past six months by metal thieves.

The company manufactures specialized tools used in aircraft assembly and accumulates significant amounts of scrap metal. It stores the scrap in large bins and periodically sells it to scrap dealers — unless thieves break in and get it first.

"It's cost us about $12,000 just for scrap metal theft," said general manager Stephen Taylor-Lewis. "I see them as vultures."

Telus hardest hit

By far, the biggest metal theft victim in B.C. is Telus — and the telephone customers whose communications are cut off whenever a theft occurs.

Thieves hit the company 380 times in 2011, says spokesman Shawn Hall.

"That cost us about $19 million to tackle, and we're on track to meet or exceed that this year," Hall said.

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Stephen Taylor-Lewis shows CBC reporter Eric Rankin areas where metal has been stolen from his businesses. (CBC)

One theft last week cut service to 500 Langley customers, and Hall said it's more than just an expensive inconvenience — it could cost a life.

"It’s only a matter of time, really, before one of our customers picks up the phone to dial 911 and they can't get through and they die."

It’s not just businesses that are victimized.

Wire ripped from walls

Homeowner Paul Roop was having his family's dream house built in Surrey's upscale Panorama Ridge neighbourhood when thieves entered the partially completed building overnight and tore out the copper wiring.

"They ripped the wiring off from the walls and [took] it away," Roop said.

Cost of Metal Theft

  • Thieves stole live Telus cable 380 times in 2011 at a cost of $19 million.
  • Last year, the City of Surrey spent $2.8 million to repair street light wire, up from $15,000 in 2005.  Based on the amount spent so far this year, losses will hit the $3-million range in 2012.
  • The City of Langley spent $146,000 in 2011 to repair stolen wire from streetlights.  So far this year, it has spent $29,000 and that number is expected to spike in the summer months.

Roop said the repair and replacement cost $60,000 and put the completion date for his house back six months, while the profit for the thieves was estimated to be about $100.

"They will come and demolish half of your house, just for $100," he said.

New provincial laws cracking down on dealers who buy from thieves come into effect in July. That’s the only kind of change that will make a difference, said Taylor-Lewis.

"You need to dry up the source of the funding. As long as the scrap metal dealers don’t buy scrap metal from these guys, they'll stop stealing."

 

With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin