The letters written over the 8x10 inch photograph are difficult to read but the message is clear: do not steal this copper. Owners of a buildilng on the 100 block of North Thornton in Madison posted this warning last week after two of its three air conditioning units were stripped of their copper wire. Thieves are not just stealing from these machines, either.
Utility companies, including Alliant Energy, are being targeted more often as copper prices surge.
"Everything we work in has a lot of copper attached to it, so we are kind of sitting targets," says Alliant Energy's Rob Crain.
In the last ten years, prices have quadrulpled. Some recycling companies in the U.S. are paying up to $3.95 per pound. So it is no surprise, some companies are going on the offensive to catch criminals red-handed.
"In one case, we even worked with a local law enforcement agency to put GPS tracking devices on our copper wiring," says Crain.
Last June, thieves hit an electrical substation in rural Walworth County. They got away with fiber optic cable, a plasma cutter and a spool of copper wire worth $4,300. To catch the crooks, sheriff's deputies installed a Global Positioning System in another copper spool, hoping the bandits would take the bait.
"The police were tied in with the GPS, thieves came in and they were apprehended," says Crain.
Police also found a reciept in one of two men's wallets linking them to the earlier copper theft. So thieves, beware: if you walk off with the high wire, you could take the fall.
Thieves also face more than jail time. On Monday, an Ohio man was electrocuted and killed after taking down a power line for its copper wire. Nationwide, more than two dozen people have died in copper theft attempts in the last year.