Gold Rush on Metal for Thieves

Rising metal prices fueling what some are calling an epidemic of wiring theft.

Sept. 19, 2008— -- It's a gold rush on metal.

In Washington State, nearly 100 electric stations have been raided in recent months. At least 18 miles' worth of copper wire was stolen, costing taxpayers a half million dollars.

At Thomasville High School in Greensboro, N.C., the football team fell victim to metal theft two weeks ago. Bandits ripped the wire out of the electrical box powering the stadium lights, forcing the Bulldogs' game to be postponed.

Bandits stole live electrical wire from a substation in Southern California, leaving portions of the town of Whittier without power for hours.

Watch "World News With Charles Gibson" tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET for the full report.

In Detroit, wire from electric company substations has been ripped off 400 times in the past year alone, infuriating thousands of residents who were left in the dark.

"When they're cutting wire, they're not only risking their own life, but they are putting somebody out of service," said Michael Lynch, director of corporate security for Detroit-based DTE Energy.

Across the country, it's an epidemic of wire and metal theft. From the Washington, D.C., suburbs to Trenton, N.J., to Dallas -- all because scrap metal has never been more precious.

The price of copper is more than $3 a pound and has more than tripled in the past five years. The price of other metals is surging as well, due to huge demand and booming construction in China and India.

"Well, the price is the highest in history, so everybody out there is trying to get a quick buck," said scrap metal dealer Steven Petriello.

And with the stock market in crisis, metal commodities, everything from gold to copper, traditionally gain more value.

"At $3 a pound, it doesn't take too many pounds of copper for somebody to walk away with a tank full of gas," said Bob Bullock, another scrap metal dealer at the Super Salvage Yard.

Thieves are literally stealing every kind of metal they can get their hands on. As a result, they're going after everything from the wire in traffic lights above to manhole covers below.

In fact, hundreds of manhole covers have disappeared from city streets in Philadelphia.

Churches and cemeteries have been hit as well. Huge metal statues weighing hundreds of pounds have been stolen, too.

Police say stopping these thefts is hard, because the stolen product usually just looks like junk and can be quickly sold at scrap metal yards.

This year, 35 states have considered measures to curb metal theft, ranging from licensing scrap metal yards to raising fines and increasing sentences for thefts.

And with no sign of the price of metal cooling off anytime soon, you can expect metal of all kinds to remain red-hot.