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Copper thefts on the rise with pricey consequences

Published On: Nov 20 2013 01:43:28 AM CST
Updated On: Nov 20 2013 01:48:03 AM CST
SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. -

While the number of foreclosed homes in Spokane is down theft of copper wire inside those vacant homes is up.

In fact, just this week, thieves stripped a vacant home of its wiring, plumbing and appliances in the 4900 block of East Second. They got away with everything and neighbors didn't see a thing.

In the past, Spokane has even seen criminals climb live power lines to get copper. And now with vacant homes getting the valuable metal is even easier.

“Unfortunately, the criminal element has recognized that there's a lot of foreclosed homes in our community,” Deputy Craig Chamberlin said.

Deputy Chamberlin with the Spokane County Sheriff's Office says drugs fuel these crimes. With copper in hand, crooks can earn an easy $30 from most recycling facilities. Though laws are in place to prevent this type of transaction, Chamberlin says the copper stripping is only getting worse.

Real estate agents know that first hand.

“They've just basically grabbed onto the wiring, cut it at the electrical box and just yanked on it until it just comes out of the house,” realtor Nate Gant said.

Gant is with Prime Real Estate and while he doesn't sell foreclosed homes anymore, he has in the past and has had five of his listings fall victim to copper thieves.

“It's dropping everyone's home values because we have these people going out and stealing from these vacant homes,” Gant said.

He says a home that might have sold for $100,000 at first plummets to $25,000 to $40,000 after it has been stripped.

“I believe these crooks have educated themselves, I mean, just as a realtor I can drive around the community and look at the house and tell that it's vacant. The yard is overgrown, there's papers on the door so that you can see 'yes, that's a foreclosed property' and no one has taken control of the situation yet,” Gant said.

So how does the community take control?

Foreclosures present a unique problem. Often times, Gant says, thieves are hitting these homes after the tenant vacates but before the bank takes ownership. It's a grey area where no one is responsible for the home.

“The biggest thing that we have is turning the power back on and I know that sounds odd but when you have lights on it's going to deter thieves,” Gant said.

Deputy Chamberlin says tell the neighbors, too. More eyes on a vacant home will ward off thieves.

“It's not just this residence or another vacant residents that's possibly at risk, you as a property owner in the area, technically you could be at risk, too,” Chamberlin said.

If you notice any suspicious activity at a vacant home near you, call Crime Check at 456-2233.

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