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Thieves Expanding Their Horizons Even More

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Published : March 14th, 2012
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In "Thieves Expand Their Horizons," I noted that America's "recovery" had "spawned an illicit interest in items that have not been traditionally targeted by criminal elements," including utility poles, air conditioners, hot air balloons, ammonia tanks, and outdoor furniture. A follow-up post, "Thieves Still Expanding Their Horizons," added livestock, pets, prescription drugs, tailgates, fishing reels, medical services, and bridges to the list.

But that wasn't the end of it. Despite all the "good news" we keep hearing lately (not to mention a stock market that only goes up), it seems that the range of goods and services being wrongfully acquired (and likely sold for quick cash at a fraction of their true value) is expanding fast, as the following reports attest:


"Grime Wave" (The Daily)

It’s a dirty job: Police nationwide take on soaring Tide detergent theft

Law enforcement officials across the country are puzzled over a crime wave targeting an unlikely item: Tide laundry detergent.

Theft of Tide detergent has become so rampant that authorities from New York to Oregon are keeping tabs on the soap spree, and some cities are setting up special task forces to stop it. And retailers like CVS are taking special security precautions to lock down the liquid.

One Tide taker in West St. Paul, Minn., made off with $25,000 in the product over 15 months before he was busted last year.

“That was unique that he stole so much soap,” said West St. Paul Police Chief Bud Shaver. “The name brand is [all] Tide. Amazing, huh?”

Tide has become a form of currency on the streets. The retail price is steadily high — roughly $10 to $20 a bottle — and it’s a staple in households across socioeconomic classes.

Cooking Oil

"Rising Gas Prices Create Smoking-Hot Demand for Cooking Oil" (USA Today)

In today's economy, it's tough enough being a restaurant owner, but now you have to safeguard your garbage, too.

From California to Maine, thefts of used cooking oil are on the rise — driven by the rising price of oil that makes biofuels more cost competitive with fossil fuels. Like thieves who ransack foreclosed homes for copper wire, higher prices for used cooking oil can attract people with a hunger for crime as well as dinner.

The old cooking oil, which has been used for decades in the chemical and animal feed industries, is now a hot commodity, as biodiesel manufacturers fight for raw materials . Biodiesel is gaining in popularity as a transportation fuel. The largest consumers are fleet operators, including municipal buses and courier firms like FedEx.


"Thieves Stealing X-Rays For The Silver Inside" (CBS)

BOSTON – You can now add X-rays to the list of targets for metal thieves looking to make a quick buck in a down economy.

Two Florida men have been charged with stealing old X-rays from Lowell General Hospital that were supposed to be recycled back in August.

Lowell Police Captain Kelly Richardson says the suspects are also accused of similar attempts at Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport and Saints Medical Center in Lowell.

There’s silver in X-ray film sheets and it can be harvested by using a simple chemical solution.

“When they melt the film the silver comes off and then they turn around and sell the silver,” says Captain Richardson.

Sewer Grates

"Thieves Swipe Sewer Grates in New Haven" (WTNH)

New Haven, Conn. - Police in New Haven are trying to figure out who's been swiping dozens of sewer grates from city streets.

Fair Haven Heights has been hit hard. At almost every turn of Russell Street new grates are visible. Police say they're replacing them as fast as they can.

"As soon as anything would be reported stolen, it would be taken care of," said David Hartman, New Haven Police, "even on the overnight, it would be an emergency."

If the gaping hole was left uncovered someone could be seriously hurt, and even killed. In the last three weeks, 40 sewer grates have been pried up from the street and stolen.


"Bleachers Stolen From Baseball Fields" (

Thieves carted off almost all of the bleachers from a Long Island baseball complex and left behind a partially disassembled set they didn't finish stripping.

It happened at Smith Field at the Sachem Little League complex in Ronkonkoma. It's unclear exactly when the thefts took place but little pieces from the 300 pound bleachers were found scattered across the field over the weekend.

Mark Zellman is the assistant commissioner of the league that uses the facility.

"It's just the state of the economy, showing how tough things are," Zellman says.

The gates of the stadium were still locked, making it appear that the bleachers were taken apart and lifted over the fence piece-by-piece.


"Hold On To Your Tuba: Brass Bandits Hit L.A. Schools" (NPR)

The words "black market" usually summon images of drugs, guns or pirated DVDs — not tubas. Yet authorities in Los Angeles say the instrument is in such high demand that the black market may be what's driving a wave of local tuba thefts.

Ruben Gonzalez is teaching an after-lunch band class at the scene of one recent tuba crime — the music room at South Gate High School outside L.A. He starts with a request only a band teacher would make.

"Make sure we rinse out folks — we don't need any hamburgers or hot chilies coming through those instruments," he says.

While the kids rinse out and tune up, Gonzalez points to a row of gashes along the door jamb. He and his students noticed them one morning earlier this school year. "I'm walking in, I'm like, 'That was never there before,' and I'm like, 'You know what, guys? I think somebody tried to break in,' " he says.

Then Gonzalez noticed something else. Once the thieves got in, they bypassed a computer as well as a stash of valuable flutes, saxophones and clarinets. According to Gonzalez, "All they took were the tubas."

Heat pumps

"Thieves Steal Church's Heat Pumps" (Morganton News Herald)

MORGANTON -- A local church has become the latest victim of the growing number of copper thefts in Burke County.

Congregants at Willow Tree AME Church reported Saturday that someone stripped four heat pumps at the 2500 Willow Tree Church Road building, according to a sheriff’s report. Damage was estimated at $18,000.

The Rev. Rupert G. Ferguson said his parishioners are irate about the theft.

“They ripped us off,” he said. “… They wreaked havoc.”


"St. Louis Brick Thieves Becoming More Brazen" (Riverfront Times)

The bandits who are slowly dismantling north St. Louis -- brick by brick -- are becoming more daring these days.

Architectural historian Michael Allen, who has perhaps written more than anyone on the subject of brick thievery, notes on his blog that the mason rustlers are now working heavily trafficked streets north of Delmar Boulevard.

"Brick thieves apparently have carte blanche to harvest building stock on the north side's busiest streets," writes Allen, who reports that two abandoned properties on Page and St. Louis avenues have recently been targeted.

"Between these two buildings, the city has lost four housing units that could have been rehabilitated. Extend that count across every building hit by brick theft in the last seven years, and we have lost at least 200 housing units," adds Allen.

Ferguson believes the thieves were looking to make a quick buck off the copper inside the air conditioners.

Cannon Balls

"Cannon Balls Stolen from War Memorial" (Portsmouth Patch)

Portsmouth Police, Public Works probe theft of several pieces of Soldiers and Sailors Goodwin Park statue and estimated damage of $10,000.

The city Public Works Department and Police are probing the attempted theft of cannon balls and several other metal pieces from the Soldiers and Sailors war memorial in Goodwin Park.

Public Works Director Steve Parkinson said Friday morning police discovered the theft and vandalism to the 1888 war memorial to Civil War soldiers and sailors last weekend after they received a call from New Castle Police.

Police learned that the replica cannon balls that sit on top of a metal box were dumped in New Castle near the Wentworth Marina sometime last Saturday.

"We went out there and checked out the statue and sure enough the metal box and cannon balls were cut off," Parkinson said.


"Houston Police Search for Beehive Thieves" (Houston Chronicle)

Police continue their search for suspects who stole a 3-foot-tall active beehive from a Houston restaurant.

KHOU and KTRK reported on the incident, which took place over the weekend at Haven, located off Kirby.

Security cameras revealed the thieves toting away the hive from behind the restaurant early Saturday morning.

The structure houses about 5,000 bees and is worth $1,000, according to Haven’s chef, Randy Evans.

Evans’ farm-to-table restaurant relies on local ingredients and uses the beehive to pollinate plants and produce honey.

He told KHOU he believes the bandits knew what they were doing.

“”You’re not going to just pull up to a bee hive and move it. They came in at night, when it was cold and wet. Bees are the most docile at that time. They’re going to stay huddled up in their hive, on top of one another, creating heat to stay warm and stay dry,” he said.

Hair weaves

"SFPD Seeking Brazen Hair Weave Thieves" (San Francisco Appeal)

They came in for locks of hair, but now one of them is locked up.

One woman was arrested and three others remain outstanding after they allegedly went into a San Francisco beauty supply store, cut hair weaves from a display case and then fled on Wednesday evening, a police spokesman said.

The robbery was reported at about 6:30 p.m. at the Sally Beauty Supply store at 2675 Geary Blvd., in the old Sears/Mervyns shopping complex.

The suspects walked into the store and surrounded the area where the hair weaves are displayed. A store employee tried to intervene after she noticed one of the suspects had some sort of box cutter or knife that she was using to cut the weaves off of the display, police spokesman Officer Carlos Manfredi said.

It's a good thing the economy is "recovering." Otherwise, I'd hate to think about what might be targeted next.

Michael J. Panzner 



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Michael J. Panzner is a 25-year veteran of the global stock, bond, and currency markets and the author of Financial Armageddon: Protecting Your Future from Four Impending Catastrophes, published by Kaplan Publishing.
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