Incidents of metal theft have more than doubled in one year alone, with homeowners bearing the brunt of the crime wave.
In a stagnant economy the scrap metal business is booming, as demand for resources from emerging nations like India, China and Brazil has driven up prices.
It has become an attractive commodity for criminals in these tough times, with lead, copper and aluminium among the most popular targets.
Latest figures show a significant rise in metal thefts, with the PSNI recording 158 lead thefts in 2010/11, compared to 74 in 2009/10.
It’s a big jump from the 52 cases which were reported in 2005.
The police statistics show thieves pocketed £53,485 from stolen lead in the last year alone, despite 46 of the reported metal hauls recorded as having no estimated value.
That equates to £477.54 per load of lead they were able to sell.
The vast majority of recorded cases of theft comes from homes. Of the 158 cases, 49 were stolen from a dwelling.
Schools were the next biggest target, with 20 schools having lead stolen from their roofs, followed by building sites, churches and shops.
It is a topic that has made frequent headlines in recent months.
In August, a west Belfast community was left angry and frustrated after more than 20 manhole covers were stolen from the grounds of a community centre.
The Sally Garden Centre in Poleglass was left struggling to find the £2,000 to replace the metal covers.
Just last week lead and copper was stripped off the roofs of the old Downe Hospital and the Downshire hospital in Downpatrick.
Such cases are the tip of the iceberg for scrap metal thefts, which leave property owners out of pocket by thousands of pounds.
Advice from police to help protect your property from metal thieves:
- Remove or delay fitting metal such as copper tanks and copper pipes if a house is going to be empty
- Mark metal with tamper-proof stickers, UV spray or grease
- Use signs on vacant properties warning metal has been marked or removed.</>e Consider using anti-climb paint. However, you may have to display signage
- Artificial lead (which is lower in resale value) is a good replacement in the event of a theft.
- In some cases CCTV and warning signs could help