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04 Nov 2019

Can metal thieves be deterred?

How can scrap dealers protect their yard workers, property and infrastructure?

Conor Dowd


Thieves in Ireland are taking advantage of the lack of legislation that bans cash sales of metal and requires all dealers to have a licence. They’re stealing scrap metal from waste recycling yards – intimidating and threatening workers who confront them – and taking their haul to scrap dealers for cash payments.

Following a confrontation, thieves trashed one waste recycling yard. Reprisals are nothing new, however. At another site when interrupted, the thieves responded with the workers’ addresses, threatening retaliation against their families. It’s understandable then that workers won’t testify against these thugs.

Gardaí say that some of these gangs are using the money to fund drug deals. Other thieves are opportunists: if they see metal scrap, they’ll steal it to pick up easy cash. House gates, graveyards and historic sites are considered fair game. Other gangs travel to Ireland with the purpose of stealing metal.

Another target: catalytic converters, stripped from cars in broad daylight, which reflects the value of some of the metals found in exhaust devices. Workers will continue to be threatened and lives disrupted until the government legislates their own Scrap Metal Dealers Act. This should be a no-brainer, yet the lack of action persists.

The Scrap Metal Dealers Act, introduced in the UK in 2013, led to a decrease in metal thefts. The Office of National Statistics reported that nearly 62,000 cases of stolen metal occurred in 2012-2013. In the year ending 2016, that number had fallen to 16,000 incidences. However, 2019 statistics put the number at 16,552 offences, indicating the crime is on the rise again. The increase leaves legitimate scrap dealers wondering where the thieves are taking their stolen property.

The purpose of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act is to make it harder to sell stolen metal. The Act demands strict licensing requirements for scrap metal dealers and identity checks for those selling metal. It is illegal to buy scrap with cash. That’s the bottom line.

Part of the problem is the lack of technologies used by firms. Too many dealers are still relying on paper-based and cash processes, which makes it difficult to comply with regulatory requirements. They’re risking fines and the loss of their licence.

In 2018, a third of UK dealers did not renew their licences. This coincides with a rise in live cable thefts from railways, which thieves target for the copper inside before selling the metal on for scrap. It’s possible that one reason for the drop in licence renewals reflects the number of dealers who were operating outside of the law. Other dealers, still using manual processes, might have found the extra manhours needed to comply simply too expensive and closed down. Still others might have lost their licence unintentionally, but when faced with fines and damaged reputations, they chose to get out of the business.

Dealers in the UK can protect themselves with technology. AMCS Platform for Metal Recycling is designed specifically for the industry and is based on best practice. It makes it easy to comply with the Act, while reducing operating costs at the same time. The platform digitises and automates processes, which streamlines auditing and reporting. For example, they can scan ID cards with an integrated device, which processes the ID within seconds, creating an accurate trade account. Implementing cashless transactions is fast and seamless while enabling full visibility and traceability of materials. This is critical for fraud prevention. In a nutshell, AMCS Platform for Metal Recycling ensures that all key activities are automated, tracked, logged, auditable, and linked to an identifiable seller.

It also enables a faster buying process while improving your customer experience and time spent on reporting and recording errors.

By adopting this technology, dealers can make working conditions in the industry safer. The more dealers on board with a platform designed specifically for metal recycling, the fewer options criminals will have when trying to sell their stolen metal.

For legitimate dealers in Ireland, even though there is no legislation, AMCS Platform for Metal Recycling can still help streamline processes, with a fully integrated electronic cash box, cash-purchase tickets, cash-sales documents, and the complete work and data flow. Dealers can pay by cash money, cheques, debit cards or bank transfer.

They can also link IDs, photos, and even fingerprints to the cash transactions, capture signatures through a panel and store it with the cash receipt.

However, even though Ireland lacks legislation prohibiting cash for scrap metal, it’s still a model dealers should move to. Electronic transactions leave a trail, while cash does not. By eliminating cash payments, thieves have no place to go. The black market evaporates and the threat to workers is minimised.

It’s our hope that Ireland will enact legislation to protect people and infrastructures, and more UK dealers will adopt technology but until then, everyone stay safe.

About AMCS

AMCS is the largest provider of software dedicated to the Metal Recycling industry. AMCS offers a completely integrated enterprise management recycling solution which manages purchase and sales orders, covering:

  • Metal-specific pricing challenges
  • Mobile material grading
  • Stock management
  • Dispatch and optimisation
  • Production and processing
  • Commodity trading, including overseas
  • Freight control and real-time analytics

 In addition to all of this, fully integrated financials are tuned to the specific requirements of the recycling and waste management industry.