Copper theft is costing businesses in the U.S. some $1 billion a year—mostly through the destruction of property that thieves strip of the metal. But now a growing industry is rising up to stop them.
The FBI has said copper theft is threatening U.S. critical infrastructure—electrical substations, cellular towers, telephone land lines, railroads, water wells, construction sites, and even vacant homes.
Copper is valuable because it's used for so many items—from fiber optics to plumbing to all things electrical. And at about $3 a pound, its price as scrap remains enticing for crooks.
Now businesses are selling a variety of services to catch copper thieves—even before they strike—implementing everything from heavy steel encasing to video surveillance and satellite technology.
(Read more: Copper theft 'like an epidemic' sweeping US)
"Preventing copper theft is a big part of our business," said Keith Jentoft, president of Videofied, a manufacturing firm that produces wireless theft monitoring devices for commercial and residential property.
"Our products are used on phone cell towers, power substations, construction sites, anywhere there's copper tubing or wiring," said Jentoft, whose firm has been in business since 2000 and employs more than 100 people.
Jentoft said an anti-theft system from his firm can cost $2,000 to $3,000.
"And our revenues are increasing. We've been doubling them every year," he said.
Copper theft services represent a growing part of the business for property protection firms like VPS.
"Depending on the situation, we'll put in heavy steel fortresses around air conditioning units and utility boxes, along with anything that has copper in it and looks attractive to thieves," said James O'Brien, VPS general manager. "Our job is to keep people out of the property so they don't even think of stealing copper."
O'Brien said the company's products usually cost less than $1,000. "'I'd say about 50 percent of our efforts are geared toward copper theft. There's no question our business is growing in that area," he said.