Catalytic converter thefts increasing as precious metals prices spike

NOW: Catalytic converter thefts increasing as precious metals prices spike

WEST ALLIS, Wis. (CBS 58) -- West Allis police arrested a man caught trying to steal a catalytic converter from a car lot last week.

Thefts of these car parts have risen in Milwaukee and across the state, driven by metal prices worth more than gold.

On Feb. 4, surveillance video caught a man walking onto the M&M Motors lot with a saw and a mission, hunting for catalytic converters. The man didn't expect the owners to come back to plow. The video shows the owners confronting and fighting the man before he ran away. West Allis police eventually caught him.

"That honey comb thing that you see through there, that's the stuff that's worth the money, none of this is worth anything at all," said Streff Auto Group owner Eric Streff.

As he showed CBS 58 a catalytic converter, he said he believes the man caught in West Allis has been stealing catalytic converters from his car lot in Milwaukee, too. Police could not confirm Streff's suspicions to CBS 58 Tuesday, but Streff said converter thefts have cost him $40,000 in the last year.

"It's really hard for a small business, especially with these times, to take that kind of hit," said Streff.

"There's a lot of noise that a Sawzall makes, they should call the police to investigate further what's going on," said Milwaukee Police Sergeant Efrain Cornejo.

Milwaukee police have already reported 178 auto parts thefts since the start of the year, up from 159 during the same time last year. They believe the majority of the thefts are catalytic converters.

"It all depends on what the price of metal is going for and how much they're going to get paid," said Cornejo.

The converters contain precious metals in high demand.

For example, gold sells for more than $1,800 per ounce, but gold is not found in catalytic converters.

Palladium is, which sells for more than $2,300 per ounce. So is Rhodium, which sells for more than $21,000 per ounce.

That's a quick payday for a relatively easy theft.

"They can instantly get a couple hundred bucks for the right converter," said Streff.

Streff explained they're now replacing original converters with after market parts instead. He said the replacement parts work just as well without containing the lucrative metals thieves are after.

Milwaukee requires scrap yards in the city to check IDs and keep records of who's selling converters. Police said some of the people they've arrested have been taking the parts out of state to sell.

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