BALTIMORE — Beth Laverick went behind her Patterson Park home and remembered thinking something was different.
"But I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong, and then I realized my entire A/C unit was gone," Laverick said.
It may have been missing for days. It was October and she hadn't been running the air.
After searching through neighborhood groups and hearing others stories, she realized someone had stolen it.
"I ended up having to get a brand new unit and we were faced with a $1,000 deductible. And then I also had to coordinate so that when it was installed the next time, the metal guy was there to put the cage on it, so it was never unattended," said Laverick.
Laverick shelled out $700 to bolt down a metal cage around her air conditioner, and so far, she said it's working.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has also seen a significant decline in metal thefts around the country. Metal theft claims are down more than 78 percent since 2014, however, Maryland ranks sixth in the country for most claims. From 2014 through 2017, there were 1,242 metal theft claims in Maryland.
George DiPietro, owner of Owl Metals, said he's not convinced thefts have decreased dramatically. He's seen firsthand how people show up at his business in Dundalk and try to sell him stolen goods.
"Some things you just don't have. You don't have a 30-foot light pole in your basement. So when someone comes in here with a little four-door sedan and they have 30-foot light pole strapped on the top of their car, that's going to send a flag up, and there's going to be a problem," DiPietro said.
He's also seen thieves rip out copper coils from air conditioning units and attempt to sell them at his scrapyard.
"They're after a few dollars of scrap for somebody's $2,000 air conditioner, and that's about what they get because there's not a whole lot of scrap in an air conditioner," DiPietro said.
One A/C unit yields a few pounds of copper and the current pricing is at $2.55 per pound.
When DiPietro comes across these sellers, he'll turn them away, and then ban them from doing business with Owl Metals. So far, he estimates he's blacklisted 160 to 185 suspected metal thieves.
Scrapyards are required by law to list transactions, but DiPietro takes it a step further by taking photos and uploading them to a database that law enforcement can access.
"Miscellaneous metals, what's that? When you have a picture you can see what it is and a picture's worth a thousand words," DiPietro said.
DiPietro does it to protect himself. If he buys stolen metal, he could lose money, but he also knows what it feels like to be a victim.
"I came in one night, 2:30 in the morning, and found one of my employees inside the yard stealing my copper," said DiPietro. "He went to jail."
DiPietro wants every scrapyard to have to upload photos. He's been told by customers that if he won't accept their goods, they'll just go somewhere else.
You can stop metal thieves by reporting them. Take a picture of their license plate and call police.
If you have a Matter for Mallory, she wants to hear from you, You can email her at Mallory@wmar.com or by using the form below.