Power line companies fear copper thieves will die as they cut into lines to steal metal

Power line companies say they fear someone is going to die if thieves continue to cut lines to get to the copper inside.

There's been a spike in thefts from building sites and homes with copper-guttering and hot-water cylinders in recent years but scrap-metal dealers say they're keeping a watchful eye out for stolen material.

Just before dawn a thief cases out a west Auckland building site. Copper and construction materials are his likely target but he doesn't get far.

The alarm goes off, warning the thief they're being watched on live CCTV.

"Last month we dispatched police to 60 different incidents around Auckland and Waikato, and back in January we dispatched them to 31 so we've seen a major increase," Crosbies Security general manager Joshua Parsons told Newshub.

Copper is the metal of choice when times are tough. And some lines companies are being hit hard in Canterbury. Mainpower's had 79 thefts of power cables in the past year.

The earth wire that runs down the pole is cut, the metal or PVC insulation stripped off and the copper inside sold for scrap metal.

"If anyone watching this is thinking of stealing electrical cables - don't, because you could lose your life. There's significant risk with interfering with power poles and electrical equipment," Electricity Networks Association CEO Graeme Peters warned.

Stripped wire fetches up to $12 a kilogram at the moment.

The Association of Metal Recyclers (AMR), which represents around 85 percent of the industry, says its members will always ask for ID, capture CCTV of a suspicious seller and share intel with police.

"Under the Second-hand Dealers Act we do have the right to question people on where they obtained that material," president Suzanne Billsborough said.

By law they also hold the copper for 14 days before on-selling to ensure it's not reported stolen.

"We work very closely with the police, we are part of a solution to minimise the thefts or the ability of these thieves to not sell their product through us," Billsborough said.

But some unlicensed scrap metal dealers aren't.

"There's going to be someone who's paying for it to drive that black market economy. My question would be when can we start to address that black market economy," Parsons said.

Stamping out rogue dealers is one thing, catching copper thieves in the act is another.

Lines companies urge anyone who sees power lines being tampered with, to phone them and police quick smart.