Opportunistic thieves taking advantage of a jump in lead prices are stealing vehicle batteries en masse and cashing them in at stores amid a relatively new con du jour in Southern Oregon, authorities say.
The battery thieves are targeting car dealerships, business fleets, neighborhoods, storage yards and even battery shops themselves throughout the Rogue Valley and cashing their loot at outlets for about $9 apiece, according to the Medford Police Department.
Unlike junk yards buying scrap metal, businesses that buy used batteries are not required to get any identification from the battery sellers, making these thieves tough to track, investigators said. The batteries are then sold to other businesses that recycle them for their lead content, said Medford police Lt. Bob Hansen.
"They know there is some free money and there are no questions being asked," Hansen said. "They've found a niche."
Just last weekend, Medford police had five reports of battery thefts with more than a dozen batteries involved, Hansen said. In one case, the thieves targeted a business fleet parked in a fenced yard after first cutting a gate lock near West McAndrews Road, he said.
The thefts have occurred throughout the city and elsewhere, including one in Grants Pass where thieves stole used batteries stockpiled at one business before cashing them in at a competitor's business, Hansen said.
The phenomenon has occurred for about the past year, during which battery thefts have shot up 25 percent in Medford, Hansen said.
Investigators have not determined whether the individual thefts were conducted by the same people or different groups at work, Hansen said.
Hansen warned residents and businesses to secure their vehicles at night to prevent thefts. Since most vehicle hoods are opened from the inside, Hansen said residents should lock their vehicles and when possible park them in secured and lighted areas.
Businesses also should consider getting surveillance cameras aimed at their fleets, he said. People with trailers or recreational vehicles parked at storage sites should consider storing their batteries elsewhere.
Also, residents were urged to indelibly "brand" their batteries so they can be readily identified if stolen.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.