The nation as a whole saw a 23 percent drop in insurance claims for scrap metal thefts from unoccupied homes and buildings in 2015. But it is still a big problem in New Jersey.

The top three states for scrap metal theft insurance claims last year were Ohio with 4,042, Pennsylvania with 2,819, and New Jersey with 2,585.

Camden and Newark are among the "hot spots" for scrap metal thefts here in New Jersey, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

"This stuff happens wherever there is a good percentage of vacant dwellings or businesses are going to see this kind of activity," spokesman Frank Scafidi says.

The Jersey Shore contains a great number of summer homes, many of which are unoccupied for at least part of the year. According to Scafidi, "when you have a percentage of unoccupied dwellings, that just invites vandalism and thefts."

Copper seems to be the most-coveted metal among thieves.

"Mostly it is wiring, especially in more recent buildings."

But Scafidi says plumbing and vent piping can also be targets because they are very frequently made of copper.

It's not just dwellings and buildings. Scafidi says thieves have stolen scrap from street lights and airport runways — "it is just all over the place."

A 2009 New Jersey law signed by then-Gov. Jon Corzine requires scrap metal dealers to check photo IDs of sellers and keep transaction records. A tougher version of the law passed in Trenton last year is still being fine tuned after it was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie. One provision of the new legislation would permit cash payments to a seller of scrap metal only if a photo of the person is taken.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.

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