JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) — Police in Joliet report, they’re losing about 20 manhole covers a month, and they’re not alone, as the value of scrap metal sends thieves in search of easy money.

Joliet police have reported 63 thefts since November of last year. Lockport, Romeoville and Shorewood police have also reported recent thefts.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports

As WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports, manhole covers and sewer grates aren’t worth much when they’re sold as scrap. Dealers that will take such items knowing they are stolen will pay up to $20.

But it’s easy money for thieves, who need only a crowbar and the ability to lift the manholes.

This has been happening all over the world. In 2001, scrap metal was worth $77 a ton, but today, that figure is about $500.

The cost of replacing manhole covers is considerably more than they will bring at scrap yards – over $100.

There is a potential for danger if manholes are left wide open. Driving over an open manhole can rip the wheel right off a car, and there have been instances of people falling into sewers.

In the southwest suburban thefts, Lockport police say the suspects struck in the early morning to midday hours in newly-developing subdivisions, and one suspect is believed to have worn a construction vest so as to pass for a sewer worker.

Lockport police also reported a tan Dodge van was seen in the area during some of the thefts, but acknowledged all of the incidents may not be related.

Anyone with information is asked to call their local police department or anonymously call CrimeStoppers at (800) 323-6734.

The Joliet Herald-News contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire.

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