As the price of copper goes up, thieves are increasingly looking toward the backyard as a source of quick cash.

In the Phoenix area, 80 pool pumps were stolen in just a seven-month span last year. Though prices have come down significantly over the past several months, scrap yards were paying upwards of $3 a pound last summer for copper, which is found in most motor windings.

Stolen equipment is especially rampant in bank-owned properties, such as foreclosures.

“It’s pretty common,” said Dan Hardin, owner of Algae Blasters Pool Service in Phoenix. “One out of every 10 properties [that management companies] have me work on has no equipment.”

In 2007, the Phoenix police reported nearly 2,700 separate incidents of copper theft.

However, not all pool equipment is stolen for its copper content. Pool cleaners also have become subject to backyard thefts.

“[Service companies} are asking homeowners to not leave pool cleaners out because people are snatching them,” said Nelson Silveria, owner of Blue Island Pool Service in Gilbert, Ariz. “These are a pretty hot ticket items.”

In one case, Hardin found the entire equipment pad cleared, including the time clock and aboveground plumbing. Since news of the stolen pumps broke, the number of thefts may have actually escalated, he added.

The thieves tend to enter through unlocked gates and strike when homeowners are not around, according to police.

Scrap-yard owners must document and report metal transactions of $25 or greater to police, including fingerprinting and photographing sellers at the site of a sale. However, these stipulations don’t screen for small, one-time purchases.

“A lot of people might steal them just to make a couple of bucks,” Silveria noted.

In extreme cases, some pool technicians may even be the ones taking some equipment. Josh Wiles has heard of companies reclaiming pool equipment to balance unpaid bills of clients whose homes have been repossessed.

“It’s not something I would do, but when you’re facing someone who’s [being] foreclosed on or filing for bankruptcy, you really don’t have any recourse but to go after them,” explained the owner of Arizona Pool Pros in Mesa, Ariz.