Chicken wings and 9 more curious stolen goods

The Week
Yoink: Chicken wings are a hot commodity at your Super Bowl party and on the street.
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Yoink: Chicken wings are a hot commodity at your Super Bowl party and on the street.

Forget drugs and fake Louis Vuittons. These days, manhole lids and hair extensions are apparently where it's at on the black market

Last summer's drought is wreaking havoc on the poultry market, with chicken relatively scarce this winter due to low feed production several months ago. And with the Super Bowl just around the corner, this meager supply and high demand has bumped chicken wings into the realm of hot commodities — so much so that wings are attracting some rather industrious alleged thieves. A pair of Georgia men were arrested on Jan. 23 for allegedly stealing $65,00 worth of Tyson chicken wings from the storage facility where they worked. (The chicken wings, sadly, have not been found.) If wings sounds like an odd item to steal and sell on the black market, you haven't seen anything yet. Check it out:

1. Grass
In New Mexico's isolated Guadalupe County, local sheriffs have seen an uptick in grass theft because of last year's drought. With grazing ground dried up, the price of hay has gone up, and so some cash-strapped farmers have reportedly gone as far as to cut competitors fences and let their own livestock enjoy the unlimited buffet. "We've had around five cases in the past few weeks where someone says his cattle just happened to walk through a gate that just happened to be open or an instance where a fence was clearly cut," a local sheriff told the Associated Press in October. "And I suspect there are more cases, but they aren't being reported."

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2. Beehives
Honeybee populations all over the world are declining, making the little hard-working insects a hot-ticket item. (Bees are used for pollination and honey production, among other things.) Things got particularly bad in Germany in 2009 after a long and harsh winter decimated some 30 percent of the country's bee colonies — leaving the rest attractive to thieves. A Hamburg-based insurer reported 300 hive thefts in 2009, an 85 percent increase from the prior year. German beekeepers upped the ante, outfitting their hives with GPS tracking devices and installing hidden cameras to catch bee burglars in the act. And Germany isn't alone. In March 2012, a restaurant in southwest Houston had a $1,000 bee hive stolen and beekeepers have begun branding their equipment to help protect against the bee hustlers. 

3. Detergent
Tide may soon be one of those items you have to request from behind the register. A rash of thefts across the country suggests that detergent, particularly Tide, has become a go-to for black-market sellers. The household item doesn't spoil, can garner relatively high prices for larger bottles, is low risk, and is something everyone needs. In Washington, D.C., some CVS pharmacies have attached electronic anti-theft tags to the hefty bottles. In Minnesota, one man pleaded guilty to stealing more than $6,000 of the cleaning fluid from a Walmart and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Unlike other household items that can be used to make methamphetamine, laundry detergent is pretty much used just to wash clothes. And thieves are reportedly selling the goods on the street at cut-rate prices, sometimes just outside laundry stores. 

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4. Horse hair
Last October, reports of horse hair theft emerged out of the American Midwest. Police in Wyoming reported more than 100 such burglaries in a span of just a few months. In one county, 62 horses had their tails and/or manes cut off. One South Dakota rancher went so far as to offer a $2,000 reward for information on his palomino mare's missing hair. While it's unclear what the horse hair is used to make, theories abound, including bows for violins and even fake extensions for show horses. White horsehair can reportedly go for between $350 and $400 per 450 grams. The more common darker versions retail for less.

5. Manhole lids
In New York City, industrious thieves are reportedly pilfering Con Edison's manhole covers. It's not an easy feat, either. The covers can way as much as 300 pounds and sometimes require automotive jacks to be released from the ground's grip. Previously, no more that two or three of the company's covers had gone missing in any given year, but in March 2012, more than 30 manhole covers disappeared. The company officials said they assumed the heavy objects were being sold for scrap metal. "I can't imagine people are decorating their living rooms with them," a Con Ed spokesman told The New York Times.

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6. Hair extensions
In May 2011, The New York Times reported a rash of robberies at beauty salons. The item du jour? Human hair. Robbers can come away with tens of thousands of dollars worth of the stuff from one salon alone. The stolen hair is then typically sold on the street or on eBay. The best human hair extensions can cost upwards of $200 per pack (the average person requires at least two packs) and the tedious attachment process can cost hundreds and even thousands more. But on the black-market, the same items can sell for as little as $25 from the back of a car. "It's sort of a sign of the times," one professor told The New York Times. "Folks are being entrepreneurial, and weaves and hair extensions are expensive, so it’s not surprising that people sell hair the way they sell things on Canal Street, like knock-off purses."

7. Coupons 
In 2011, police reported a rash of newspaper thefts from newsstands and people's front doorsteps — presumably because thieves wanted the coupons inside. One woman was arrested in north Texas for allegedly stealing the coupons from display papers. "When the Sunday paper shows up at my house," said one keen couponer, "it is the equivalent to me of someone throwing $200 right at my driveway."

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8. The third row of seats in SUVs
This may seem wildly specific, but it's a problem in southern California. Last September, Los Angeles police said they had seen so many third-row seats stolen out of drivers' SUVs that they now recommend people engrave the excess seating with identifying information. Once plucked from the car, a third-row seat may sell online or in salvage yards for about $1,000, but they can cost more than $4,000 to replace because manufacturers limit the number produced. Police recommend purchasing an engraving tool and writing the vehicle's VIN number on the bottom or just securing the seats with a cable lock.

9. Pets
In 2008, when the economy was hitting new lows, thieves were doing the same by stealing people's beloved pups out of their backyards. In the first five months of 2008, the American Kennel Club noted three times as many dog thefts as the year before. And experts say the tanking economy gave some would-be owners the leeway not to question a purebred dog selling at half the price with no papers. Toy breeds, puppies, and purebred dogs are the most vulnerable. But location didn't seem to matter. Thieves would nab the dogs from pet stores, animal shelters, outside stores, and even within locked cars. And if selling the dogs doesn't work out, thieves may make like the characters in the movie Seven Psychopaths and just give the pets back to the heartbroken owners and reap the rewards. "People realize that dogs have a street value, where they didn't before, one expert told MSNBC.

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