Raiders have stolen materials from building sites, railways and utilities substations and even road grids and manhole covers are being swiped.
Thefts have soared as rising commodity prices make scrap metal attractive to thieves.
Paul Crowther, Deputy Chief Constable of British Transport Police and national lead on metal theft for Association of Chief Police Officers, is overseeing a day of action including a countrywide crackdown on scrap yards where criminal sell stolen materials.
Officers in Stockton arrested nine people and closed down one scrap dealer yesterday as the campaign claimed its first scalps.
DCC Crowther said: “There is no doubt that metal theft is a huge problem for the UK.
“The conservative estimate is that it costs UK businesses around £770million each year – although it is difficult to put a true cost on the impact this crime has.
“Metal and cable theft affects all types of industry in a variety of different ways.
“On the railway we have seen significant delays and cancellations as a result of thieves cutting and taking signalling and power cables from the side of the track.
“There have also been incidents around the country in which homes, businesses and even hospitals have suffered power cuts and surges as a result of criminals stealing copper from power substations.”
Man-hole covers, domestic gas pipes and lead flashing from homes and churches have also been taken by criminals looking to make a quick profit.
DCC Crowther added: “The aim of the day of action is to send a clear message that metal and cable theft is unacceptable and police and industry are working together to address the problem.
“Key to this is the work we are doing with the British Metal Recycling Association, as the majority of metal thieves look to make money by selling their stolen metal on to scrap dealers.
“Often these dealers are unaware that the metal is stolen and can find themselves out of pocket when checks carried out by police result in the material being seized.
“It is imperative that we continue to work with the BMRA to educate scrap yards, stop them from unwittingly taking in stolen metal and, in turn, reduce the opportunities for thieves to make money.”
Ian Hetherington, Director General of the BMRA, said: “We are working with the Government to introduce regulations that focus on people that steal and transport stolen metal for money, rather than the licenced and regulated metal recyclers who are frequently the victims of these unscrupulous criminals.”