Employees at two Vancouver Island scrapyards have been criminally charged after they allegedly bought stolen metal from undercover police officers.

Mounties say they targeted Carl's Metal Salvage in Nanaimo and an unlicensed Port Alberni operation after forming a special task force to investigate a big increase in metal thefts. Workers at both yards allegedly accepted metal that undercover officers represented as being stolen.

The Carl's Metal Salvage company, 56-year-old Carl Bernard Carlson and 32-year-old Carl Raymond Carlson have all been charged with attempting to possess stolen property in Nanaimo. In Port Alberni, 62-year-old Jean Dumont and 52-year-old Alain Tremblay are also charged.

"This case serves to remind metal recycling operations that accepting stolen goods is illegal, and can result in arrest and criminal charges," RCMP Staff Sgt. Ray Carfantan said in a release.

"Metal theft costs legitimate businesses millions of dollars in lost property, and repair costs annually. It can lead to lost communications and power failures, leaving some of our more vulnerable citizens at increased risk."

Police say Vancouver Island was hit by more than 160 metal thefts last year.