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Paying the Price of Power Theft

Thieves sometimes think of it as a crime that won’t hurt anybody. Someone illegally hooks into a power supply, hooks up a line that has been disconnected, or tampers with a meter to avoid recording electricity usage. The truth is that tampering with electrical equipment or attempting to steal electric power carries the potential to harm many people. The innocent consumers on the same line and utility personnel that work on those lines are all at risk when someone tampers with electricity or electrical equipment.

“Power theft carries deadly risks. Many thieves have paid for the power they are stealing with their lives,” says Erin Hollinshead, executive director of the Energy Education Council and its Safe Electricity program. “The danger does not end with those who are engaging in illegal activity.”

An overload of electricity could result in extremely high voltages that may damage the appliances of paying customers. Excessive current that is not safeguarded by a fuse is especially dangerous. In emergency situations such as fires, power has to be shut off to help firefighters and emergency medical personnel to enter a building safely. If lines have been interfered with illegally, the lines could remain energized, endangering the lives of the first responders.

From a reliability standpoint, illegal connections to power sources and attempts to divert metering devices can overload the system, cause interruptions, and compromise power quality.

Harrison County Rural Electric Cooperative urges everyone to help prevent and reduce power theft:

  • Notify your electric utility immediately if you know of an illegally connected consumer.

  • Do not cut the seal on your meter base or tamper with your own meter for any reason.

  • Remain aware of your surroundings and report any suspicious activities to your electric utility.

Most electrical theft crimes occur through meter tampering, bypassing meters, and tapping power lines. Other less frequent crimes include tapping into neighboring premises, using illegal lines after being disconnected, self-reconnection without consent, and electrifying fences. Possessing fraudulent electricity bills is also a federal crime and is punishable by law.

If illegal connections were curbed, more power would be available to consumers who obey the law, power quality and safety would increase, and people would experience fewer service interruptions. Everyone is affected by power theft, and detecting and reporting illegal activity will help reduce the price paid.

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