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Consumer Tip (Sunday, December 29, 2002)

What is the problem?

Unauthorized use of energy, commonly known as "current diversion," generally includes theft of electrical services by meter tampering or tapping into the electric line before it reaches the meter.

Is it a big problem?

It is estimated that between $1 to $2 billion per year is lost to electricity thieves in the US.

Is it illegal?

It sure is.  Here is what Section 812.14, Florida Statutes, Trespass and larceny with relation to utility fixtures, has to say about the matter:

(4)  Any person who willfully violates this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
(5) Whoever is found in a civil action to have violated the provisions hereof shall be liable to the utility involved in an amount equal to 3 times the amount of services unlawfully obtained or $1,000, whichever is greater.

  Why is it important to me?

Theft of electricity is not a victimless crime.  An electric utility's rates are closely tied to its expenses.  Theft of electricity increases everyone's rates so the honest customers end up paying for the stolen electricity.

  What should I do if I know of someone stealing electricity?

Call the electric company or local law enforcement and let them know.  They will investigate.  You don't need to identify yourself.

What happens if someone is caught tampering with an electric meter?

Florida Public Service Commission rules allow an electric company to bill the customer of record (the person who is responsible for the account) a reasonable estimate of the electricity used but not metered as a result of current diversion.  The utility does not have to prove that the customer is the one who tampered with the meter in order to bill the customer for the stolen electricity.

Does someone have to actually see me tampering with the meter for the company to bill me for the stolen electricity?

No.  The utility only has to prove that the electricity was being stolen and that the customer was receiving the benefit

Am I responsible for the security of an electric company's meter?

Yes.  Utilities have a provision in their tariff that the customer is responsible for protection of the company's property installed at the customer's premises.

How far back can the utility bill for stolen electricity?

If the utility can reasonably demonstrate when it believes the theft of electricity started, it can bill the customer for as far back as it has records to support the billing.

What's the worst that could happen?

  • You could get electrocuted!  An unauthorized individual should never attempt to work on his electric service.  This should be done only by trained utility personnel.
  • Your electric service could be disconnected with no notice.  Florida Public Service Commission rules allow an electric company to interrupt service without notice in the event of tampering with meters or other facilities furnished and owned by the utility.
  • You could have to pay, not only an estimate of the electricity used but not metered, but the cost of the utility's investigation into your case.  The cost of the investigation could be hundreds of additional dollars.  The utility can require full payment before reconnecting your service.
  • You could have to pay a fine of $1,000 or three times the amount of electricity stolen.  That is in addition to the money you have to pay to the utility.

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