Utilities across the U.S. are seeing a growing number of customers resorting to theft, reports the Kansas City Star. They are stealing the electricity or natural gas they need, no matter what the cost to themselves if something goes wrong, or to their pocketbooks once they're caught. They're stealing in several ways, including tampering with meters or hooking up to neighbors' lines. In January and February, Kansas City Power & Light saw a 15 to 20 percent jump in thefts over the same period last year. In Philadelphia, 30 percent of the customers who had their electricity cut off early last year were illegally using it at the end of the year. In Memphis, one utility reported a 56 percent surge in thefts over the past several months.
Missouri Gas Energy also is seeing a jump in theft and tampering, and not just in low-income areas. “We've seen $300,000 houses,” said Jason Fulp, spokesman for Missouri Gas, which serves a half-million customers in the western part of the state. He attributes the crime to “people who have been hit by the economy.” People who steal from utilities can face extra costs related to damage and be required to pay their entire bills without the benefit of payment plans. They also may end up in court. Large thefts can lead to felony charges. What worries utility workers is they'll only see more thefts as the economy continues to weaken.