If you're wondering why your electric bill is suddenly so high, it's possible you're a victim of electricity theft. If so, you're not alone. Jones-Onslow Electric Membership Corporation claims that billions of dollars worth of electricity gets stolen every year. To protect yourself, watch your electric bill closely and look for signs of tampering at your meter and pole. Immediately report any irregularities you find to your electric company.
Look for a Cord
Some electricity thieves are crafty and find discreet ways to steal your electricity. Others are not. Although it's blatant and obvious, some electricity thieves merely plug an extension cord into one of your outdoor power outlets and run the cord over to their home. Some attempt to bury or hide the cable in some way, while others do not. Take a tour around your home and look for any plugs that aren't yours. If you find one, follow the cord and see where it goes.
Check Your Bill
Your electric bill is bound to fluctuate with seasonal changes. Running the air conditioner, for instance, can cause a jump. You may also see an increase around the holidays if you've been using an electric oven to prepare large family meals. For most people, however, the electric bill stays fairly uniform, and increases are easy to explain. If you notice a sudden jump in your bill and can't seem to figure out why, your neighbors may have started helping themselves to your power.
Examine the Meter and Pole
For safety reasons, you shouldn't mess with your electric meter or climb the pole that feeds your house. It is, however, a good idea to look them over on occasion. Signs of meter tampering include cut seals around the meter, a meter hanging sideways or upside down and insecure lids or dial covers. Power companies close meters with a colored tag hanging from the bottom of the meter. A missing or cut tag may also indicate meter tampering.
Sometimes thieves steal electricity right at the pole. Stand next to the pole and give it a visual inspection. Jumper cables and hanging wires are all signs that something is amiss. Your pole should look like the other poles in your neighborhood. If something looks wrong, it probably is.
Watch Your Meter
As you use electricity, the dial on the meter outside your house slowly spins. Even when your lights, computers and other gadgets are off, your refrigerator and other household appliances are still drawing power. To make sure you're the only one using your electricity, turn off the main circuit breaker to your house or apartment. When you do, your electric meter should stop moving. If it keeps spinning, someone could be stealing your electricity.
What to Do
There are between 120 and 240 volts of electricity running through your electric meter, so don't try to fix any problems you find yourself. If you suspect someone has tampered with your meter or is otherwise stealing your electricity, contact your local electric company for help. Stealing electricity is a crime, and electric companies prosecute those who do it. The electric company can help you determine if someone is stealing your power or if there is a leach or problem somewhere in your system. If theft is an issue, they will investigate and stop the thief.
- Do not ever touch cables or wires coming from an electrical box or meter.
Michelle earned her accounting degree summa cum laude and has extensive experience in business management and accounting. Entrepreneurship is in her blood, and her work focuses on helping small businesses successfully compete in a big market. Michelle also knows the value of a dollar and enjoys helping readers understand how best to maximize their money and enjoy a healthy financial life. Her work appears Chron's small business site. She has also worked on small business blogs for a national insurance chain.