Utility theft, fraud and tampering: A dangerous crime that costs us all

Officials at United Illuminating Co. (UI) are asking customers to be on the lookout for signs of utility theft, fraud or tampering.

Stealing utility service or equipment, or tampering with electric or electric facilities in any way, can have deadly consequences — not just for the thieves, but also for utility workers and even the public.

What’s more, the cost to replace or repair damaged utility equipment is shared by utility ratepayers, said officials at UI, the electric utility that serves Shelton.

‘If you see something, tell someone’

“It’s in everyone’s best interest to help stop this dangerous type of crime,” said John Prete, chief operating officer of UI electric operations.

“We’re asking customers to be vigilant, and to report it if they have reason to suspect someone is stealing utility service or tampering with equipment,” Prete said. “If you see something, tell someone. Your actions could even save someone’s life.”

Last November, a man was fatally injured in New Haven attempting to cut into a live power cable from UI in an apparent attempt to steal it, UI officials said.

Working close with law enforcement

UI and its employees work closely with law-enforcement authorities to identify, investigate and prosecute reports of utility theft or tampering. UIL Holdings Corp., parent company of UI, has a full-time staff dedicated to the protecting its infrastructure.

This staff uses sophisticated tools to detect theft and fraud, including analysis of usage patterns. Utility employees are also trained to look for signs of theft and tampering in the field.

Guess who foots the bill?

“We have an obligation to protect our infrastructure from fraud, theft and tampering on behalf of our honest customers who, unfortunately, often foot the bill for these types of criminal activities,” said Joseph Thomas, UI’s vice president for electric system operations.

“That’s why we have a strict policy to investigate and prosecute every incident to the fullest extent of the law,” Thomas said.

What to look for

Here are things customers can watch for:

— Unauthorized people working on electric or natural gas meters. Only utility personnel should work on these. Employees of UIL operating companies carry company identification.

— Unauthorized personnel working on utility poles or other utility equipment. Thieves sometimes employ ladders or cherry pickers to remove the copper “primary neutral” lines from the top of utility poles. This is extremely dangerous, and can also create a hazard for the public and utility employees. Authorized crews and contractors always display the utility’s logo on their trucks and equipment.

— Damage to utility meters or other signs of tampering, including broken seals; strange wires or pipes protruding from the meters; or holes drilled into the meter’s glass front.

Substations are dangerous for children, animals

Customers also can look for:

— Damage to fences surrounding utility facilities, such as electrical substations. In addition to providing potential access for thieves, children or animals may be able to enter these sites and come into contact with dangerous equipment long after the thieves are gone.

— Missing or damaged ground wires running down utility poles. Improperly grounded electric lines can endanger utility workers, cause voltage fluctuations that may damage home electronics, or even create a public hazard.

How to report suspicious activity

You can report utility theft of service, tampering, damaged equipment, service outages or other problems to UI at 800-7-CALL-UI (800-722-5584).