How Can I Tell if Someone is Stealing My Electricity?

Power theft is a dangerous and costly crime.

When someone uses electricity from your home to power their own house and appliances, you are left with the bill. Paying enormous costs for extreme theft is bad enough, but small amounts might even be worse. If your bills are just slightly higher than expected, you may never notice that someone is stealing your energy.

But cost isn’t the only concern. Electricity theft has several consequences, including:

  • The risk that the thief might electrocute themself
  • Potentially overloading your power line and damaging your home’s devices and appliances
  • Lowering the quality of your energy flow
  • Feeding energy back into the power line, even if it’s de-energized, which can harm or kill any linemen working on it

Identifying potential power theft can protect your home and your wallet. Check your home using the tips below to detect and prevent this crime.

How do you check for energy theft?

1. Watch for unusually high power bills

Electricity thieves illegally connect their homes to your power sources. Since your electricity meter doesn’t track how you use your energy, just how much you’ve used, the stolen power is added to your bill.

Depending on the amount of power the thief is using, you might see your costs increase by a few dollars. Extreme cases could leave you with a high electricity bill that is hundreds of dollars more than it should be.

If your power bill seems higher than it should be, you may be a victim of power theft. That said, there are several other reasons for increased costs, including:

Contact your power company to discuss the potential reasons for the higher costs.

2. Look for signs outside your home

When someone steals electricity, they typically leave evidence behind. You can examine your home’s exterior for these signs to see if theft is the reason for abnormal energy costs. Some indicators are obvious while others are more subtle. If you don’t see these signs or you aren’t sure about the signs you see, ask your electricity provider to come out to inspect your home for any problems.

First, look for any extension cords or cables plugged into your exterior outlets. A neighbor can use these cords to charge or power their devices, often without your notice. Check to see if there are any extension cords running through your yard or buried or hidden in some way. You can also keep an eye out for any cables that seem out of place outside of your or your neighbor’s home.

Next, check your meter. Look for signs of tampering, such as:

  • Exposed wires
  • Cut seals around the meter
  • Meters that have been damaged, such as hanging upside down or sideways
  • Loose dial covers or lids
  • Magnets near the device

Most meters have a colored tag hanging from the bottom, which the power company uses to close the device. Damaged or missing tags are another sign of theft. If anything about your electricity meter looks damaged or odd, alert your power provider.

Finally, visually inspect the power pole that serves your home for anything that seems off. There shouldn’t be any hanging wires or jumper cables hanging from the pole. You can compare the pole to others on the street to see if it looks different in any way.

Most importantly, never touch your electrical infrastructure. Let your provider handle the inspection to prevent injury and death.

3. Install a smart meter

Smart power meters feature numerous anti-tampering capabilities. Along with being harder to damage, these smart devices can detect theft. Your meter will alert your power company to the problem, likely before you even know about it.

Many electricity companies are replacing analog meters with smart devices. Contact your provider to request this update and ask about additional options.

4. Set up security cameras

Sneaky thieves can steal your power without leaving any indicators. If someone uses your exterior outlets to power or charge their devices while you’re asleep or out of town, for instance, your power bill would be the only evidence.

Plus, some power thieves are hard to track and catch. If you live in a heavily populated area, passers-by could use your home to charge their phones, wheelchairs, or other devices at random times. Maintenance and cleaning crews could use your home to charge their electric vehicles while they work, stealing your electricity even as you pay them for their work.

Installing security cameras allows you to catch thieves in the act. Your cameras will record all the activity around your home, including anyone plugging into your outlets or tampering with your meter. This footage can help you identify the thief. It’s also critical evidence for any law enforcement investigations.

Protect your home from all kinds of thieves and dangers with a network of security cameras.

5. Turn off your breakers and watch your meter

Some thieves will use your electricity to power their homes, drawing a continual flow of energy from your power source. If you suspect this is the case, you can use your meter to catch the theft.

First, you will need to shut off the main circuit breaker in your home. This turns every appliance and outlet in your home off, so your home shouldn’t be drawing any energy.

Next, check your electricity meter, which should have stopped moving. If your meter is still spinning, someone else may be using your power.

That isn’t the only explanation, however. An electricity leak at your home will also produce the same results. 

Before calling to report a theft, get in touch with your power company to alert them to the problem. Share the reasons you suspect that someone is stealing your energy so they can start their own investigation. They will identify the cause of the unusual energy usage, whatever it might be, and resolve it for you.