Updated:ORANGE COUNTY, Fla.,None - The electric meter on the side of your house is the newest thing thieves are stealing in Seminole County and Florida Power and Light told WFTV they are using the stolen meters to get free electricity all over Central Florida.
Power meters can be dangerous to handle. A regular meter has an arc of 220 volts, which is easily enough to kill someone under the right circumstances. But actually ripping out and stealing a meter doesn't require any specialized knowledge and more thieves seem willing to do it.
Sanford landlord Jim Lee's power meters now have to be locked down. At his property next door, one was stolen.
Power meter thefts are spiking and Sanford police have investigated about 20 in just the past two months. A trio was just arrested in Ocoee for squatting and stealing meters, an easy way to free electricity as rates rise.
"It's a quick way of stealing something. You know, you're stealing free power. So you're saving 50, 100 bucks whatever it is," Lee said.
It seems the thieves are simply stealing a good, working meter from one home and cutting off the power and then installing it somewhere else. That stolen meter then registers all the power that the house uses during the time that it's plugged in.
The thieves will then plug their real meter back in near the end of the month, when the meter-reader stops by. That meter shows only a few days worth of usage, meaning a far smaller bill than if the real meter was monitoring the whole time.
Florida Power and Light said such theft is not only dangerous for the crooks and their power workers, it also raises rates for everyone else; only the thieves see immediate gain.
"Money's short, and this will save money. So it would make sense," Lee said.
Florida Power and Light did not reveal exactly how many of the thefts they're seeing company-wide. Electricity theft can be punished with a fine or with jail time, but arrests in this kind have case have been rare.