Times are tough. People are doing things they wouldn’t normally do to get by. Some of these things can get you into trouble.
No company, city, or other entity is going to sell you electricity, gas, water, or any other utility without some kind of meter to measure how much you use so they can charge you for it, and if you attempt to tamper with the meter with the intent to get more than you paid for you can be charged with a misdemeanor. Section 97-25-3 of the Mississippi Code Annotated makes it illegal to:
intentionally, by any means or device, [prevent] electric current, water or gas from passing through any meter or meters belonging to any person, firm or corporation engaged in the manufacture, sale or distribution of electricity, water or gas for lighting, power or other purposes, furnished such persons to register current or electricity, water or gas, passing through meters, or intentionally [prevent] the meter from duly registering the quantity of electricity, water or gas supplied, or in any manner [interfere] with its proper action or just registration, or, without the consent of such person, firm or corporation, intentionally [divert] any electrical current from any wire or cable, or water or gas from any pipe or main of such person, firm or corporation, or otherwise intentionally [use], or [cause] to be used, without the consent of such person, firm or corporation, any electricity or gas manufactured, or water produced or distributed, by such person, firm or corporation, or any person, firm or corporation who retains possession of, or refuses to deliver any meter or meters, lamp or lamps, or other appliances which may be, or may have been, loaned them by any person, firm or corporation for the purpose of furnishing electricity, water or gas, through the same, with the intent to defraud such person, firm or corporation . . .
This statute was obviously drafted by the lawyer for the water or the power company.
What it says is you can’t tamper with, attempt to change the reading on, or swap any kind of meter. You also can’t “tap” into it and divert what it is supplying to somewhere else. The statute goes on to say that the mere presence of any kind of diversion pipe, or device found on the meter is evidence of your “intent to defraud” the utility company. It is the opinion of the Attorney General that this statute also applies when you cut the lock on the meter and turn your water back on after it has been cut off for not paying your bill.
What is the punishment for tampering with utility meters?
This crime is a misdemeanor, and if found guilty you can be punished by a fine of $100.00 – $500.00, or by imprisonment in the county jail not more than three months, or by both fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the court.
What if the utility company tries to steal from me, can they get into trouble?
Yes! The statute goes on to say that if the utility company intentionally installs a meter that is “rigged” to charge you more than what you receive, the utility company can be found guilty of the same misdemeanor.
You will notice that “intent” is mentioned throughout the law. It is an element that the prosecutor will have to prove against you, and it could be your freedom ticket. Meters get “messed with” all the time, but not necessarily with the intent to steal utilities.