World of thieves: Electricity not the only consumable stolen

Geoff Williams recently wrote a post about the increase in theft of electricity noted by providers as the economy tightens. Of course, the cost of that stolen electricity will show up in our bills. But electricity is only one consumable that suffers from theft.

In Columbus, Ohio, Columbia Gas recently reported that it has found more than 4,000 cases of natural-gas theft in the past three years, averaging $800 per occurrence. And who can forget the priceless photo in National Geographic of a Chinese boy riding a bicycle, pulling a huge balloon full of natural gas behind?

In 2006, upwards of 200 people burned to death in Nigeria as a product of a dangerous but common practice of drilling into a national gasoline pipeline to obtain fuel. Bunkering, as this type of theft is called, is used to fill tankers and barges with stolen gasoline or oil. Those who died in the blast were burned beyond recognition.

The cocaine producers of Ecuador and Columbia reportedly steal thousands of gallons of white gas (petroleum ether) daily from transmission pipelines in Ecuador. One official estimates that 10,000 gallons cross into Columbia every day, the majority of which is used by the drug trade.The fuel is used as a solvent in the processing of cocaine.

According to Internet Security company Sophos, in 2007 54% of the Internet users it surveyed admitted to stealing unsecured wireless Internet access, piggybacking on those who don't protect their signal. The theft slows down the access speed of the user who is paying for the service and opens that user to potential theft of their computer contents.

According to an expert with Tennessee's Technical Advisory Service, water theft is also common. He explains that water thieves work in several ways. Some tap into existing, non-metered lines such as sprinkler system feeds. Others bypass the water meter, running just enough water through each month to avoid easy detection. When the meter has been turned off for nonpayment, some homeowners manage to gain access and turn it back on. Those who depend on trucked-in water have been known to fill up their tanks on the sly.

The cost of these thefts eventually fall on the shoulders of honest consumers. Aren't our bills high enough already?

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