In India, “transmission losses” due to illegal connections or tampering consume up to 42% of total electricity production. (Source: BBC)

Stealing electricity has been around since shortly after Thomas Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City in 1878. In 1886, for example, the Daily Yellowstone Journal reported that “numerous unprincipled persons had availed themselves of the opportunity to steal electricity” from Edison by tapping into the wires upstream of the electrical meter. The superintendent of the electrical company responded by connecting extra electrical dynamos into the system in an attempt to burn out the illicit coils and motors.The problem continues to this day. According to a recent study, global losses from electricity theft in 2015 totaled US$89.3 billion. India led the way ($16.2 billion in losses), followed by Brazil ($10.5 billion) and Russia ($5.1 billion).With the adoption of the Smart Grid and smart meters, though, utilities are introducing new technologies to detect meter tampering and reduce electricity theft.

Common Tampering Methods

Electricity thieves have numerous ways to ply their trade. The simplest approach is to connect into power lines before the electrical meter; thieves can also bypass the meter altogether. More sophisticated schemes aim to reduce the amount of consumption recorded by altering the connections to the meter, or tampering with the operation of the meter itself.External wiring modifications include swapping phase and neutral wires; disconnecting the neutral wire altogether; providing a return path via ground rather than neutral; and disconnecting one of the phase wires from the meter.When it comes to tampering with the meter’s internal operation, a strong magnet is the aspiring evil-doer‘s best friend. Electrical meters use magnetic devices in voltage- and current-measurement circuits, and are susceptible external magnetic fields. Placed next to a meter, a powerful magnet can saturate the sensor magnetic cores and introduce large errors in measurement, or even disable the meter completely by interfering with its power-supply transformer.