Buffalo City Metro lost R130-million in the previous financial year to a well-organised syndicate that was tampering with meters.
BCM is now in a state of panic and has urged residents and businesses to help identify the syndicate, warning that if they willingly fall into the trap, they too may face the full force of the law.
BCM said the syndicate of “known individuals” purporting to be from power utility Eskom is going around scamming private and commercial power users into believing that it can save them electricity costs by tampering with metering equipment.
So widespread is this practice that the matter is now in the hands of the SAPS organised crime unit.
BCM city manager Andile Sihlahla said evidence collected so far included information pertaining to 14 businesses in the metro and 11 domestic electricity accounts.
However, the number of consumers not paying a cent for the power they use stands at a staggering 10099.
As a result of this syndicate the city’s revenue flow is being disrupted, which in turn compromises service delivery, Sihlahla said.
“BCM has a specialised revenue protection section which specialises in identifying electricity tampering.
“Experts within this section analyse consumption patterns over a 24-month period,” Sihlahla said.
“Large power users have automated meter readings which are analysed on a monthly basis and irregular consumption trends are investigated.
“At this stage we also have identified some 10099 non-purchasing customers on our prepayment vending system [not all linked to this crime syndicate] and thousands of other customers whose consumption trends warrant further investigation.” BCM has called upon residents with knowledge that may further bolster their investigation to come forward.
But the municipality has claimed that perpetrators of this crime are known individuals and that some of those who have been identified have committed similar crimes in other municipalities.
The scammers are seemingly coining it at the expense of BCM as they commit their criminal acts with electricity meters installed by the municipality.
“They then ask the BCM customer for a known fee of up to R60000 for large power users [LPUs] and R25000 for small power users [SPUs] based on the monthly saving to the customer,” Sihlahla said.
This is money the customers should be paying to BCM for their electricity bill.
BCM issued a stern warning to those who willingly cooperate with the scammers.
“The general public must be made aware that where the intent of the BCM customer is to tamper their installed metering equipment and where they willingly agree to pay this syndicate, the customer will also be charged under the new Criminal Matters Amendment Act where imposed sentences can be up to 15 years imprisonment or large fines.”