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Tune in to Cable Theft

NCJ Number
Security Management Volume: 32 Issue: 5 Dated: (May 1988) Pages: 65-67
H E Hack
Date Published
This article focuses on illegal connections in cable systems, ways of detection, and prevention.
An effective way to detect illegal connection in a cable system is through an ongoing field audit operation, as the company Cablevision Systems Corporation in New York has done. Operations are established under the formal structure of a system security department. Field auditors survey a select area of the system, note the number of cable connections, and report daily to clerical staff who compare the observed data with actual service being billed to that location. Locations connected illegally are disconnected and if recheck reveals the illegal connection is active again, photographs are taken and a case is prepared for local criminal prosecution. Theft of cable television service is a crime under Section 165.15 (4) of the New York State Penal code, and is listed as a Class A misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. In 1987, the Long Island (New York) system security department disconnected 1,111 illegal connections and initiated 18 local criminal prosecutions of repeat offenders. No offender was convicted of the original charge or served jail time, but an average of $475 restitution per offender was recovered. The goal in the system security department is to audit the entire system once every 2.5 years -- or about 40 percent of the system each year. An incentive program has been established to encourage reports by employees, and a toll-free hotline number is effective in encouraging people to report illegal hookups. Another serious drain on the company's revenue is the use of the illegal descrambler or black box on the system. There are an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 black boxes currently in use. Prosecution is done in Federal civil court rather than State criminal or civil court. The ideal way to combat theft of service is to prevent it from occurring in the first place, through engineering, education, and enforcement.