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July 25, 2011

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Meter tamper 'professionals' are going unpunished

STEALING gas or electricity by tampering with meters can cost residents dearly, but the people paid to do this often go unpunished due to a lack of evidence, a Shanghai Daily investigation has revealed.
"Professionals" have established a booming industry with their illegal business covering the city's suburban areas, charging low fees to fix meters for families and even companies.
In the latest case, 81-year-old householder Chen Yali complained to Shanghai Daily that for the past three years she and neighbors in a Minhang District complex have been plagued by advertising leaflets filling up their mailboxes from a man offering meter tampering services.
Chen said many residents throw away the leaflets without reporting them to police or energy companies, while others pay for the service.
The man involved, Zhang Xinyu, told a Shanghai Daily reporter that he could make gas or electricity meters run at least 60 percent slower.
"I've been in this business for 10 years and not one of my customers has ever been found stealing gas or electricity," said Zhang in a telephone call.
Zhang charges 300 yuan (US$46.5) to modify a meter and promised that the tampering would not be detected by even the latest checks used by utilities companies.
The professional meter fixer is evidently making a good living as anyone wanting the service has to make an appointment two days in advance.
Zhang boasted that he modifies dozens of meters in Minhang and Baoshan districts every day.
No evidence
Even though Zhang prints his name and cell phone number on leaflets, police said they are unable to detain him unless he is caught tampering with meters.
And even if he was caught, Zhang would only face a short period of detention for theft or disturbing public order if no evidence could be found to show he had modified other meters, said police.
Some residents said they were afraid to report Zhang to police as they feared he would come seeking revenge later.
Tang Yichun, an official with the Shanghai Gas Co, warned local residents not to pay for such services as they would be held liable if it was discovered.
Tang said as meter tampering techniques developed rapidly, the company is introducing more advanced checking systems.
Wu Yiping, an official with the Shanghai Power Co, suggested residents go in groups to report meter tampering services.
Under Chinese Law, residents who modify gas or electricity meters will be charged with theft and may have to pay compensation of twice the price of the quantity they have stolen. Major offenders may face several years in prison.


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