Neighbors turned in neighbors, kids squealed on parents, and a former FBI agent offered to hand over hundreds of cable thieves he knew about.
By yesterday afternoon, more than 1,200 people had jammed the switchboards of Comcast Cablevision in response to the company's day-old amnesty campaign, which gives cable thieves in Baltimore County until May 15 to confess.
After the amnesty period expires, Comcast plans to do an electronic house-by-house audit and to take legal action against the thousands of people and businesses that have been receiving its services for free.
Information on offenders will be handed over to the state's attorney's office for prosecution. In Maryland, cable theft is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine.
"We clearly knew a lot of people were receiving cable in an unauthorized manner, but as far as the phone calls we've received today, we're clearly overwhelmed," said David Nevins, a spokesman for Comcast, the cable provider in Baltimore County.
Comcast received more than 100 calls yesterday from people who hadn't stolen cable services but wanted to turn in people who had, Mr. Nevins said. In several cases where neighbors were feuding, adversaries turned each other in; three children turned in their parents; and the ex-FBI agent offered -- for a fee -- to track down the hundreds of cable thieves he knew of.
Offenders' names were recorded,Mr. Nevins said. The offer from the former FBI agent was rejected.
Of the people who confessed yesterday, about half decided to become paying customers. The rest told the company to disconnect service.
Comcast, which has about 160,000 paying customers in the county, thinks there are at least 40,000 illegal hookups.
Cable thieves may turn themselves in -- no questions asked -- by calling Comcast at 560-1604.