Life is getting tough for cable thieves in Baltimore County: First, Comcast Cablevision gave them until May 15 to 'fess up or suffer the consequences. Now, swindlers are hitting them up for $50 in a door-to-door cable scam of their own.
According to Comcast, swindlers passing themselves off as Comcast auditors are knocking on doors throughout the county and offering to unhook illegal cable customers to help them avoid prosecution by Comcast. The company has said it plans to go after cable thieves when its amnesty program ends May 15.
For a $50 charge, the scam artists offer to disconnect the illegal hookup or to look the other way when Comcast starts reporting people for prosecution after the amnesty period.
Comcast has received a dozen calls about the scam in the past two days, suggesting that it started recently, says David Nevins, a Comcast spokesman. The calls came from residents who either didn't have cable or had it legally, Mr. Nevins says.
According to callers, the cable con men have hit across the county, including Catonsville, Essex, Dundalk and Towson.
Mr. Nevins says Comcast has no way of knowing whether anyone has been duped. No one has called to admit paying the $50 to have illegal service disconnected or paying a bribe to the phony auditors.
Comcast officials say they want to remind people that under the amnesty program, the company will unhook the illegal cable service for free -- no questions asked.
"Anybody who wants to cut off service doesn't have to give Comcast $50 or make private deals," Mr. Nevins says. "Just call the company. We'll do it for free."
Mr. Nevins notes that all Comcast personnel, including auditors, have official identification cards. Customers questioning the authenticity of Comcast personnel should ask to see the identification and, if doubts persist, call the company for confirmation.
Comcast auditors haven't hit the streets yet and won't do so until after the amnesty period, Mr. Nevins says.
After the cutoff, Comcast plans an electronic house-by-house hunt for cable thieves and will turn over abusers to the state attorney general's office for prosecution. Comcast also could file civil charges against theft suspects.
In Maryland, cable theft is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $500 fine.
About 3,800 people in Baltimore County have confessed to stealing cable service, Mr. Nevins says. A similar amnesty program in Howard County has led about 1,000 cable thieves to turn themselves in, he says. The Howard program will end June 15.
Mr. Nevins says Comcast has assigned a private detective to investigate the scam.