CHARLOTTE, N.C. - You may have seen it with your gas bill -- a warning that stealing natural gas is illegal.
The new North Carolina law has been in effect just 2 ½ months.
Action 9 investigator Jason Stoogenke looked into how what your neighbor is doing could cost you money or worse.
Traditionally, gas officials count thousands of cases each year in which people mess with gas lines to save money even though they're risking their lives and yours.
It was last July in Cornelius that crews hit a gas line and the gas spewed into the air, creating a huge cloud.
Jamie Cady was there.
She remembers emergency crews evacuating businesses, including hers, and feeling sick for a few days after.
"Like I know that I had a headache, a migraine for a couple days,” Cady said. “And I felt really congested without the congestion. It was weird -- foggy in the head and everything."
And this was an accident.
So when it’s done on purpose, Piedmont Natural Gas officials get frustrated.
"They're criminals,” said David Trusty, with Piedmont Natural Gas spokesman.
He said it’s a big problem.
Thieves steal natural gas three ways.
They tamper with meters to keep the measurements and their bills down.
They rig pipes so the gas bypasses the meters and goes straight to their homes or businesses.
The most common way is they hire plumbers or other workers who don't work for Piedmont Natural Gas to turn on gas that's supposed to be off.
These lawbreakers are called “fixers.”
Between the three methods, Piedmont estimates between 1,750 and 2,300 theft cases last year alone.
"Stealing natural gas is the same as electricity theft, cable service theft, water theft. It's a crime," Trusty said.
This type of theft of natural gas became a crime in North Carolina on Dec. 1.
The penalty ranges up to 45 days behind bars to roughly five years if someone dies.
"We go after, we pursue and it's very important to us," Trusty said on enforcing the law.
The theft of natural gas costs Piedmont money, which may end up costing the consumer, and it's highly dangerous -- not just for the person tampering with the line but for those who live or work nearby, like Cady.
"That's really low,” Cady said. “I didn't think anybody would do that. Why they would put other people's lives in danger just for their own gas bill?"
If you've been ripped off, overbilled or misled; or if you see something that is hurting all consumers, contact Action 9.