Q.  My next door neighbor is getting cable TV for free. He gave the installer some extra money and he hooked him up with all the premium channels for free. I think he’s getting all the channels for free, too. Question: Should I report him? Is it affecting my bill? — Mitch, Buffalo, New York.

Mitch, those are difficult legal and moral questions. But before I address those, let me say that if your neighbor is getting free cable, it can affect your bill. If millions of people are getting free cable or satellite (and studies show they are), the TV providers are losing potential revenue. They have no choice but to raise their fees to make up for the losses.

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I can understand, however, if you are reluctant to call the cops — or your TV provider — and tell them about your neighbor. If you neighbor finds out it was you who called, it could lead to a nasty situation.

But as you consider your decision, listen to what the cable operator Altice (“Optimum”) says about cable theft. (This is from the company’s web site.):

“There are two types of cable theft, passive and active. An example of passive theft is when a potential customer moves into a home, finds the cable service is on, but does not notify the cable company. Active theft occurs when someone knowingly and willfully makes an illegal physical connection to the cable system and/or attaches or tampers with equipment to allow the receipt of unauthorized services. Active theft can occur at either a consumer or commercial level. Commercial theft usually happens in an environment where the proprietor receives financial gains from the illegal services (i.e. a bar or restaurant).

Theft also occurs when individuals or companies develop, tamper with, manufacture or otherwise provide equipment enabling unauthorized access to cable services and receive compensation for that equipment. The devices used to receive the unauthorized services are known as descramblers, decoders, black boxes, etc.

The cable industry works with law enforcement authorities around the country to stop the unauthorized sale of cable descramblers to consumers. Based on a survey done by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the industry loses an estimated $6.6 billion in revenue annually.”

$6.6 billion. That’s a lot of money, even for an industry that makes billions and billions.

And that brings up another point. Some people think it’s okay to steal cable (or satellite) signals because the cable operators continue to raise their bills. If they wouldn’t charge so much, the thinking goes, I would happily pay.

But that argument is a slippery slope. You don’t say that a jeweler charges too much for a ring so it’s okay to steal it. Or that it’s okay to heist a Porsche because it costs too much.

Companies have the right to charge what they want. And consumers have the right not to buy the product. But they don’t have the right to steal it.

Finally, some cable TV providers have tiplines so you can call them directly and report theft, and the industry has created a web site where theft can be reported: CableTheft.com.

Mitch, I wish you the best of luck with your decision; it’s not an easy one, but keep in mind that theft of TV signals is not a victimless crime.

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— Phillip Swann

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