Individuals who steal cable via an illegal box can incur fines up to $1,000, be imprisoned for six months, or both under federal law, states the Massachusetts Consumer Affairs and Business regulation division. If the violation is willful and the individual is using the stolen cable for commercial advantage or personal financial gain, the individual can receive a fine of up to $50,000 for the first offense, serve a prison sentence of two years, or both, according to federal law.
If an individual commits subsequent offenses, he can incur fines of up to $100,000, be imprisoned for five years, or both under federal law. The cable operator can also seek damages up to $10,000, according to the Massachusetts Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation division.
If the court finds that an individual was unaware of his offense and had no reason to believe his actions violated the law, he may face a reduced fine of no less than $100, reports the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University. States and franchising authorities may enact and enforce laws that are consistent with federal law regarding the theft of cable or other communications services.
Cable theft may be either active or passive, reports Time Warner Cable. Passive theft is when an individual moves into a new residence or place of business, sees that the location receives cable services without having an account, and does not become a subscriber or terminate the services. Active theft occurs when an individual takes steps to receive cable services illegally without prior authorization from the cable company. Active theft includes broadband Internet abuse, such as uncapping modems or stealing wireless Internet. It is also illegal to assist others in stealing cable services, such as by distributing cable television descrambling equipment.