By Joe Holden

CHESTER, Pa. (CBS) — To the average person, these would be startling finds. Things like screws and little pieces of tin are powering entire houses.

People are hot-wiring electrical connections, stealing electricity anyway they can and you’re paying for it.

“They can use anything that conducts electricity,” explained PECO worker Mike Doroshenko. “We see beer cans crushed, soda cans,” said Doroshenko as he explained some of the items that people use to steal power.

In Chester, PECO recently swept the area. It’s a so called hot-zone for power theft.

“We are looking at 125 different homes today,” Ben Armstrong, a PECO spokesperson, said. During these checks, security details are present and police are nearby. The PECO employees work is dangerous.

“Since there is no cover on here, no meter, once they hook that up, this is hot,” Doroshenko said as he inspected one home. “If a kid comes in this yard and touched it, they’re going to get electrocuted.”

Some homes were so poorly wired, they’re in danger of burning down. In some cases, it is just a matter of time.

“Each year we investigate around 21,000 potential instances of theft,” Armstrong said.

The theft adds up. Costs soar into the millions of dollars, according to Armstrong, going as high as $3.6 million. “Not only is it unsafe. It’s illegal and it has financial implications,” said Armstrong.

Workers call hot-wiring the grid a big time hazard. PECO evaluates going to court to recover costs against thieves on a case-by-case basis.