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'Bandit Signs' Advertising Cash For Vacant Homes, Lots Have Many Outraged

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In a city chocked full of advertisements and signage, every ad is vying for your attention, including those of the illegal persuasion.

"It's vandalism. It's litter," said Ted Savage.

Savage, who lives in south Philadelphia is referring to so-called "bandit signs." You may have seen them posted high up on utility poles, advertising cash for vacant homes and lots.

"They've used washers, and nails. It's not something like a thumbtack," Savage said, referring to how the signs were secured.

On some intersections in south Philadelphia, our cameras recorded a bandit sign posted on each corner. Eyewitness News reporter Greg Argos called the number on the sign. No one picked up, but a recorded message promised someone would call back within a day.

"My guess is whoever this company is has paid somebody a couple bucks for every sign they put up just go on and put it anywhere," said Savage.

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The problem not only lies in the blight these signs create, but where they are being placed. Many are put on PECO owned utility poles. Those poles are private property, and placing any non-city sign on them is the same as spray painting an ad on someone's car. It's illegal, and, with bandit signs, can be dangerous for PECO crews.

"If (utility crews) have to physically climb the pole and if they have to bring any equipment up on the pole, it can damage any equipment, not to mention our crews," said Kristina Pappas, a spokesperson for PECO.

Pappas says crews only remove bandit signs on poles they're actively working on. As recently as 2014, Philadelphia city officials used a different tactic, constantly robo-calling the numbers on the signs. In some cases, employees with the sign companies removed the advertisements themselves. City officials say that robo-calling policy is no longer in place, and so neighbors are left removing the unwanted signs.

"Identifying the problem is no big deal. Solving it is something else," said Savage.

Carlton Williams, the city's Streets Commissioner released the following statement about the signs.

"The City no longer uses the robocall system. Bandit signs are a form of litter that detracts from the appearance of the neighborhood. The Streets Department will present this issue to the Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet to provide recommendations on how to strategically address this form of litter that not only will tackle removal of the signs but also identify and prosecute violators.  Currently, the Streets Department works with other departments to identify violators and enforce City code violations regarding posting signs on the public right of way and on public property."

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