Understanding the 4 Types of Theft


Under the law, theft refers to any time you acquire something of value that belongs to someone else through fraudulent means. If you have something that’s not yours and you don’t have their permission, you could be charged with theft. There are all sorts of different kinds of theft, however, and your particular charge and possible consequences will depend on the circumstances of the crime and the way it fits or doesn’t fit into a specific category.

The state generally handles crimes involving theft, which means specific definitions of crime. Penalties may vary somewhat between different states and jurisdictions. Here are four common types of theft that don’t fit into the regular mold.

Theft by Deception

Criminal theft doesn’t always refer to the straightforward example where someone takes another person’s wallet without them knowing. With theft by deception, the victim will often give money or possessions to the thief voluntarily. The crime is based on the dishonest means and deceit used to persuade the victim to give up their property.

Any words or acts that give the victim a false impression could make an exchange fall under the rubric of theft by deception. The thief could assume a false identity or sell services that they can’t or don’t intend to provide. Even selling fake Rolex watches could qualify as theft by deception because the victim is paying under a false impression of the kind of product they will receive in return.

The penalty in a criminal case of theft by deception, as with all theft charges, will depend on the money value of the property stolen. You may be able to defend yourself against theft by deception by arguing that you did not intend to deceive the victim or by proving that the victim knowingly permitted you to take the property despite the deceitful circumstances. “You may have a better shot at an effective plea bargain in cases of theft by deception, especially if you have a viable defense,” says David McKenzie, a criminal defense attorney.

Theft by Extortion

Theft by extortion is another type of theft that includes any situation where a victim hands over their property in response to a threat made by the thief. This can apply to a mugging or even a kidnapping where the thief threatens the victim’s loved one with violence to receive payment. Theft by extortion can also entail threats to reveal a secret or an accusation of a crime. Blackmailing someone for money or other items of value is still an act of theft.

To prove a case of theft by extortion, the prosecutor must prove that you made a threat with the explicit and conscious intention of taking something of value from the victim. The threat also has to be capable of causing fear. If the prosecutor can’t prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, you may be able to defend yourself against the charge. The prosecutor doesn’t have to prove that the victim felt fear or that any property was acquired in this way for a conviction on theft by extortion charge.

Theft by extortion is usually a felony, and punishment can include a lengthy prison sentence of up to 15 years. There may be a hefty fine and payments of restitution you’ll have to make for the victim as well.

Theft of Lost Property

One unusual category of theft deals with objects that a person finds that have already been separated from their owner. If you find a valuable object at a party or in a public place and decide to keep it, you could be potentially charged with theft of lost property.

This kind of charge can be challenging to prove, and a lot depends on what your intention was when you first picked up the item. If you find an item, you are expected to make a reasonable effort to return it to its original owner. If it’s a wallet or a bag with credit cards or ID, there is little excuse for not finding a way to return it to the owner. If there is no identifying information, you can ask people in the area or put up a sign if appropriate in the location.

If you pick up a valuable item with the intention of returning it to its owner, make an effort to do so, but can’t find the owner and have no way of identifying them, then you are safe in keeping the property for yourself. Those are the factors that will be argued in court if a case of theft of lost property goes before a judge.

Theft of Service

Theft of service is a variety of theft that deals with cases where it is not property but a service that has been taken through dishonest means. Someone will be eligible for this charge anytime they receive a service while not intending to pay for them. Taking advantage of someone else’s cable television services would qualify for this charge, and so would tampering with the gas meter that measures your utility use. This also applies to someone who avoids paying subway fees or doesn’t pay after staying at a hotel.

To prove these charges, a criminal prosecution must show that the thief fully intended to steal the service. If they only accidentally failed to pay or if they honestly were not aware that they were required to pay, they may be able to defend against a charge of theft of service. Whatever the charges are, a criminal defense attorney will be a very helpful resource to help you decide what your options are and consider how well you may be able to defend yourself.


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