In the context of criminal law, theft of services is a criminal offense that is committed when an individual uses a service without providing proper compensation for that service. For example, if an individual uses deceit, intimidation, force, or another type of unlawful means to obtain a service, their actions may constitute theft of service.
Theft of services may also arise when an individual intentionally fails to pay a company for its services and continues to use them until that company demands payment or stops providing the service. In addition, theft of services may occur when an individual deliberately re-routes a service that is already being paid for by another individual and uses that service without paying either the other party or the company.
Other ways in which theft of services may occur include:
- When the parties involve have a miscommunication, for example, if the company believes that the customer is already paying for their services and the customer thinks that they are being automatically charged;
- By accident, for example, if an individual is in a public space and is using a WiFi connection that does not belong to the public; or
- When an individual genuinely does not know that what they are engaging in is a type of theft.
In order to report a theft of services crime, an individual or entity will have to review the laws of the state in which they are reporting the offense as well as the requirements to report. In general, however, the individual who is reporting the crime will have to determine whether they are dealing with a misdemeanor or felony offense.
Typically, a theft of services results in a felony charge if the value of those services stolen is more than $10,000. In contrast, a theft of service crime that is more than $500 but is less than $10,000, will typically be categorized as a misdemeanor offense.
It is important to note, however, that these amounts are simply rough guidelines. Every state will have its own specific values used to determine the category of crime committed.
Once an individual has determined whether the theft of services constitutes a misdemeanor or a felony offense, they can proceed with the reporting process. For a felony, it is best for an individual to contact law enforcement directly as soon as they can.
In contrast, if the offense is a misdemeanor and the individual is the party who has been affected, they can file a lawsuit in their local small claims court. If their lawsuit is successful, the individual may be reimbursed for any financial losses that they suffered as a result of the theft of services action.
In order to prevail in a lawsuit, an individual has to be able to present sufficient evidence proving that the services were stolen. It is important for an individual to gather any evidence they can before filing a claim in court.
If an individual has any questions regarding what can be evidence, it may be helpful to consult with a lawyer. A lawyer can also help file a claim and assist throughout the claim process.
What Are Some Examples of Theft of Services?
There are numerous examples of scenarios that may be considered theft of service crimes, including:
- Using hardware or software that illegally diverts WiFi or cable services to the individual’s residence;
- Not paying bills for services such as WiFi or cable after they have been installed;
- It is important to note that it will qualify as theft of services whether the individual does this deliberately or by mistake;
- Evading payment of medical or hospital bills;
- Adjusting an electric or gas meter that is connected to an individual’s home for the purposes of decreasing the amount they will have to pay each month on utility bills;
- Riding public transportation without paying for a ticket or the appropriate fees, for example, as a stowaway;
- Failing to pay for repair services, such as:
- home renovation costs;
- car mechanic fees; or
- landscaping expenses;
- Using another individual’s credit card to pay for services;
- Staying at a hotel or similar hospitality service, for example, motels, hostels, Airbnb, etc., and checking out before paying the bill;
- Drinking or eating at a restaurant establishment and skipping out on the check, also known as dining and dashing; and
- Providing or forging a fraudulent copy of a bill to trick the service provider into believing the individual:
- has already paid for the services;
- pays less than they actually do; or
- pays more than they typically do, in order to get extra services.
If an individual commits any of the acts, they can be charged with theft of services and may face serious legal consequences.
What Is Theft of Services in Georgia?
In the State of Georgia, theft of services is the offense of obtaining a service by deceiving the provider of that service. At the time the service is obtained, the perpetrator does not intend to provide any payment for that service.
Examples of services that may be obtained in this way may include:
- Internet access;
- Cleaning services;
- Use of a rental car or boat;
- Use of a rental property;
- Spa treatments; and
- Car or home repairs.
Are Larceny and Theft of Services the Same Crime in Georgia?
In Georgia, larceny and theft of services are not the same crime. Larceny is the offense of taking property belonging to another individual without their permission and with the intent to permanently deprive them of that property.
This differs from theft of services because theft of services focuses on obtaining a service instead of obtaining an item or property.
Is Theft of Services Just a Misdemeanor?
Theft of services that amount to $1,500 or lower is classified as a misdemeanor. The theft of services that are valued at more than $1,500 is a felony crime.
A court, however, at its discretion, may lower a felony theft of services charge to a misdemeanor. The likelihood of lowering this type of charge from a felony to a misdemeanor will depend on the facts of the case.
What Is the Punishment for a Felony Theft of Services Charge in Georgia?
In Georgia, under the OCGA theft of services statute, for a felony theft of services charge, a defendant may face:
- For services valued at more than $1,500 but less than $5,000: One to five years in prison;
- For services valued between $5,000 and $24,999.99: Imprisonment of one to 10 years; and
- For services valued at $25,000 or more: A prison sentence of two to 20 years.
What Are Some Defenses I Can Use in My Theft of Services Case?
The defenses that an individual may be able to use in their felony theft of services case depends on the circumstances of that case. In general, however, potential defenses to a theft of services charge include:
- Proof of payment for the services;
- The individual was legally entitled to the services, but there was some sort of mix-up, for example, the wrong personal identification information used when the bill was sent;
- Misunderstanding as to whether the services were requested; or
- False claims were made against the individual accused of taking the services without paying.
Do I Need to Speak to a Lawyer About My Theft of Services Charge?
If you have been charged with theft of services in Georgia, whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony charge, it is important to consult with a Georgia criminal lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you regarding possible defenses that may be available to the charges against you.
Your attorney may also be able to have a felony theft of services charge reduced to a misdemeanor if the facts of your case allow.