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Theft of Services

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What Is Theft of Services?

Theft of services is a type of crime where someone obtains the services of someone else through unlawful means. This includes using force, threats, or knowingly entering into an agreement for services with no intent to pay for them. Most commonly, it involves an individual diverting services that someone else paid for without providing that person with compensation.

What Are Some Examples of Theft of Services?

Diverting WiFi Internet connections and cable television services are perhaps the most common forms of theft of services. This may involve either not paying for the services once they have been provided, or installing hardware to illegally reroute the services to one’s residence. Either way, these may be violations of the law. 

Other examples of theft of services include:

  • Not paying for automobile repairs
  • Not paying for landscaping
  • Not paying for instructional lessons
  • “Dine and Dash,” “Eat and run,” or “sleep and run” – patronizing a restaurant or hotel, then leaving without paying

Other similar crimes may be considered theft of services, such as altering a gas or electric meter in order to pay less on monthly utility bills. 

What Are the Penalties for Theft of Services?

Theft of services usually leads to misdemeanor criminal charges. Misdemeanors are generally punished by criminal fines and possible jail time. However, repeat theft offenses can lead to increased penalties, including felony charges, which involve stricter criminal consequences. If the theft of services is over a certain amount, usually more than a thousand dollars, the crime may constitute grand theft, which is a felony charge.

Furthermore, the victim of the theft may be able to pursue civil charges against the defendant to recover damages for their losses.

Are There Any Defenses to Theft of Services Charges?

Defenses to theft of services can involve many similar defenses to property theft, but they also may be different. Below are two common defenses. 

  • The Defendant Was Entitled to the Services: Unlike property theft, it can be difficult to obtain evidence, since this type of theft deals with intangible services rather than physical evidence. In some cases, a contract can serve as evidence, but many service thefts occur because no contract was formed in the first place. Nonetheless, if someone accused of theft of services can establish they were entitled to use the services, they may not be liable for theft.
  • The Defendant Lacked Intent to Steal the Services: Another argument is that the defendant did not intentionally steal the services. To be guilty of theft of services, the defendant must have specific intent to steal a service. Therefore, if the defendant did not intend to steal anything, they will not be guilty. However, intent is not always obvious, and doing something like trying to avoid payment is often evidence of intent. 

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer?

Due to the complex nature of criminal defense and how technical theft charges can be, it will be necessary to hire a criminal defense lawyer. An experienced attorney in your area will be able to guide you through the legal process, and can help raise the appropriate defenses for your situation. 

Photo of page author Matthew Izzi

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 11-29-2016 09:17 AM PST

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