Theft of services is a criminal act that occurs when a person obtains services from another person through unlawful means. If a person has used force, threats, or deception to obtain services, they can be charged with this type of crime.

What are Some Examples of Theft of Services?

Generally, theft of services refers to when someone receives services without intending to pay for them. Some common examples include:

  • Not paying for WiFi Internet connections and cable television services after they have been provided;
  • Installing hardware to illegally reroute WiFi and cable services to your residence;
  • Failure to pay for automobile repairs;
  • Eating or drinking at a restaurant, and then leaving without paying (commonly referred to as “dining and dashing”);
  • Staying at a hotel and failing to pay;
  • Evading payment of a fare on public transportation; and
  • Altering a gas or electric meter in order to pay less on monthly utility bills.

If you have committed any of the above acts, you could face charges for theft of services.

What are the Penalties for Theft of Services?

While each state has its own laws, this crime is usually charged as larceny and can be either misdemeanor larceny or felony larceny. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, typical penalties include having to pay criminal fines and possible jail time.

If the value of services is high or you are a repeat theft offender, you could face felony charges, which provide much harsher penalties. Felony charges will likely result in jail time.

In addition to facing criminal charges, you could also be civilly liable for committing theft of services. The victim of the theft may be able to pursue civil charges against the defendant to recover damages for their losses. Keep in mind that even if you're criminal case is over, you could still be sued in civil court.

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:

  • Entitlement to the services; and
  • Lack of Intent to steal the services.

Entitlement to services simply means that it was not theft at all because the defendant had the right to access/use the services. This may be difficult to prove, but (typically) if the defendant is able to produce some evidence that supports the defense of entitlement, then the prosecution will need to be able to refute it.

Lack of intent is when the defendant did not mean to steal the services. What if they didn’t know the services had a price? What if they thought they did pay for the service? Or maybe they were under the impression that another person using the service already paid for it? All of these can be reasons that intent is missing, however it can be difficult to prove as it is commonly known that restaurants or utility bills require payment.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

If you have been criminally charged with theft of services, you should contact a criminal defense attorney. An attorney can explain your state’s theft of services laws, the possible penalties you could face and any defenses you may have to the charges.