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What is Theft of Services?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Theft of services is a criminal activity in which people benefit from services without paying for them. Depending on the value of the services, the crime may be considered a felony or a misdemeanor. Sometimes, accusations of theft are not clear cut; what one person views as theft, another might view as a legitimate refusal to pay based on a dispute, for example.

In this crime, people use a variety of techniques to obtain services without paying for them. Sometimes fraud is involved, as for example when someone assumes an identity to sign a contract and then refuses to honor the payment terms. Coercion, deception, and force can also be used. In all cases, a person is obtaining services without providing the service provider or the person who is paying for those services with compensation in exchange.

One example of theft of services can be seen with utilities like phones, electricity, water, cable, and Internet. People may toggle devices that are used for metering so that they pay less, or they may use devices that allow them to bypass metering altogether and obtain the services for free. One example that started to become a common problem in some areas of the world in the 2000s was theft of wireless Internet services, with people bypassing router security to access a wireless access point for which they were not paying.

Walking out of a business like a restaurant or a doctor's office after receiving services without offering payment is another form of theft of services. Jumping turnstiles in public transit stations or refusing to pay cab drivers is another example. Rental companies also deal with this problem when people retain rented property past the due date for return and continue to use it without paying.

People who commit this crime can be subject to various penalties, depending on the amount of the theft and the specifics of the situation. They may be required to pay fines, do community service, or spend time in jail or prison. The victims of the theft are also entitled to compensation. In some regions, interfering with things like water meters and phone lines carries separate penalties, so people can also be penalized for tampering.

There are legitimate cases in which people receive services and decline to pay for them because the services were not requested, were poorly performed, and for other reasons. People who feel that they should not have to pay for a service because of extenuating circumstances can consult a lawyer to get advice on resolving the situation.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon145212 — On Jan 22, 2011

I once forgot to return a video rental when I moved from Texas to California. The chinese lady reported it as a theft of service. That was nine years ago. Even though I got a hold of her and paid, it still shows up on my records as a theft of service. An honest mistake that ruined my life.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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