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Theft Of Services

By Spodek Law Group | October 18, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 19, 2023)

Last Updated on: 19th October 2023, 08:02 pm


Theft of Services: What You Need to Know

We all rely on services in our everyday lives – things like public transportation, utilities, entertainment services, and more. But what happens when someone takes advantage and gets those services without paying? That’s called theft of services, and it’s actually a crime.

In this article, we’ll break down what exactly theft of services is, what makes it illegal, and what the penalties are. We’ll also talk about some real-world examples so you can understand exactly what it looks like. Let’s dig in!

Defining Theft of Services

Theft of services is when someone obtains services that are only available for compensation without paying for them. It’s essentially stealing something that isn’t a physical item – things like electricity, WiFi, transportation, entertainment, food service, and more.

Some common examples include:

  • Using public transportation without paying the fare
  • Watching cable TV or movies without subscribing
  • Eating at a restaurant and leaving without paying
  • Using a fake ID to get into a concert or event
  • Illegally tapping into electricity or diverting power

So how does this become illegal? Well, theft of services laws say that if someone specifically advertises that a service is only available for compensation, you can’t obtain that service without paying. It’s all about taking something that doesn’t belong to you.

Theft of Services Laws

Most states have laws that specifically prohibit theft of services and outline penalties. For example, in New York theft of services is a Class A Misdemeanor if the value is under $1,000. Anything over $1,000 bumps it up to a Class E Felony.

Penalties vary by state but often include:

  • Fines (anywhere from $500 to $100,000+)
  • Jail time (up to 1+ years)
  • Probation
  • Community service

Some states will increase penalties if it’s a repeat offense. And if it involves things like utility theft, penalties can be stiffer. Basically, the more valuable the service, the more serious the crime.

Real-World Examples

It’s helpful to look at real cases to understand how theft of services charges work. Here are some examples from around the U.S.:

Movie Theater Hopping

In 2021, a group of five people were charged with theft of services after theater hopping at a Regal Cinema in Ohio. This means buying one movie ticket and then sneaking into other theaters to see more films for free.

Each person was fined $150 plus court costs – a light penalty, but still against the law.

Turnstile Jumping

In NYC, some people try to dodge subway fares by jumping over turnstiles instead of swiping a MetroCard. This led to nearly 4,000 theft of services arrests in 2022 alone.

The penalty? Up to $100 fine or 10 days community service for a first offense. But it increases for repeat offenders.

Utility Theft

Stealing utilities like electricity and cable is a big problem. In Florida recently, a man was charged with a felony for rigging his electric meter to steal over $30,000 of power.

He paid over $35,000 in restitution and did 2 years probation. Utility theft is serious with big fines.

Defenses and Mitigating Factors

There are some defenses that may get theft of services charges reduced or even dismissed. Some common ones include:

  • Lack of Notice – Arguing there were no clear signs or notifications that payment was required.
  • Lack of Criminal Intent – Claiming you fully intended to pay but circumstances prevented it.
  • Misidentification – Stating it was a case of mistaken identity and you weren’t the perpetrator.
  • Disputing Value – Challenging the prosecutor’s valuation of services stolen.

Mitigating factors like having no prior offenses, demonstrating remorse, or paying restitution may also help reduce penalties if convicted.


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