Unauthorized taking, keeping, or using of another’s property which must be accompanied by a mens rea of dishonesty and/or intent to permanently deprive the owner or the person with rightful possession of that property or its use. Mens rea is the mental element of 1) intention to commit crime or 2) knowledge that one’s action or lack of action would cause a crime to be committed. It is a necessary element of many crimes.

Stealing is one element of theft being defined as taking something without permission or legal right and without intending to return it. This action can run the gamut of complexity from something as minor as taking home a pencil owned by your employer to absconding with millions of dollars from an investment venture. It therefore can be a simple misdemeanor punishable by a fine or imprisonment of less than a year to a felony which is a serious crime punishable by death or imprisonment of more than one year.

Robbery is also theft and under common law is the crime of taking or attempting to take anything of value by force, threat of force, or putting the victim in fear. It is distinguished from other forms of theft by its inherently violent nature. Other forms of theft may be misdemeanors where robbery is always a felony punishable as described above.

Burglary is also included in the definition of theft in that it is defined as unlawful entry into a building or other location for the purpose of committing an offense usually theft. This is an action which normally is attempted to be carried out while the venue is vacant and most of the time at night.

Simple examples of each of these elements of theft covered under a homeowner insurance policy:

  1. You leave your wallet in the gym locker and upon returning you find the cash is gone– “Someone stole my money”;
  2. Leaving the gym you are accosted at gunpoint to turn over your money—”I’ve been robbed” ;and
  3. You come home from the gym, find your front door open and your safe blown open and all your cash gone—”someone just burglarized my house!”.

Usually your homeowner policy does not delineate the difference but just includes it under the peril of theft. The same is not true of commercial policies. Check with your commercial agent to determine how these elements of theft are covered. Many times you will need to have crime coverages added to your policy. Even then be sure you understand how those coverages are affected by actions on and off your business premises.