Defining Common Types of TheftIn most societies today, including the United States, there are many different legal classifications of theft across jurisdictions. In the United States, there are state and local laws against a variety of theft categories and another level of codes at the federal level. Most states divide theft into “major” or felony theft and “petty” or misdemeanor theft. Classifications usually depend on the value of the item taken. Below, three different kinds of theft are reviewed: larceny-theft (which includes shoplifting), motor vehicle theft, and burglary.
Larceny-Theft The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) is the official and leading data source on crimes reported to the police and arrests made by them in the United States. As such, the definitions articulated in the UCR formally define what is known about crime in society today. According to the UCR, larceny-theft is the “unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession or constructive possession of another” (FBI, 2008). Common examples of larceny-theft include stealing bicycles, shoplifting goods from retail stores or businesses, pickpocketing, or swiping someone’s laptop at an Internet cafe or other location. Larceny-theft covers any stealing of property that is not taken by force, violence, or fraud. Included in the FBI’s definition are attempted larcenies.
Motor Vehicle Theft The FBI has a separate category of theft for stolen automobiles and other motor vehicles. Motor vehicles are those that are self-propelled on land surfaces, not on water or railways. Examples include cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, sport utility vehicles, snowmobiles, and so forth. This category of theft does not, however, include farm equipment, airplanes, or any type of boat or Jet Ski. Joyriding, or the temporary taking of a vehicle, is not included in the category of motor vehicle theft.
Burglary Burglary is a type of theft very different from larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft because it requires unlawful entry—trespassing into a facility so as to steal a given item. This unlawful entry into a private or secured dwelling for purposes of theft makes burglary a more serious offense than simple larceny or shoplifting. The UCR defines burglary as “the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft” (FBI, 2008). One does not have to exert force to enter a facility in order to be guilty of burglary. In fact, there are three subclassifications of burglary specified in the UCR. They include forcible entry, unlawful entry where no force was used, and attempted forcible entry. Common examples of structures that are burglarized include homes, apartments, offices, and retail stores.