Theft of services is a concept that many business owners, particularly small business owners are vaguely familiar with. Yet oftentimes the specifics can be a bit confusing. In this article we break down what exactly constitutes as theft of services and explore examples.

What is Theft of Services?

In the 2018 Florida Statutes there is an entire chapter – Chapter 812 – that deals with theft and robbery. Parsing through the dense legal language can be a chore. There are only a handful of sections in the chapter that business owners need to know.

In Florida statutes, “property” is anything that has value. Property has three major categories: (a) real property – land and anything “growing on, affixed to, and found in” that land (b) personal property, both physical and intangible items (c) services.

This means that the word “property” in the Florida statutes about theft also covers the theft of services.

Theft is when a person takes or uses the property of another individual, or attempts to do so. This also entails that the thief “deprive[s] the other person of a right to the property or a benefit from the property.”

The income from the service a business provides is the “benefit from the property” that the bills refer to.

If somebody refuses to pay for a service you provided via your business they are taking your property and refusing you the benefits of that property. This is theft of services.

Examples of Theft of Services

A prominent type of theft of services is utility theft. This is when a homeowner steals public utilities, such as electricity or water. This theft can occur either by tampering with the meter or illegal connecting the lines to their house.

Another common issue with theft of services is theft of communication services. This happens typically with Wifi and cable television. The two most common ways that theft occurs is when customers refuse to pay, or people install hardware to illegally reroute WiFi or cable to their homes.

These types of theft are so common that the Florida statutes have separate sections in the theft chapter to address them specifically. Section 812.14 is for “theft of utility services” and Section 812.15 deals with “unauthorized reception of communications services”.

An example that is more typical of young adults or teenagers is the “dine and dash”. This is when a person or group of people eat at a restaurant and leave without paying. People who dine and dash steal from the restaurant and the server. Not only are they not paying for the food, but the server essentially does not get paid for their service.

By far the most common way that theft of services is committed is customers simply refusing to pay a bill or pay their remaining balance due. Unfortunately, people are aware that small businesses do not have the manpower to devote tons of time to one stubborn customer.

If a customer is refusing to pay you or your business for work that you have done, this is a very real case of theft, just as if they had walked into your office and taken something. Contact a lawyer who can assist you in pursuing legal action.