What is the Definition of Stealing? Unpacking the Meaning of Taking What Isn’t Yours

Stealing has been a part of human behavior for centuries. It is the act of taking someone else’s property without permission or legal right. Although the concept of stealing seems straightforward, there are various circumstances and levels of severity that affect its definition. In this article, we will explore and unpack the meaning of stealing in depth, by discussing several key aspects of the topic.

The Different Forms of Stealing

Stealing can take many forms, and it is not limited to taking physical objects. It can also refer to taking someone’s ideas, money, or even time. Here are some different examples of stealing that you should be aware of:

  • Theft of physical property
  • Piracy of intellectual property
  • Time theft: Wasting time of others and/or spending company time on personal activities
  • Identity theft: Misusing someone’s personal information for personal gain
  • Embezzlement: Taking money from employer

These are just a few examples of different forms of stealing. It is crucial to understand the different forms of stealing, as each one can have a significant impact on the individual and/or organization that is affected.

Legal Definition of Stealing

The legal definition of stealing varies from state to state and country to country. However, most laws define stealing as taking and carrying away (or using) the property of someone else with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of it.

If a person is caught stealing, they could face significant legal penalties, including fines and imprisonment. The severity of the penalty often depends on the value of the stolen property.

The Impact of Stealing on Individuals and Organizations

Stealing can have a profound impact on both individuals and organizations. For individuals, it can affect their sense of security and trust in others. It can also lead to severe legal penalties, arrests, incarceration and destroy relationships with friends and family.

On the other hand, organizations can lose profits, trust, and credibility. It also affects the morale of the employees who may feel that their work environment is unsafe and lacks the necessary security measures to protect their belongings. The overall impact of stealing on individuals and organizations can be severe and long-lasting.

Why Do People Steal?

People steal for various reasons, and understanding these reasons can help prevent the occurrence of stealing. Here are a few reasons why people might steal:

  • Financial gain: To make money or get rich quickly
  • Revenge or anger: To get back at someone or something that caused them pain or suffering
  • Peer pressure: To impress their friends or peers
  • Mental health issues: Some people may have a compulsive disorder, which drives them to steal, despite the legal and personal consequences

These are just a few reasons, and many other underlying factors can drive people to steal.

Preventing Stealing

There are various ways to prevent stealing, and it all depends on the form of stealing in question. Here are some ways to prevent stealing:

  • Enhance security measures: Installing security cameras, locks, and alarm systems to deter potential thieves
  • Background checks: Conducting background checks on potential employees to ensure that they do not have a history of stealing
  • Education and awareness: Educating people about the consequences of stealing and its impact on themselves and the society

What is Considered Shoplifting?

Shoplifting is a form of stealing that involves stealing from retail stores. It is essential to know about shoplifting because it can have significant legal and personal consequences. Shoplifting involves taking items from a store without paying for them, and it is considered a criminal offense in most countries.

The penalties for shoplifting often depend on the number and value of the items that were stolen. Fines, community service, and jail time are some of the penalties that one may face if found guilty of shoplifting.

The Impact of Stealing on Minors

Stealing among minors is not uncommon, and it can have a lasting impact on their lives. Often, it is a cry for attention, boredom, or peer pressure that drives minors to steal. The impact of stealing on minors includes:

  • Criminal record: If caught, they may get a criminal record, which can make it challenging to get jobs, loans, and scholarships in the future
  • Legal penalties: For minors caught stealing, they will often face legal penalties like community service and probation. In extreme cases or repeat offenders, they may be incarcerated
  • Emotional impact: Stealing can cause anxiety, guilt, and shame among minors, and lead to issues in their personal lives and relationships

The Gray Area of Stealing

In some cases, what constitutes stealing can be unclear or subjective. For instance, taking office pens or pads can be considered stealing from the workplace. Borrowing someone’s laptop charger without permission and using it can be considered stealing even if it is returned later on. The gray area of stealing is complex and can be challenging for individuals to navigate.

The Social and Economic Impact of Stealing

Stealing affects not only individuals but also the economy and society as a whole. It can lead to decreased profits for organizations, reduced revenue collection for governments, and increased prices for consumers. The social impact of stealing includes a lack of trust, solidarity, and cooperation in society. The financial costs of stealing can be significant and affect every aspect of society.


In conclusion, the definition of stealing is not as straightforward as it may seem. There are different forms of stealing, including piracy of intellectual property, embezzlement, and identity theft. Stealing can have a profound impact on individuals, organizations, and society, and it is essential to take steps to prevent it. Education, awareness, and enhanced security measures can help prevent stealing from occurring.

FAQs About Stealing

  • What is the difference between stealing and robbery?
  • Theft and robbery are crimes, but they are different. Robbery is stealing property from someone by force or the threat of force. In comparison, stealing does not typically involve force, and there is no need for the victim to be present at the time of the theft.

  • Can a person be charged with stealing something they found?
  • Yes, a person can be charged with theft even if they found something left unattended. If the person who suffered the loss of the item can prove that they had taken reasonable steps to safeguard the item, the person who found the item may be charged with theft for keeping it.

  • Can you go to jail for stealing, even if it was the first time?
  • Yes, a person can go to jail for stealing, even if it was their first time. If the stolen property’s value is higher, the penalties can be more severe.

  • Can someone be charged with stealing if they intended to return the item(s)?
  • Yes, a person can be charged with stealing even if they intended to return the item. If a person takes someone else’s property without permission or legal right, it is considered theft.


  • Lexis Advance. (2021). Model Penal Code — Theft. https://www.lexisnexis.com/LegalNewsRoom/criminal/b/criminal-law-blog/posts/model-penal-code-theft
  • Wolfgang, A. (2019). What Constitutes Shoplifting? https://www.thebalancesmb.com/what-is-shoplifting-3976877
  • Moser, R. (2020). How to Handle Employee Theft. https://www.fool.com/the-blueprint/how-to-handle-employee-theft/

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