If someone steals from you, it could be essential to know the difference between burglary vs. robbery. You need to use precise terms with law enforcement so there’s no confusion.
So what’s the difference between burglary and robbery?
According to the FBI, burglary is when you enter a home to commit a felony. You don’t have to break in either; you can be invited into the home and still have it count as burglary.1
There are nuances in how different states lay out their burglar laws. You'll find that in some, a court may charge an intruder with burglary for breaking in with the intent to commit any kind of crime. If someone breaks into your home and takes you hostage, they can be charged with burglary as well as kidnapping in some courts. If someone breaks into your home and sets fire to it, that's both burglary and arson.
The FBI says robbery is when someone takes something from someone else “by force or threat of force or violence and/or by putting the victim in fear.”2
If someone threatens or hurts you while stealing your stuff, then that’s a robbery. If your kid talks you into handing over $20 so they can go out with friends, that isn't robbery. No one used force or made threats (even if you feel like you've been robbed).
When the robber uses a weapon, the robbery becomes an armed robbery. The weapon doesn’t have to be a gun either. It can be a knife, a bat, or anything else the robber uses, even if it’s not a deadly weapon (more on that in a minute).
If the robber threatens you with a fake weapon (think a realistic-looking water gun), that’s still armed robbery. If the robber isn’t carrying a weapon but acts as if they are, that can also be armed robbery.
If the weapon used in an armed robbery is deemed “dangerous” or “deadly,” the robbery could be considered an “aggravated robbery.” As usual, the exact charges will depend on the state.3
Theft is just straight-up stealing in any way, shape, or form. As you’ve probably gathered, burglary and robbery are both types of theft. So are larceny and extortion.
Larceny is “the unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property” from someone else.5 That covers most kinds of theft (but not all).
For instance, a burglary can be larceny. However, a robbery can’t because the FBI discounts theft by force in its larceny definition. The FBI also doesn’t count most thefts by trickery, like embezzlement, forgery, and fraud, as larcenies.
Extortion can get complicated, but it always involves threat. That could be a threat of violence to the victim or someone they love. It could also be the threat of releasing compromising information (which would be blackmail, a subcategory of extortion).
The extortionist uses their threat of choice to bully their victim into giving up money or valuables.
There’s also petty theft and grand theft. Petty theft means someone stole an item that’s not overly valuable. Most shoplifting falls under this category.6
Similarly, when someone steals something highly valuable, that’s grand theft. Also, the stealing of some types of property is automatically grand theft.
This will vary based on state, but someone usually commits a grand theft if they steal any of the following:
So even if your car is from 1998 and worth less than your insurance payments, if someone steals it, chances are it’s grand theft. (There’s a reason that game is called Grand Theft Auto.)
To summarize: if you come home to find your good earrings missing from the bureau, you can't shout, "I've been robbed!" But you can shout, "I've been burgled!" or "I've been thieved!" Okay, maybe not that last one.
In all sincerity, though, in most cases, theft is a serious crime. Victims of burglary aren’t wronged any less than victims of robbery are. We want you to know the terminology so you can communicate what happened to the police, not because the crime committed against you is less damaging than another.
The best way to protect against any kind of theft is to secure your home and yourself.
We’re experts in burglary protection. We know all the best cameras, security lights, and door locks to keep you safe. We also have a roundup of our favorite security systems if you want to invest in something a little more intense.
It’s harder to protect against robbery since it can happen any time, anywhere, not just in your home. And general life safety is a little outside of our wheelhouse. But we will say that you should pay attention to the crime rates in your area so you know what kind of measures you might need to take.
If you decide to arm yourself, even just with pepper spray, check the laws where you live. You don’t want to accidentally commit a crime when trying to prevent crime.
If someone is trying blackmail or another form of extortion on you, we strongly suggest you contact the authorities. Sometimes extortion feels like it lives in a legal gray area, but that’s not true. Extortion is a crime.8
The exact penalty for robbery, burglary, or theft depends on the severity of the crime and the state that you live in. Depending on the severity of the crime committed, the value of the item that was taken, and whether violence or a weapon was involved can increase the penalty outcome.
Generally, a penalty is higher if violence was involved or if the item of something that was stolen is considered valuable such as a car or expensive jewelry.