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Burglary vs. Robbery: Know the Differences Between the Crimes

thief in all black stealing out of womans purse
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Did you know that burglary and robbery are two crimes with different variables?  Even though we use these words interchangeably, they don’t actually mean the same thing. So what is the difference between burglary vs robbery? Find out below, see situations and learn what you can do to prevent these crimes from happening to you. 

What is Burglary?

Burglary is classified as property crime. Burglary is defined as forcibly entering into a home, a building or an office with the intent to commit another felony while in the premises. However, the crime must meet all of the criteria, otherwise it can’t be considered a burglary. 

  • Unlawful entry occurs: a person must enter a private building without expressed permission. This applies to private buildings that have set business owners. So if a building closes at 6 and someone enters at 6:30 by force, it’s robbery. 
  • Forcible entry occurs: This involves any action taken in order to enter the building, unless the person walks through an open door or crawls through an open window. So, lifting an unlocked window, turning a door handle, or sliding a screen door is considered to be forcible entry. 
  • Actual entry or constructive entry occurs: Someone doesn’t have to fully be inside a building for this to be considered entry. The moment that the persons body enters, even just a finger or a toe, this is considered to be entry.
  • People or property could be inside the structure.
  • Intent to commit a crime is proven: There has to be a proven intent to commit a crime in order for this to be considered burglary. To break this down, if someone breaks in to steal something, but gets cold feet and runs out, it’s still considered burglary because the intent to steal something was already there. 
  • Felony or theft occurs. 

burglar in black gloves using a tool to enter home

What is Robbery?

Meanwhile, robbery is defined as the act of someone taking something of value directly from another person using force, or using the threat of force. In order for a crime to be considered robbery, it must meet all listed criteria. 

  • Taking or attempting to take property: Even if the perpetrator drops the item they’ve stolen and run off without it, it’s still considered to be robbery.  
  • Taking anything of value
  • Property taken from its owner or from anothers care: This means if you have a safety deposit box that was broken into, it is considered to be robbery even though it was not directly under your care in your home. 
  • Property must be taken from the person: The item must be taken from someone. So, if someone breaks into a home and nobody is there, this isn’t a robbery, but it is burglary with theft. If you steal an item directly from someone, that’s robbery. If you steal it while the owner isn’t there, it is not robbery. 


Situation #1: Coming Through An Unlocked Window

A person walks around a house when they notice there is an expensive laptop on the kitchen counter. They lift up an unlocked window, crawl inside and hear the home security alarm go off once their foot has hit the ground. They immediately take their foot back out of the window and flee the scene. 

Burglary vs. robbery, which one is it?

This is burglary. Even though the perpetrator did not take anything, they:

  • Unlawfully entered the home: There was no consent to enter the house.
  • Forcible entry occurred: the person opened a window.
  • Actual entry occurred: Their foot touched the floor. 
  • People or property inside: Yes, they noticed a laptop on the counter. 
  • Intent to commit a crime: Yes, they were after the laptop. 

Situation #2: Attempting to Steal a Purse

A man sneaks behind a woman in the park and grabs her purse. He rips it from her arm, hurting her, and runs away. Another man sees this happen and chases after him, catching the criminal and taking the purse back. The criminal then takes off without the purse.

Burglary vs. robbery, Which one is it?

This is robbery. The person met this criteria:

  • Taking or attempting to take property: Yes, this was an attempt since they did not successfully make it out with the purse.
  • Taking anything of value: Yes.
  • Property was taken from the owner or from another’s care: Yes.
  • Property was taken from the person: Yes.
  • Taken with force: Yes. 

burglar in black gloves forcefully entering door

Situation #3: Stealing a Wallet Off the Ground

A man’s wallet falls from his pocket and onto the restaurant floor. Someone walking by notices the wallet, picks it up, and continues walking.

Burglary vs. robbery, Which one is it?


I know what you’re thinking: it has to be robbery. But unfortunately, it isn’t. Why isn’t it robbery? 

  1. Did they use or threaten force? No. The item was just picked up from the ground. There has to be a threat or an implementation of force to be a robbery. The thief picked up the wallet from the ground, they did not remove it out of the owner’s direct possession.

Situation #4: Destroyed Property, Nothing Stolen

Someone breaks into their old office building by smashing a window and crawling through. At the time of the break-in, the building is locked up and closed to the public. They are going to steal items from the stockroom, such as a printer and extra computer monitors. After entering the building, they realize they can’t get into the stockroom. After several attempts, they give up and destroy property instead. 

Burglary vs. robbery, Which one is it? 

This is an example of burglary. 

  • Unlawfully entered the building: There was no consent to enter.
  • Forcible entry occurred: the person broke a window.
  • Actual entry occurred: Their foot touched the floor. 
  • People or property inside: Yes, they noticed a laptop on the counter. 
  • Intent to commit a crime: Yes, they were after the laptop.

burglar in gray sweatshirt and black ski mask trying to enter door

How do I protect myself? 

Obviously, the thought of someone breaking into your home is really frightening. Whether or not anything is stolen, you lose the feeling of safety. Here are the top three tips to help you stay safe and prevent having anything stolen. 

  1. Invest in a home security system. Home security systems are so advanced, and making sure you have a system in place will help your security. If you don’t know where to start, check out our article on the best home security systems. 
  2. Pay attention to your surroundings. If you’re sitting on a bench, focused on your phone- you could be an easy target for a robbery. Keep your eyes up and pay attention to where you are, and who is around you. 
  3. Don’t carry valuables. If you’re going to be in a situation where you are concerned about your items being stolen, just leave them at home. 

Money Crashers offers a great guide on how to deter thieves.

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