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Pilferage vs. Theft — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Updated on November 2, 2023
Pilferage refers to the act of stealing small amounts or items of little value, often done stealthily. Theft is the general act of stealing property without the owner's consent.
Pilferage vs. Theft — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Pilferage and Theft


Key Differences

Pilferage and Theft are two terms related to the act of stealing, but they differ in nuance and application. Pilferage specifically refers to the theft of minor items or small quantities, typically in a context where the opportunity to steal is seized upon without premeditation. It often occurs in businesses or during transportation. Theft, by contrast, is a broader term that encompasses any unlawful taking of someone else's property with the intent to permanently deprive them of it, regardless of the item's value or the context.
While pilferage is seen as a petty crime, often due to the low value of items stolen, it can have a cumulative effect on businesses over time. Theft is generally considered a more serious offense and is not limited by the value of the property taken. Both pilferage and theft are punishable under the law, but the penalties for theft can be more severe, reflecting the potentially greater impact of the crime.
Pilferage often occurs in settings such as retail or warehouse operations, where employees or customers might take items without permission, typically without significant planning or forethought. Theft, on the other hand, can include a wide range of scenarios, from burglary to grand larceny, and can involve both planning and intent to commit the crime on a larger scale.
In addressing pilferage, businesses may focus on internal controls and inventory management to minimize opportunities for small-scale theft. In contrast, preventing theft may require comprehensive security measures, including surveillance systems and anti-theft policies. Both pilferage and theft can erode trust and profitability, but the strategies to combat them may differ significantly due to their distinctive natures.
Legal definitions usually make a clear distinction between pilferage and theft, though pilferage is a form of theft. The distinction often comes into play when determining the severity of charges and penalties. Pilferage may be treated with less severity in legal systems, but it is still a crime of dishonesty that can escalate if not addressed. Theft, in its broader sense, can lead to more serious legal consequences, including jail time, fines, and a lasting criminal record.

Comparison Chart


Stealing small amounts or items of little value
Stealing property without consent, regardless of value

Legal Severity

Often considered a less severe offense
Can include felonies with harsher penalties


Commonly occurs in retail, workplaces, or during transport
Includes a range of scenarios like burglary, robbery, grand larceny

Planning & Intention

Typically opportunistic with minimal planning
Can involve significant planning and intent


Cumulative effect can be significant, but individual acts are minor
Potentially greater immediate impact per incident

Compare with Definitions


The act of stealing small or trivial items.
The warehouse suffered from pilferage of office supplies.


The action or crime of stealing.
The theft of the car was reported to the police.


Stealthy theft of minor objects.
Pilferage from the luggage during transit was common.


Unlawful taking of another's possessions.
The surveillance camera caught the act of theft.


Petty thievery, often a crime of opportunity.
Pilferage of towels from the hotel room is frowned upon.


The felonious removal of personal property.
After the theft, she felt unsafe in her own home.


Slight or casual theft, usually of inconspicuous goods.
The shopkeeper noticed pilferage of candy bars near the counter.


Stealing, especially secretly or without open force.
Theft of intellectual property is a serious offense.


Taking things of small value, often repeatedly.
Repeated pilferage of her pens made her lock her office drawer.


Appropriation of property without the owner's permission.
He was arrested for the theft of company funds.


The action of stealing things of little value
Surveillance practices reduce theft and pilferage in the workplace
The pilferage of food is widespread


Theft is the taking of another person's property or services without that person's permission or consent with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. The word theft is also used as an informal shorthand term for some crimes against property, such as burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, shoplifting, library theft or fraud.


To steal (a small amount or item).


The action or crime of stealing
The latest theft happened at a garage
He was convicted of theft


To steal or filch.


The unlawful taking of the property of another; larceny
The prevention of theft.


The individual act or recurring practice of stealing items of low value, especially in small quantities, for which the legal term is petty theft.


An instance of such taking
Several car thefts.


The act of stealing small amounts or small articles


(Obsolete) Something stolen.


The act of stealing property.
Bike theft is on the rise
A suspect was arrested for the theft of a gold necklace.


The act of stealing; specifically, the felonious taking and removing of personal property, with an intent to deprive the rightful owner of the same; larceny.


The thing stolen.
If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, . . . he shall restore double.


The act of taking something from someone unlawfully;
The thieving is awful at Kennedy International

Common Curiosities

How do businesses deal with pilferage?

Businesses combat pilferage with inventory controls, surveillance, and employee training.

What legal penalties can theft incur?

Penalties for theft can include fines, restitution, community service, probation, or imprisonment.

Can pilferage lead to serious legal consequences?

While less severe than grand theft, repeated pilferage can result in significant legal penalties.

Are there different types of theft?

Yes, theft can range from petty theft of low-value items to grand theft involving high-value property.

Does theft require breaking and entering?

No, theft doesn't require breaking and entering; that's burglary, which is theft with additional elements.

What constitutes pilferage?

Pilferage involves stealing small amounts or minor items, often in an opportunistic manner.

What's the difference between pilferage and shoplifting?

Pilferage often refers to theft by employees, whereas shoplifting is theft by customers.

Is pilferage a crime?

Yes, pilferage is a crime and involves the unlawful taking of items of relatively low value.

Is borrowing something without asking considered theft?

If there's intent to return the item, it may not constitute theft, but it depends on local laws.

How is theft proven in court?

Theft is proven by establishing that the defendant took property without permission with intent to keep it.

Can returning the stolen property negate a theft charge?

Returning property may affect sentencing, but typically does not negate the initial theft charge.

Can theft occur between family members?

Yes, theft can occur within families and is still legally actionable.

Does the value of the stolen item affect theft charges?

Yes, the value can determine whether the theft is classified as petty or grand.

What is considered theft?

Theft is the act of stealing property without permission, with the intent to permanently deprive the owner.

Can theft be unintentional?

Theft requires intent, so unintentional taking of property is not typically classified as theft.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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