What’s the Difference Between Burglary and Robbery?

It's important to know the difference between these two crimes to help protect yourself.

the white door is closed on a silvery chainIrina Rogova/Shutterstock

If a person breaks into your home and steals your TV, is it burglary or robbery? Lots of people use the terms interchangeably, but legally, the crimes mean different things and carry different penalties. One thing’s for sure: you don’t want either to happen to you.

So what is the difference between robbery and burglary? Most people associate both terms with theft. But as it turns out, burglary occurs when a person enters a building for the purpose of committing a crime. They might steal something, but they could also commit other crimes, such as arson or vandalism, and it’s still a burglary, according to the home security firm Protect America. In legal terms, burglary is synonymous with “breaking and entering.” Before they do, however, they will probably check the place out first. Get a head’s up by watching out for these signs that a burglar is casing out your home– they could even be attracted to expensive items in your yard. 

Robbery, on the other hand, means that an assailant is forcing or threatening to force another person to give up something. So if a person demands that you give him your wallet, that’s what’s known as robbery. And if the person uses a gun or another weapon while demanding the wallet, that elevates the crime to armed robbery. Stay safe–here’s how to outsmart a mugger. 

Here are some more examples of the difference between theft, burglary, and robbery:

  • Theft: If a person came into a pharmacy and put a package of cold medication in their bag and left without paying for it, that would be a theft.
  • Burglary: If a person waited until the pharmacy was closed, broke in through a back window, and took some cold medication, that would be burglary.
  • Robbery: If a person came into a pharmacy and demanded the cashier turn over some cold medicine, that’s what’s known as robbery.

So if someone sneaks into your house and runs off with the TV? That’s burglary. But if you happened to be at home and the assailant threatened you and demanded the TV, that’s robbery. Be sure neither of these things could happen to you by guarding against the sneaky ways burglars can break into your home.

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Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.