Theft is the unjust taking of what belongs to another. There is a pervasive trend in modern criminal codes to consolidate most property acquisition offences, including stealing, larceny, embezzlement, cheating in buying and selling (such as obtaining property under false pretenses and falsifying of weights and measures), and receipt of stolen property under theft as a single offence, previously unknown as such under common law; robbery is often treated as an exception.
Theft of property is knowingly taking, transferring, using, retaining or disposing property with the intention of depriving the owner through deception or threat. Larceny is the wrongful taking of property from the possession of another person who has a superior right to its possession with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of possession of that property. Larceny is usually limited to tangible goods, but is increasingly extended to include such services as electricity.
Especially aggravating circumstances are the commission of theft by a particularly dangerous recidivist or on a large scale (in theft of state or social property).
Neglecting national variations in the basis of statistical estimates, figures from Interpol indicate that in 1990 there were approximately 34,893,000 cases of theft reported from 91 countries worldwide, namely 1151.6 per 100,000 population; some 5,520,000 (namely 16%) were claimed to have been resolved. Of these 9,766,000 were cases of aggravated theft, namely 42.1 per 100,000 population. In the UK in 1994 it was estimated that over 50% of the land was owned by only 1% of the population, and over 75% by only 5% of the population.