Burglary vs Robbery: What’s the Difference?

Picture this: Strangers broke into your neighbor’s house through a locked window, stole their valuables, and got away.

Were the criminals burglars or robbers?

Were your neighbors burglarized or robbed?

Talking to your neighbors and friends, you’d probably use words like thieves, burglars, and robbers interchangeably. However, there’s a very distinct difference that matters a lot, especially when it comes to sentencing.


A burglary involves a person entering a structure illegally with the intent to commit a crime—a felony or theft.

The burglar might plan to steal valuables, or they might plan to kidnap someone. Either way, the act of illegally entering the home or apartment is called burglary. Burglaries get labeled as “property crimes” because the crime is linked to a physical structure. The FBI’s definition of structure is this: “an apartment, barn, house trailer or houseboat when used as a permanent dwelling, office, railroad car (but not automobile), stable, and vessel (i.e., ship).”

When you think about a burglary, the phrase “breaking and entering” might come to mind. A burglary might involve B&E, but it doesn’t have to. Someone walking into your unlocked home with the intent to commit a crime is just as much a burglar as someone who breaks a window.

The FBI has three subclassifications of burglary:

  • Forcible entry
  • Unlawful entry where no force is used
  • Attempted forcible entry

In the neighbor scenario, the criminals were burglars because they illegally entered your neighbor’s property with the intent to commit a crime—theft. More specifically, the burglary is classified as forcible entry.


A robbery occurs when someone uses fear or physical force to steal something (a.k.a. commit theft) or attempt to steal something.

Think mugger holding up a gun to someone and demanding they hand over their purse or wallet. A robbery falls under the “violent crime” category because a victim is present and there is the threat or act of violence.

For a crime to count as a robbery, it must meet the following criteria:

Someone takes or tries to take property

Whether the criminal successfully steals a wallet or unsuccessfully attempts to steal a purse, it’s all robbery.

Someone who is physically present is the target of the crime

Stealing items or attempting to steal items from an empty home doesn’t meet the criteria for robbery. A victim must be present.

Force or violence is used

Robbers use several tactics to gain control over the situation and steal whatever it is they want to steal. This includes:

  • Pushing, shoving, or grabbing the victim
  • Threatening the victim with a knife, gun, or other weapon
  • Threatening physical harm against the victim or their loved ones even if no weapon is present
  • Forcibly grabbing belongings—like a purse or shopping bag—out of a victim’s hands

Some states sub-classify robberies as follows:

  • Home Invasion – Robbery that takes place inside an occupied home
  • Mugging – Stealing or attempting to steal something from a person on the street, at a park, in the mall, etc.
  • Car-jacking – Different from auto theft, car-jacking involves forcibly taking a car from someone who’s presently in or by the car
  • Armed robbery – Robbery committed with a deadly weapon

In the neighbor scenario, if your neighbors were home and threatened with weapons, the burglars were also robbers because they used force to steal something. More specifically, some states would classify the robbery as a home invasion.

Theft vs. Robbery vs. Burglary

Theft must be part of the conversation too.

Theft involves taking something from someone without their consent. In the neighbor scenario, your neighbors were victims of theft because someone stole their stuff.

Robbery is a form of theft. Burglary is not.

Burglary and theft might seem like interchangeable words, but they aren’t. They are totally separate crimes. If a home is “burglarized,” it doesn’t automatically mean anything was stolen. It just means that someone illegally entered the home with the intent to commit a crime.

Is Burglary or Robbery More Common?

Burglaries occur way more often than robberies. In 2017, the FBI reported 1,401,840 burglaries and 319,356 robberies nationwide. Robbery is a serious crime, but burglaries pose a bigger threat in terms of home security. According to the FBI’s 2017 crime data, 67.2% of burglaries took place in residential properties but only 16% of robberies took place in residential properties.

How Can I Protect My Home from Burglars and Robbers?

Burglars and robbers like easy targets. Keeping your home safe from burglars and robbers isn’t as difficult as you might think. Simple security measures like keeping lights on or reinforcing your front door can stop criminals from choosing your home. A home security system can scare off potential intruders too. Outdoor cameras, keypad door locks, and home security yard signs signal to potential robbers and burglars that your home is protected and attempting to break-in just isn’t worth it.

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