If someone has stolen money and you want him held criminally responsible – and hopefully return the money – you normally need to contact the police to file a complaint. This includes filling out a police report and presenting the evidence that you have. If the stolen money wasn't yours, a less-effective option is to contact the police anonymously. In the U.S. judicial system, a third option is to file a civil suit, which won't result in charges, but may get you your money back.
Filing a Police Complaint
To report a theft that has already happened, the best way to contact the police is to call them using a non-emergency number. In many regions you can simply dial 311 and tell the operator you want to report a theft. In most cases, the police will come to you, although if you are a witness, they may ask that you meet with them at the police station. They will then fill out a report while asking you what you know about the crime. If you have any evidence, like security footage of the crime, or know of other witnesses who saw the crime, let the police know about it.
The police may locate and arrest the suspect immediately. However, it's more likely they will begin their own investigation first, provided they believe they have enough evidence to charge the person. If there is no evidence that the person stole the money, or no one actually saw the crime occur, the police may to close the investigation without making an arrest.
Read More: Procedure for Filing a Police Report
Reporting the Crime Anonymously
If you do not wish to be involved in an investigation or the subsequent trial, you can report the theft anonymously. Anonymous complaints can alert the police that a crime may have occurred; however, they cannot be used to detain or arrest a suspect or to search his personal property. If the police already know about the crime and have evidence, an anonymous tip may point them towards the right person. This is often the case, for example, when the police have video of an unknown suspect and an anonymous tipster identifies the culprit.
To contact the police anonymously, you can call their non-emergency number, write a letter or send an email to them. Some police forces have an anonymous tip line or email system, like crime-stoppers.org used by the Houston Police Department. These anonymous tip services usually guarantee your anonymity, but they are almost always used for crimes the police are already investigating.
Private Complaints or Civil Action
Some jurisdictions give you the ability to bypass the police and file a private criminal complaint directly with the court or district attorney's office. In Philadelphia, for example, you can file a criminal complaint with the Office of the Philadelphia District Attorney for a theft under $2,000. To file a complaint there, you must be a witness or have witnesses of the crime.
If you are unable to have a person charged, or even if they are charged, there is no guarantee that your stolen money will be returned to you. In this case, you can sue the thief in a civil suit, rather than a criminal case, to get your money back. If the amount is small, you might be able to use small claims court, which has a simpler process. In many areas, small claims court is for cases with an amount in controversy of less than $5,000 to $15,000. You should contact a lawyer before pursuing a legal case against the thief.
- Criminal Defense Lawyer: Pressing Charges for a Criminal Act
- Baxter County Sheriff: So You Want to Have Someone Arrested?
- CTLawHelp.org: Small Claims Court
- City of Philadelphia: Report a Crime or Concern
- City of Philadelphia: Public Nuisance Task Force, Gun Violence Task Force, Private Criminal Complaints Unit
- -- Report any theft as soon as possible after it happens to give the police the best opportunity to catch the thief.
- -- Ask for a copy of the police report. You will need this if you are going to file for recovery of the stolen money under your home or auto insurance policy.
A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has worked as a consultant for many small businesses and non-governmental organizations, including several law firms and bar associations. David has also has written hundreds of articles on legal matters and small business trends for newspapers, magazines and online publications including About.com and American Express.