How to Handle Roommate Theft (and 12 Ways to Prevent It)

female roommates have discussion with serious expressions

College students – and many 20-somethings – often find themselves with a roommate or two. While splitting bills and having a fun friend to swap clothes with can be great, it can also be tricky if that $20 bill on top of your dresser is missing… or the tablet you usually have on your desk mysteriously disappears. (You know you left it there.)

Living in close quarters with a stranger can lead to a lifelong friendship… or a one-year power-through until you find a better living arrangement. If you end up with a roommate with sticky fingers, that could put valuables in your room or car at risk of being stolen. Roommate theft can be tricky if there isn’t any clear-cut evidence or if your roommate is a friend. Here’s what you need to know.

What to do if you suspect roommate theft

If you suspect your roommate is stealing from you, here are a few steps you can take:

  • Make sure the item isn’t misplaced. Don’t automatically accuse your roommate if something is missing. Make sure to check every possible place your item could be. Retrace your steps. Check your pockets, car or odd places it could have fallen under or behind.
  • Mention the disappearance. If you suspect your roommate is stealing from you, casually mention that you noticed an item was missing. Then ask if they’ve seen it. Regardless of their answer, they’re now aware you know it’s missing and, if they didn’t take it, can help you find it.
  • File a police report. If the missing item or items was expensive, notify campus or local police and file an official report. This also shows that you took reasonable steps to recover your belongings.
  • Only confront your roommate if you have proof or strong evidence. And if you do bring it up to him or her, keep your cool. Aim to initiate the conversation when you’re not upset or stressed out. You’ll be able to keep a clearer head and proceed carefully while giving them a chance to be honest. Be prepared that they may still deny it, even if you present proof.


It’s possible you won’t get your stuff back, even after taking these steps. Keep these tips in mind to secure your stuff and help prevent roommate theft from happening again.

11 Tips to Prevent Roommate Theft

  1. Communicate. When first moving in with your new roomie, be sure to discuss what you feel comfortable with borrowing or lending. Letting them know up front that you don’t like sharing food, clothes, electronics or money will help set up a general guideline both of you can follow.

  2. Don’t leave items out. Leaving something unattended or out in the open increases the opportunity for someone to notice it and take it. Wallets, phones, your keys and ID cards are easy to snatch when you aren’t looking. Hold on to sensitive items, and if you aren’t using them, put them somewhere safe.

  3. Don’t give out private information. This includes your passwords, social security number or any personal information that could help someone gain access into your room or bank account. Lending out your keys or swipe cards can also put your items at risk.

  4. Limit what you say on social media. While you may be itching to update your status and post what an amazing deal you got on that new laptop… you’d also be letting everyone know you have a fancy new piece of technology in your room. Be careful what you post. The moment you’re away and snap that poolside pic, a would-be thief could sneak in and grab what they know is there waiting.

  5. Engrave high-value items. Engraving your initials or a personal message on your electronics or other pricier items can make it more difficult for a thief to sell them, possibly deterring them from stealing it all together. It also makes it easier for any items to be returned to you.

  6. Have proof of purchase. Keep receipts and/or credit card statements from purchases that were particularly expensive. Serial numbers can be used to verify ownership if there’s a dispute.

  7. Lock your door. It may sound like common sense… but if you don’t share a bedroom with your roommate, lock your door when you’re not home. Likewise, if your roommate is throwing a party or inviting friends over that you may not trust, locking your door is an easy way to prevent strangers from entering without your permission.

  8. Keep things neat. Having a messy space makes it easier for you to misplace valuables. If everything has its own spot, you’ll have a visual map of where everything should be. If something isn’t there, you’ll be able to spot it more quickly.

  9. Invest in a safe. A safe can help you securely store cash, credit cards, jewelry and more. Learn more about what to look for when shopping for a safe.

  10. Install a security camera. Smart home technology is getting better and more affordable for a college student’s budget. Many security cameras are under $100. Just make sure to tell your roomie you’re installing a camera – it’s definitely not cool to record someone without their permission. Plus, knowing there’s a camera on premises can deter for a curious roommate who might have otherwise ruffled through your stuff.

  11. Ask your parents. They might be able to store high-value items you don’t need to have on campus. After all, your roomie can’t steal what’s not there.

Bonus tip: Preventing car theft

College campus parking lots are often packed with cars, making them a tempting venture for thieves. To help keep your car safe, park in well-lit areas and always lock your doors. Don’t keep any valuables in your car, and if you do, keep them out of plain sight.

If your car – or a valuable inside – is stolen, notify campus or local police immediately. If the worst does happen, that’s when you’ll be glad to have the right insurance. Depending on the circumstances (and the specifics of your policy), your stolen stuff could be covered under your or your parents’ auto or homeowners insurance; or your own auto or renters insurance.

Your college years are all about finding yourself and learning how the adult world works. When it comes time to make your own decisions about insurance, find a local ERIE agent in your neighborhood. Your agent is there to simplify things, answer questions and help you get the insurance you need – and nothing you don’t.

Do you suspect your roommate is stealing your stuff? Here’s what you need to know. /blog/college-3 Erie Insurance