When one conjures a mental image of a thief, one usually pictures a person breaking into a bank or grabbing a woman’s purse on the street. However, there is another type of theft, one that is more subtle, more covert, and much more devious: embezzlement. At its core, embezzlement is when a person steals something – usually money – from another person after being entrusted to secure that asset or use it for a specific person. A stepparent who siphons money from their stepchild’s college fund, a personal care provider that inflates their own weekly pay when entrusted by a patient to distribute the funds, or an employee that skims a few dollars out of the cash register each time they work a shift are all individuals engaged in embezzling funds from someone who trusted them.
One of the reasons embezzlers are able to get away with this practice for so long is due to the usually small quantities that are being taken. It isn’t until the total becomes too great to go unnoticed or the funds are needed for some other significant purpose that the theft becomes apparent. Embezzlement can be a state or federal crime, but the primary elements involve fraudulently denying someone their legal and rightful ownership of property of some kind; if the owner were merely temporarily denied custody of said property, the crime would instead be larceny. In the corporate world, common forms of embezzlement can involve creating fraudulent vendor accounts and embezzling funds by submitting falsified bills to the company; it can also involve creating a fictitious employee and collecting on the payroll checks. Ponzi schemes, like the infamous scandal orchestrated by Bernie Madoff, also qualify as a form of embezzlement.