What’s the Difference Between Embezzlement and Fraud?

Though embezzlement and fraud are both white-collar crimes, they do not mean the same thing. They both involve stealing money or property from people or businesses but go about it in different ways.

Criminal fraud

While there are many versions of criminal fraud, they all boil down to the following elements:

  • The accused deliberately deceived the victim through a falsehood, misleading statement or omission of fact.
  • The accused did so with the intention of depriving the victim of money, property or something else.
  • The victim suffered, or could have suffered, an actual loss.

Common types of fraud that lead to criminal charges include mail fraud, wire fraud (often, defrauding somebody over the internet), healthcare fraud, insurance fraud, and identity theft.

Embezzlement: abusing trust

Meanwhile, embezzlement charges typically get laid against professionals who handle money and other property on behalf of their clients or employers. Embezzlement is essentially abusing the property owner’s trust by using it for one’s own purposes. For example, an accountant with access to the company bank account could withdraw money to pay their personal expenses.

As with fraud, embezzlement must be done intentionally. The accused must have taken the property with the intent of permanently converting it for their own use. Accidental mishandling of accounts is not embezzlement. Also, the defendant must have had a fiduciary relationship with the victim, which means they had a legal duty to handle the victim’s property in the best interests of that person or business. Lack of intent and lack of fiduciary relationship can be defenses to an embezzlement charge.

Whether you have been charged with embezzlement or fraud, you could face years in prison and other heavy penalties. A conviction could ruin your professional reputation and end your career. The stakes in any white-collar criminal matter are very high.

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