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What is Embezzling?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 16, 2024
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Embezzling is the criminal act of a person stealing property that he or she was entrusted with. It most commonly happens with money, stocks, and bonds. For an act to legally be considered embezzling, a few different factors have to be present, including stealing the property intentionally and being in a position of trust. Some people successfully steal for years without being caught, but most of the time this isn't the case. The penalties for this crime vary by jurisdiction as well as how much was taken.

Property Types and Required Circumstances

Both tangible and intangible property can be embezzled. The tangible type includes things like paintings, office supplies, pieces of equipment, and jewelry; while the intangible type include financial instruments like stocks, bonds, and money. For a theft to legally be considered embezzling, the person doing the stealing has to be in a position of trust with someone else's things. This means that unlike burglary, trespassing doesn't occur. Besides the trust requirement, the person taking the property must claim ownership of it.


There are many different types of embezzling, both in terms of private and corporate financing. A father may embezzle from his daughter by taking money from a trust set up for her that he oversees, or a charity's financial director might do it by taking donated funds for his or her private use. Employees also steal in this way by not putting money in a cash drawer when they should, or creating an imaginary invoice and then taking the money used to pay it. Likewise, a manager might create an imaginary employee and then take the salary owed to him or her. Another common type of embezzling is slightly under reporting income and keeping the difference.

Warning Signs

People and companies can avoid becoming victims of an embezzlement scheme by conducting frequent and regular audits. They can also look for warning signs, like an employee having a sudden jump in his or her standard of living with no extra income to explain it, or seeing an unexplainable drop in company profits. Other signs include financial records becoming disorganized or accounts and documents inexplicably going missing.


In most jurisdictions, embezzling is punishable by a fine and possibly jail time. Depending on the amount of property taken, a convicted offender receives either a misdemeanor or felony on his or her criminal record. In one famous ruling in 2009, Bernie Madoff, a former stockbroker, received a 150 year prison sentence for taking as much as $65 billion USD from investors. Besides the penalties for the theft, embezzlers can also be penalized for not including the stolen items or funds on their tax returns. In the US, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows those who return their funds to take a tax deduction, but if they don't include them on their tax return to begin with, they are liable for tax evasion.

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Discussion Comments
By anon933984 — On Feb 18, 2014

My two oldest brothers were named executors of my father's will. I was verbally told by one of them that they used estate funds to pay for utility bills on my father's property after his death. However, the home was not part of the estate as he (father) legally turned the ownership of this property over to my two oldest brothers in 2006.

Is using "estate funds" to pay for their personal bills considered embezzlement? And, do I have a legal right to ask for a full accounting of all monies from the estate?

By anon356094 — On Nov 22, 2013

My friend stole an elephant from the zoo she works at. Is that embezzlement?

By anon342625 — On Jul 22, 2013

Me and my husband have just split up and it's only now, while looking at bank statements, that I can see he has taken out large sums of money over a period of eight years from our joint account, without my knowledge. What can I do?

By anon337085 — On Jun 02, 2013

A business partner used a business charge account for another business without consent of the other partner. It was kept secret by changing the mailing address so the business did not see the bills. The account is now in default of $17,000 and the company is being sued for the balance. Is this criminal?

By anon331376 — On Apr 22, 2013

When my great-grandfather died he left a trust of $2,500 for me. I was not allowed access to it until the age of 25. In the meantime my grandfather was supposed to care for it. He claims he "invested" it.

I am now 25 and wanted some of the funds available to me. He states there is nothing left and that he used it to help my family. However, we were not aware of this until much later. I know the dollar amount is small, but I am just curious if there is anything I can do to get that money back?

By anon328808 — On Apr 05, 2013

This really is about a "friend" or an acquaintance who is a friend of someone I know. I want to indirectly give advice. The perpetrator was a trustee of an estate and her husband, a businessman was trying to pay bills and helped himself to the estate for a large amount of money -- hundred of thousands, I believe -- fully intending to put it back. But the recession made that impossible. His wife just blindly signed things he put in front of her, bizarre as that sounds to me.

So, now the wife has learned of all of this from the estate lawyer who informed her after discovering it. Besides wanting to strangle her husband, what are her options, and indeed his, from a legal point of view? What would happen if he turned himself in for embezzling before the victims even knew there was such a crime?

It could well be that he might never learn of it from what I gather, so it wouldn't be a case of an eleventh hour confession. I'm sure she never wants to be in a position of saving herself by turning her husband in. Nor does she want to be held liable for essentially being an idiot.

By anon312811 — On Jan 09, 2013

My mother kept a large amount of cash in her home safe. After she passed, a sibling emptied out her safe. At first the sibling stated that the safe contained no cash, then they stated that the cash in the safe belonged to them. Lastly, they now claim that they had money in the safe, but took it out prior to the death of my mother.

How can cash taken be proven? Can records of purchases made, vehicles purchased, furniture purchased and money deposited into accounts be obtained?

Wouldn't they then have to prove how they obtained the funds to make all those purchases?

By anon284049 — On Aug 07, 2012

What do I do if I think someone is embezzling money from a charity I belong to?

By anon275903 — On Jun 20, 2012

My business partner has used the LLC's debit card to pay his personal expenses. Is that embezzlement?

By anon264445 — On Apr 27, 2012

My sister has the financial responsibility of paying my mother's bills after death. She has not paid me and my sister the remaining funds in a checking account that totals four thousand dollars

that is stipulated to be divided three ways. Is this embezzlement and how do we prosecute. This has been dictated in a revocable trust.

By anon253477 — On Mar 09, 2012

I just found out our treasurer has been taking money in cash and over-estimating bills and skimming off the rest. We are a 100 percent volunteer members' organization -- he must have thought it was like stealing candy from a baby.

We are worried that no one will take us seriously: the police, the government, etc. because we handle nearly everything in cash. He lied and lied and lied. We have to assess if we are still viable! What a horrible individual to have done this. Sorry, just venting anonymously!

By anon252395 — On Mar 05, 2012

My husband's employer filed our tax refund every year, but the refund was required by our employer to returned it to them. Is it legal? What about the refund for our children? They've done this for a long time. That's why we didn't receive our own refund.

By anon216112 — On Sep 20, 2011

Is it legal for the owner of a business that is LLC, with a partner, to take cash from the business daily and deposit it into his own personal checking account?

By anon141970 — On Jan 11, 2011

If I was in charge of the finances for a 50/50 partnership for a company worth approximately $50k, and over the course of three years, mistook my ATM card for the companies ATM card and spent close to $25k, but when I realized what happened, immediately offered to pay back 50 percent of the funds (that portion of the money that would have belonged to the partner), could the partner simply prosecute for embezzlement even though that partner had 100 percent full access to the account at all times?

And when the partner found out about the expenses, he took all of the money out of the account and started another account that only he had access to. Is that illegal? -- Buck

By anon131998 — On Dec 05, 2010

if someone is the treasurer of his building's cooperative corporation (NYC) or condo association, and he does not pay his own apartment's monthly maintenance for a period of several months to a year, is that embezzlement? If not, what is it? and is it a felony?

By anon113524 — On Sep 24, 2010

@anon67792: Your brother should be reported! yes it's financial abuse. What i need to know is if financial abuse and embezzlement can be interchangeable for a paper i'm writing.

By anon113522 — On Sep 24, 2010

is embezzling only from companies? if someone, her caregiver, or family member, bilks grandma for her money, didn't they embezzle her?

By anon95282 — On Jul 12, 2010

If a treasurer of an association had full legal authority to do transactions without any other signatures and transferred funds to other accounts and this would show on bank statements, but a ledger was also kept in good order and accurate and funds for the amount balance on the ledger are always available but from time to time the account may show less, would this be considered embezzlement?

By anon95192 — On Jul 11, 2010

The owner of our company is an employee at another. He puts tens of thousands through our company which he has taken from the one he works for, and he then moves the money out of our company to fictitious suppliers and to another company which he has acquired with the money he has taken from his employers.

I'm actually 100 percent certain both companies he owns have been bought with his employees' money. He has an accountant currently trying to doctor the books so it all looks legitimate. What course of action can i take and what are the penalties for the individual involved?

By anon95092 — On Jul 11, 2010

what are the penalties likely to be for a director of a small business who has filed for bankruptcy but during the process has been found to have embezzled over $100,000 by the trustees pbx?

By anon79840 — On Apr 24, 2010

Is it legal for a company owner to take funds from one company to use for another less successful company or to use that money for private purposes that are not business related?

By anon74330 — On Apr 01, 2010

- anon42304 comment no. 6: not embezzlement

- anon40768 comment no. 5: not embezzlement, if your boss is okay with that. but if not, then it is not good. don't do it.

By anon71182 — On Mar 17, 2010

is using a company credit card for personal use embezzlement?

By anon69746 — On Mar 10, 2010

anon67792 that's called financial abuse and it's illegal and not okay. Not sure if it is embezzlement, though.

By anon67792 — On Feb 26, 2010

If my adult brother, age 64, is taking money from out mother in early stages of dementia, is that embezzlement and abuse of the elderly?

By anon47577 — On Oct 06, 2009

I co-signed a loan to barrow 68,000 to start a business. I was injured at my other job. When I came back to the business all the money was gone and no receipts to show where it went. Is this enough to prosecute? Am I still liable for the loan?

By anon43682 — On Aug 31, 2009

I had an employee in a lawn business I found out he was using equipment and company fuel to mow lawns but pocketing the money. I fired him and then he started acquiring my lawn accounts through false statements, saying he owned the company and I was ripping him off. They went with him. What should I do?

By anon42304 — On Aug 20, 2009

if a husband and wife create a business as an llc during marriage and wife walks out and files for divorce taking some money with her to support her and children, is this embezzlement?

By anon40768 — On Aug 10, 2009

If I did not charge friends at my work (a vet clinic) for services is that embezzling money from my work? And I did not take a dime.

By working545 — On Jun 17, 2009

Property Manager has not credited me with rent paid/when landlord was questioned he said to take it up with property manager. He signed the checks and I have receipts...so do I go to the authorities and report both? I think he has his head in the sand! or where do you go to report this?

By msdoubtful — On Dec 06, 2008

If a man owns a business (had business before marrying), and wife takes care of the books, can she be charged with embezzling or theft if she takes money from the business secretly?

By anon14196 — On Jun 11, 2008

How can I get help in finding professionals who can investigate if there's embezzling going on with city officials where I live?

By eastwest — On Mar 31, 2008

Where I live, there has been a rash of school district officials embezzling money from the schools. Now, I know stealing is wrong no matter what, but can't we all agree that stealing from children - children in underfunded schools - is *totally* unacceptable??

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