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What’s the difference between theft and embezzlement?

| Feb 3, 2021 | White Collar Crime

While theft in New York is easy to define, embezzlement is a little trickier. Some employees commit embezzlement without even realizing it. Whether it was intentional or not, embezzlement is a serious crime that can result in years of jail time.

What’s the difference between theft and embezzlement?

In the world of criminal law, theft is the act of outright taking something that you don’t own. For example, if you pocketed a pack of gum at the gas station and walked out without paying, that would be considered theft. Conversely, embezzlement involves having perfectly legal access to your company’s financial assets and transferring them to your account without the company’s knowledge.

One common form of embezzlement is misusing the company credit card. This includes using the company credit card for personal expenses that weren’t approved by upper management. Even a small purchase like buying a soda technically counts as embezzlement. You have legal access to the company credit card, but you’re using the funds in illegal ways.

Stealing office supplies is another common form of embezzlement. Some employees think it’s acceptable to take supplies like envelopes, notepads and pencils home, not realizing that those supplies cost the company money. To prevent theft, many companies have resorted to locking up their office supplies and ordering supplies in small amounts.

Surprisingly, stealing items from the company is also considered embezzlement. This might sound like a form of theft, but unlike a regular customer, employees have legal access to the products that they’re stealing. They might steal items directly off the shelves or take them from the warehouse, thinking that no one will notice. Inevitably, someone does notice, leading the employee to hire a criminal defense attorney.

Have you been accused of embezzlement?

Some forms of embezzlement are obvious, like stealing money from a cash register or siphoning funds into your bank account. However, it’s possible to commit embezzlement without realizing it. Call an attorney if your business accuses you of embezzlement, forgery, extortion, identity theft or another white-collar crime. The situation might stem from a simple misunderstanding.