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What is the Difference Between Embezzlement and Fraud?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Embezzlement and fraud are closely connected concepts, and it is not surprising that there is some confusion between the two. Put simply, fraud in general involves an act or acts of deception for personal gain. Embezzlement is a specific type of fraud, where people steal through fraudulent activity. Penalties for these crimes vary, depending on the specifics of a case, and it can be prosecuted as a criminal act in some cases, not just a civil crime.

People who commit embezzlement are in a position to legally have possession of property, and use fraud to gain control of it. For example, a bank teller legally has access to accounts and can transfer and control funds as part of the teller's work. If the bank teller transfers funds from a customer's account to her own, this would be embezzlement. She is using fraud, misrepresenting the transaction as approved by the bank to steal money belonging to someone else.

It is possible for people to be charged separately for embezzlement and fraud, as people may commit other fraudulent activities during the process of embezzling assets. To build a case, people must show that the defendant had legal authority over the assets, took them with the use of fraudulent activity, and restricted the ownership rights of the person who actually owns the property by making it impossible to access.

People with responsibility over assets are held to very high standards of behavior due to concerns about embezzlement and fraud. When actions involving transfers of title and movements of assets are undertaken, they are documented carefully to show they are valid and legal and to reduce the risks of unauthorized transfers. The practice of keeping proof of title in separate locations is one way to address concerns about embezzlement and fraud; a mechanic, for example, cannot illegally transfer a car into her ownership while it is in her care by reregistering it if the car's title documents are securely stored.

The difference between embezzlement and fraud can be important in cases where the finer details of the case are being argued. People can commit fraud without embezzling and it is possible for people to steal in ways that are not fraudulent, as for example when a bank robber enters a bank and demands funds, or when someone fraudulently claims to have a university degree and uses this degree as a professional qualification to get jobs.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By BoniJ — On Aug 05, 2011

Some of the more interesting cases of fraud have to do with people who take on a new identity and promote themselves as self-proclaimed charity money raisers. They convince their followers to contribute money to good causes. But they then pocket the entire amount. This tactic is both fraud and embezzlement.

I've heard of some people, who have fraudulently gotten a doctor's credentials or credentials for other professions, and actually practiced for several years until they were caught.

You see fraud from the highest levels of society down to fraud between a husband and wife. It seems like some of the smartest and cleverest people get into the fraud game!

By Esther11 — On Aug 04, 2011

I've heard a number of stories lately about cases of embezzlement in banks and corporations. These cases seem to be on the increase. I don't know if it's because of the poor economic conditions, or is it due to lax monitoring of security regulations?

One story I heard concerned an employee of a large corporation. He/she left one day after work and never returned. After some investigation, it was found that she had used the corporate credit card to buy personal items for herself. I don't know whether she was found and prosecuted.

In another case, when a customer came into the bank, it was discovered that the living trust papers for his parents were missing, along with the signature cards and other personal information. The employee, who had set up the account with the living trust, had left the bank. The bank officers were in a tizzy, not knowing quite what to do.

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if an employee took the files and left the bank because he/she wanted to wait for an opportunity to use the personal information of the customer to embezzle some much needed cash.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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