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Differences between embezzlement and theft

On Behalf of | Jun 8, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Financial crimes in Iowa cover a group of illegal activities committed for the benefit of the offender. The perpetrator often uses deceit, bribery, or violence to gain control of property. They may also use deceitful methods to protect something they have already received. Two common financial crimes are theft and embezzlement, but they differ.


Theft commonly consists of four elements:

  • The offender didn’t have lawful possession of the property
  • They took the property.
  • They didn’t have consent.
  • They had intent to deprive the owner of property.

The property must be tangible to classify as a theft, meaning the property can get seized and converted. Theft divides further into various subcategories, which include larceny, shoplifting, and robbery.

Sometimes, larceny and theft get used synonymously, but larceny is commonly a less serious offense. In cases of financial crimes involving theft, the court must determine the value of the property and the type.


Embezzlement is committed when the following elements apply:

  • A fiduciary relationship must exist or the offender had legal access to property.
  • The offender unlawfully used or converted the property without permission.
  • They intended to keep or transfer the property.

Embezzlement commonly occurs when an employee is in charge of cash or handling vendors. For example, an employee commits embezzlement if they take cash from the cash register or sell items they stole.

The employee may manipulate the books to hide the theft, and sometimes get away with it for months or years, because they make small transactions. The prosecution must show all elements apply, but these types of financial crimes are often hard to prove.



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