Fraud vs. Embezzlement: What’s the Difference?

By Joel Hancock

North Carolina recognizes several different types of property theft. The specific theft charge a prosecutor will bring against a defendant depends on the case’s unique facts. Two of the most commonly prosecuted theft crimes are fraud and embezzlement. Although these crimes may seem similar, there are important differences between them.

Both Fraud and Embezzlement Require Fraudulent Intent

Fraud and embezzlement are two different crimes. However, fraudulent intent is a key element prosecutors must prove in embezzlement cases. Fraud happens when someone intentionally cheats or misleads another person, generally for his or her own monetary gain. On the other hand, embezzlement occurs when a person entrusted with certain assets intentionally takes the assets for himself or herself.

North Carolina’s Fraud Laws

Fraud can be considered a civil matter. For example, when one business engages in fraudulent behavior to induce another business to sign a contract, the victim can pursue financial damages through a civil lawsuit.

However, in some cases, fraud is considered more serious, and a person can face criminal charges. The penalties for criminal fraud charges can include:

  • fines,
  • jail time,
  • and having a permanent criminal record.

In criminal fraud cases, the defendant is accused of defrauding another person without his or her knowledge. 

Eventually, the other individual will discover that he or she has been defrauded. Just as with embezzlement charges, most criminal fraud cases require that the prosecution prove that the fraud was committed intentionally. In many cases, a person can embezzle another person or company through multiple fraudulent actions. As a result, a defendant could face fraud and embezzlement charges. The defendant could be found guilty of one but not the other or guilty of both fraud and embezzlement.

Embezzlement Is a Crime in North Carolina

Embezzlement usually involves more systematic behavior to defraud another person than is necessary to prove the crime of fraud occurred. Embezzlement is different from fraud because the prosecution must prove that the defendant was in a position of trust when he or she allegedly embezzled money or property. For example, a financial advisor would be in a position of trust with his or her client.

If the financial advisor began taking some of the client’s money and transferring it to his or her own personal account, the action would be considered embezzlement. Embezzlement cases vary from a cashier taking $100 out of the cash register over a period of a few days to white-collar crimes involving millions of dollars taken over months or years. 

Understanding the Differences and Penalties

However, in most cases, embezzlement happens in smaller increments over time. For example, a bank teller deposits small amounts of customers’ funds into his or her own account gradually over a period of six months. Another critical difference between embezzlement and fraud involves the type of penalties involved. 

Embezzlement can be charged as a much more serious crime than fraud in North Carolina because it usually involves multiple fraudulent acts. Depending on the amount of money allegedly embezzled, a defendant could be charged with a felony crime that carries significant jail time. The penalties depend on the type of property embezzled and its total value. 

Charged with Fraud or Embezzlement in North Carolina? Speak to a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney

You’ll benefit from speaking to an attorney immediately if you’ve been charged with fraud or embezzlement. If you are convicted, you could face jail time, fines, and a permanent criminal record that can make finding housing and employment difficult. Don’t hesitate to contact defense attorney Joel Hancock of Hancock Law Firm to schedule a complimentary case evaluation and learn about how he can fight to protect your rights.

About the Author
Joel Hancock is a native of Carteret County, NC. He devotes 100% of his practice to defending those accused of traffic infractions, DWI, misdemeanors, and felonies in Carteret County, NC.