Embezzlement is a type of white collar crime that involves someone with authority and access — who is usually trusted not to abuse those things — stealing money from a business or organization. Often, someone who embezzles attempts to cover up the activity by altering accounting records of some type, including financial journal entries, receipts or invoices.

Being accused of embezzlement is very serious because it can result in criminal consequences, including jail time. It can also derail your personal career. Even if you are found not guilty of charges associated with embezzlement, your career could flounder because of trust issues and damage to your personal and professional reputation.

It’s important to note that embezzlement usually requires intent. If you simply make an accounting mistake or place funds in the wrong corporate account. This is not embezzlement. However, these actions could result in the accusation of embezzlement if a company can’t immediately explain the mistake or find the missing funds. Working quickly to clear your name of such accusations and charges is often the best way to preserve both your freedom and your career.

Four factors must be relevant for a charge of embezzlement. The first factor is a fiduciary relationship; the party that you are accused of embezzling from must rely on you in a trust capacity. Second, you have to have gotten any property you are accused of taking through the fiduciary relationship.

Third, you had to actually take legal ownership of the stolen property or provide ownership of that property to someone else. If a company moves money into an account with your name on it and you can prove that you knew nothing about this, it’s not embezzlement on your part. Finally, you have to have intentionally done these things. A valid mistake is just that: a mistake.

Understanding these factors and working with a criminal defense lawyer can help you mitigate damage from accusations.

Source: FindLaw, “Embezzlement,” accessed Jan. 08, 2016