What’s the Difference Between Embezzlement and Larceny?

Embezzlement and larceny are two specific types of theft. The primary difference is that embezzlement involves theft by someone who is in a position of trust over the stolen items.

Laws involving embezzlement and larceny can vary across states. Here’s a more detailed overview of the elements of embezzlement and larceny and what you should know about these criminal charges.


Embezzlement is a form of white collar crime in which a person steals property that was entrusted to them in order to use it for their own personal benefit.

In most cases, embezzlement involves theft by an employee, a government employee or official, a trust administrator or a corporate officer. The person may be in a position in which they handle money or accounts, or control company inventory. The crime is one that often occurs over a number of months or years before being discovered, so amounts of money stolen during any single incident might be small but will add up over time.


Larceny is another term for theft, but is often a term used to denote criminal theft versus petty theft. It is a crime that involves taking property from another person or entity without their permission.

Some courts have subclassifications of larceny, such as petty larceny or grand larceny. Petty larceny would typically involve theft of items under a certain value, which varies based on the state. Grand larceny, meanwhile, involves theft of items or money valued over that threshold.

There are specific types of items that would also qualify for grand larceny charges. These include cars, guns, livestock and artwork.

The FBI says larceny accounts for more than 70 percent of property-related crimes, with a significant portion of those larceny cases involving items stolen from the inside of a vehicle.

Both larceny and embezzlement can come with some significant penalties, depending on factors such as:

  • Asset value: The more valuable the assets in question are, the higher the penalty is likely to be for theft or embezzlement.
  • Victim age: If the victim was elderly, the punishments for the crime are likely to be much more severe.
  • Criminal history: An alleged perpetrator who already has a criminal history (especially one involving other forms of theft) will face stiffer punishments than a first-time offender.
  • Government resources: If the alleged theft involved government resources, the perpetrator will likely face more severe consequences for their actions.

If the larceny involved only a small amount of money or property, there’s a chance a defendant in such a case will only face misdemeanor charges. Even with a misdemeanor, however, that defendant could face up to a year in jail and some significant fines.

The forensic accountants at Medina & Company Consulting have significant experience in investigating cases involving fraud and various forms of larceny. We’ve been in this business since 1987, and are capable of getting to the bottom of any allegations. For more information about the services we offer our clients, reach out to us today to arrange a consultation.