Embezzlement: theft or misappropriation of funds placed in one's trust or belonging to one's employer

I do understand "theft... funds", but from "placed in..." I do not understand what it means. Can someone explain it?

  • 1
    If you don't understand one definition, it's usually a good idea to check a different dictionary. Regardless, what, specifically about this is confusing?
    – Catija
    Feb 22, 2017 at 21:44
  • It would help us explain it if you told us which parts of the bolded phrase are confusing. What does it seem to mean to you? Is the problem with "trust" or "one's" or "belonging" or something else?
    – ColleenV
    Feb 22, 2017 at 21:50

4 Answers 4


Suppose I live in a remote village with poor communication infrastructure, so making phone calls, sending emails, etc. is not easy. I want to send my young child to a good school in a far-off city. I am not able to travel myself, but someone I know offers to take my child there for me. I give this person enough money to cover the child's fees and other expenses for the whole school year, and he leaves for the city, taking my child along.

When they reach the school, the friend gets the child enrolled in the school, arranges boarding, etc. But he tells the school authorities that I have given him enough money to cover the fees and expenses for only the first term, and that I will send the money for the rest of the year some time later. The school has no way to verify this and my child is too young to understand matters around money. So the school gets only half the money I sent, and the person with whom I had left the money in trust has just embezzled the other half.

Strictly speaking, embezzlement is a bit more legal and formal than that. It would involve not just that I handed over the money to this person, but that there was a signed contract to the effect that this person is holding my money in trust for my child. The idea is:

  • A person has formalized, legal access to money which is somebody else's: an employer's; a client's; a business partner's; a friend's.
  • That money is supposed to be used for a particular purpose and this person is not supposed to use it for any other purpose
  • This person is entrusted with the money with the clear understanding and legal agreement that it will be used only for the specific purpose
  • The person betrays that trust, misappropriates the money, and secretly diverts it to another use.

That's embezzlement. It doesn't matter what the other use is: maybe the money is donated to charity; maybe the money is temporarily "borrowed" with the intention of replacing it as soon as possible, before anybody notices it is gone; maybe the money just disappears into that person's pocket. Whatever the circumstances and motives, such a misuse of funds is embezzlement.

Hope that makes it clearer!


If I "place something in your trust", it means I give you something (usually something of value) which you are trusted to keep for me until I want it back.

In the case of a banker or financial manager, I "place (some amount of money) in their trust" with an expectation that they will not only keep it safe, but also invest the money so that it grows over time. I also trust that they will not take any of the return on investment for themselves.

Of course my banker or financial manager gets paid in some way, through fees and/or a percentage of the investment, but always something previously agreed to.

Embezzlement is the crime where a trusted person instead takes some of the money, without my knowledge or agreement. The trusted person can be anyone with access to the money.


"Trust" is a concept. For somebody to place something in your trust (entrust it to you) means you now have power over it and they are trusting you to be honest, and act according to the person's expectations (and any rules that might exist).


Assume you were treasurer of a chess club. The club has annual membership dues, plus it makes money from a periodic chess tournament they hold, and maybe other activities during the year. Then you decide to use some of that money, belonging to the chess club, for your own purpose. Even if you plan to pay it back, it is a crime called embezzlement.

My company used to entrust a small amount of cash to a secretary for miscellaneous expenditures. Perhaps an employee needs to get a passport quickly, or your company is about to have international guests and someone needs to go purchase some sodas, teas, and coffees for them. If the secretary used any of that money for her own unauthorized use, that is again embezzlement.

  • Cool. I will bet that most people don't know this. So a 10-year-old kid eats a candy bar that s/he was supposed to sell for a school fundraiser, planning to pay for it when the money is due to be turned in.... Embezzled! Or it has to be cash?
    – Stew C
    Feb 22, 2017 at 22:07
  • The question is not asking what embezzlement means. They're asking for assistance understanding the definition's wording.
    – Catija
    Feb 22, 2017 at 22:09
  • Hm, OP said that from a certain point on they don't understand what it (the definition?) means. So I still feel they mean both wording and definition.
    – Stew C
    Feb 22, 2017 at 22:11
  • @StewC if the OP is just asking for the definition of the word, that would be off topic. We're not here to be a dictionary for people. Asking with help understanding what the dictionary says, however, is completely fine.
    – Catija
    Feb 22, 2017 at 22:13
  • @StewC I am not sure of the legalities. But with the 10yo kid and candy bars, I was him. Well, maybe I was 14. But since I knew when the money had to be turned in, and I turned it (and remaining stock) all in, I don't believe I embezzled anything. The treasurer of the chess club might have an audit at any time. In practice, the club would probably allow him to make up the missing funds immediately, but they probably would not allow him/her to be treasurer any more.
    – RichF
    Feb 22, 2017 at 22:19

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