“Theft” is a broad term that encompass an almost impossibly wide range of behaviors. For example, it can be as simple as physically taking cash or personal effects to as complex as long-term securities fraud. Embezzlement is a form of theft that is often understood to encompass a relatively narrow type of theft — white collar theft from an employer by an employee. But the full scope of embezzlement is much broader than that, and the elderly are often its victims. When embezzlement is committed against an elderly person, it is a form of financial elder abuse. If you have been the victim of embezzlement, a California financial elder abuse attorney can help you recover.
What Is Embezzlement?
Embezzlement is helpfully — and succinctly — defined at California Penal Code § 503. Embezzlement is the “fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted.” It generally involves the following four elements:
- The owner of the property entrusted property to the perpetrator
- The owner did so because they trusted the perpetrator
- The perpetrator fraudulently converted the victim’s property to their own benefit
- The perpetrator intended to deprive the victim of the use of the property
As with other types of fraud in California, a critical element is that the perpetrator must intend to defraud the victim. A good faith belief by the perpetrator in their right to use the property does not constitute embezzlement.
Embezzlement in the Elder Abuse Context
Many elderly individuals entrust their money and other belongings to family members, often granting them extensive authority to act on their behalf, such as through power of attorney. Unfortunately, unscrupulous custodians of such assets are often tempted to use them for their own benefit, and such use often goes far beyond “skimming a bit off the top.” It could occur, for example, where the elderly victim gives the perpetrator their credit card to use to purchase groceries, but the perpetrator uses it to purchase items for themselves. In a more extreme example, an elderly victim could give the perpetrator the password to their bank and investment accounts to manage their finances, only for the perpetrator to steal large sums of money out of those accounts.
Penalties for Embezzlement
Embezzlement has both criminal and civil consequences. Under California criminal law, it is typically charged as either grand theft (worth more than $950, an automobile or a firearm) or petty theft (less than $950). Grand theft carries a penalty of up to three years in jail, while petty theft carries a penalty of up to six months in jail. On the civil side, elderly victims of embezzlement and other forms of theft and fraud may pursue a civil action under the California Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, which allows for enhanced damages in some cases.
Hold the Perpetrators of Embezzlement Accountable With Help From a San Francisco Financial Elder Abuse Lawyer
Proving embezzlement can be tricky, but the best way to do so is with help from an experienced attorney. To get started, please contact a California financial elder abuse attorney at the Evans Law Firm, Inc., by using our online contact form or calling 415-441-8669 or toll-free at 1-888-50EVANS (888-503-8267).