Characters: The shocking case of the embezzler among us

You’ve probably seen the headlines in your own paper: “46-year-old woman arrested for embezzlement.” “Long-time bank branch manager facing charges.” And so on.

Seems like a regular feature in the local papers: A trusted employee, usually a middle-aged woman, is charged with embezzling a few thousand, or a few hundred thousand, dollars from her long-time employer. The employer had had suspicions, but couldn’t imagine any of his or her employees actually doing such a thing. Or the employer just thought business was tough and everyone had to work harder.

That trend caught the eye of a Missoulian reporter, who earlier this year interviewed security consultants and others who study patterns of criminal behavior. The article explores motivations, gender differences, and methods. A companion story provides tips on preventing embezzlement.

Why women? Opportunity, it seems. Women work as bank tellers and branch managers, as court clerks and office managers. They have easy access to cash, sometimes lots of it. And embezzlement is not a violent crime. It doesn’t require body size, strength, or a weapon.

They’re ordinary women, in most cases. I knew the credit union branch manager who embezzled nearly $700,000 and staged her own disappearance. Saw her every week or two for years when I did my banking. Always friendly, married, loved to chat about her kids’ sporting events. I never would have imagined her a big-time thief.

Another embezzler I knew was a repeat offender. She told the second employer about her previous conviction, explaining that she’d taken money to enable herself to leave a bad marriage and support her children on her own. She’d done her penance. But then, she abused her second chance, embezzling more than $200,000 over several years. Why? As far as I could tell, it stemmed from envy of her employer’s financial security, a desire to travel and give her children gifts, possibly including business start-up money, and a belief that he wouldn’t notice–or would be reluctant to prosecute. And of course, she got away with it for years. Her own parents shunned her. She went to prison.  But when I ran into her in K-Mart a year or more after her release, she looked like the average woman down the street.

And that’s the advantage these criminals have: they don’t fit our image of criminals. As a writer, you can use that advantage, too.

2 thoughts on “Characters: The shocking case of the embezzler among us

  1. I worked for a financial services company where a young girl who worked in accounting embezzled from the company. It was shocking. The company fired her but did not prosecute. In her case, she apparently did it at the behest of a boyfriend. (which does not excuse her, but she was, per your point, the sweetest girl)

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