Most people know, without question, that embezzlement is theft, and theft is wrong. Yet, otherwise respectable people — most often people who have never been in trouble before and who wouldn’t dream of doing something like shoplifting or armed robbery — end up embezzling from their employers all the time.

In fact, here are some of the surprising facts that researchers have turned up about embezzlement:

  • 93% of people who embezzle don’t have any kind of criminal record
  • Women embezzle slightly more often than men (57% to 43%)
  • Men tend to embezzle about 2.5 times more money than women
  • The average embezzlement scheme is more than four years old when it’s discovered

In addition, the majority of embezzlers (71%) are in trusted positions with their company’s financing and bookkeeping departments. That only makes sense, since those are usually the easiest positions to operate if you’re diverting money somewhere.

So, why do some people turn to embezzlement and not others? Psychologists say that there’s a cognitive dissonance that happens where people start to mentally distinguish their actions from “theft” in ways that they don’t even realize. Many embezzlers are under some kind of financial pressure, whether that’s due to an addiction or a spending habit, and they see the opportunity to embezzle. They don’t act, however, until they are able to justify their actions.

For some people, that means telling themselves that they’ll pay the money back right away (and then continuing to tell themselves that when they can’t). Others convince themselves that the company or bosses somehow deserve what they’re getting because they treat employees unfairly, are greedy or do something else distasteful.

Embezzlement doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person. You may have just made bad choices. If you’ve been charged with embezzlement, find out how an experienced attorney can help.