White collar crime is a unique type of crime that is considered to be different in many ways from the more traditional, usually violent “blue collar” crimes. The term was coined by Professor Edwin Hardin Sutherland in 1939 to describe crimes committed by professionals in the workplace. “White collar” refers to the white, collared shirts typically worn by people in administrative, business, and managerial positions. These crimes are typically nonviolent and frequently involve an abuse of power to steal money for personal gain.
Types of Crime
These business-related crimes come in many forms. Any individual who gains money through unlawful fraud or another illegal means is guilty of committing a white collar crime. Businesspeople create schemes to “skim off the top” of an asset pool or may steal huge amounts of money from investors or companies to fund a lavish lifestyle. Some of the common schemes that are classified as white collar crimes include:
- antitrust violations,
- computer and internet fraud,
- credit card fraud,
- phone and telemarketing fraud,
- bankruptcy fraud,
- healthcare fraud,
- environmental law violations,
- insurance fraud,
- mail fraud,
- government fraud,
- tax evasion,
- financial fraud,
- securities fraud,
- insider trading,
- public corruption,
- money laundering,
- economic espionage and trade secret theft
Many critics point out that there is a major disparity between the convictions and penalties for white collar crime suspects versus blue collar crime suspects. They state that, because the crimes are typically nonviolent and involve individuals of a higher class, convicts receive shorter sentences and nicer prison accommodations than their blue collar counterparts. While this may be true for smaller cases, major criminals involved in fraud, Ponzi schemes, and other business-related fraud have recently been aggressively prosecuted. Some have received sentences for life in prison, along with huge court-ordered fines and restitution payments.
While the charge depends on the size of the illegal operation and the degree of involvement for each individual, committing a white collar crime typically results in a felony charge. This may seem steep since no one is physically hurt, but these types of crimes can cause considerable financial damage to hundreds or even thousands of people. Very large cases may even impact the regional or national economy to an extent.
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