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White collar crime: What is it and which ones are most common?

On Behalf of | Jun 26, 2020 | Criminal Defense

Per the Federal Bureau of Investigation, white collar crime is a category of crime that involves some type of deceit or fraud on the part of its perpetrators. Its purpose is to give them or their friends or family member some type of personal financial gain by means of illegally obtaining the money from its rightful owners.

The term “white collar crime” came into vogue back in the late 1930s when an American sociologist by the name of Edwin Sutherland coined it. Known as one of the most influential criminologists of the 20th Century, Sutherland defined white collar crime as a “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of their occupation.”

“White collar” designation

Why the “white collar” designation? Corporate dress codes of the time required businessmen to wear conservative suits, ties and white long-sleeved shirts to work. What few women existed in corporate culture had to wear conservative skirted business suits, white blouses and high-heeled shoes. Thus, a white collar job did indeed bespeak of one’s respectability and high social status with regard to their occupation or profession.

Common white collar crimes

Both then and now, white collar crimes include a long list of specific crimes, including the following:

  • Money laundering
  • Intellectual property theft
  • Identity theft
  • Embezzlement
  • Health care fraud
  • Ponzi schemes

Additional white collar crimes include any type of corporate, banking or mortgage fraud, as well as those crimes prosecuted under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

People who commit white collar crimes must hold a sufficiently high position within a company to have the trust and respect necessary to deceive others about what they are doing with the money or other financial instruments entrusted to their care.

The list of possible white collar crime victims is as long as the list of the crimes themselves. Investors often become victims, as witnessed by the infamous Bernie Madoff investment and securities fraud scandal discovered in 2008. Accused of stealing approximately $65 billion from his unsuspecting investors, Madoff ultimately pleaded guilty to several reduced charges for which he received a 150-year federal prison sentence.

Photo of Attorney Phillip A. Geigle