Understanding White Collar Crimes in the World of Business

The specifics of the legal system can be somewhat complex, especially for those who have little experience of working with lawyers or dealing with legal cases of their own, and there are various terms that get thrown around commonly without a lot of explanation.

White collar crime is one of the many terms you may have heard of, without fully understanding what kinds of crimes are classed as “white collar”, how these crimes differ from others, what sorts of punishments are handed out to white collar criminals, and so on. This guide will cover all the basics.

What Is White Collar Crime?

The term “white collar” is used to apply to people who usually work in office or administrative environments in industries and sectors like accounting, government, business management, finance, HR, marketing, IT, and so on.

The term “white collar crime”, therefore, applies to crimes involving these kinds of workers, typically committing criminal acts that involve some kind of fraud or deceit in order to gain a financial advantage for themselves.

The term itself was invented in the 1930s and has grown over the years to cover quite a broad range of criminal acts that are focused around deception, violation of trust, or concealment, rather than the use of violence or brute force.

Despite the fact that these crimes may appear less violent and therefore less worrying on the surface for the average member of the public, they’re still crimes, and they are far from victimless. Indeed, the worst white collar crimes can destroy companies, wipe out entire family finances, and cause the loss or theft of enormous sums of money.

Examples of white collar crimes can include the following:

  • Financial fraud
  • Embezzlement
  • Racketeering
  • Blackmail
  • Unemployment fraud
  • Counterfeiting
  • Bribery
  • Money laundering

How Are White Collar Crimes Unique?

As stated above, white collar crimes are still crimes, and anyone accused of a white collar crime will need to seek out the services of a trusted and experienced law firm. However, there are some differences that separate these kinds of crimes from others.

Notably, as mentioned earlier, white collar crimes don’t involve any kind of physical violence like assault or murder. They’re more based around trickery, deceit, and financial subterfuge, designed to bring profit or some sort of financial advantage to the criminal.

As the term suggests, the people who commit these crimes also tend to fall into a certain category. They’re usually in white collar jobs like governmental roles, business management, or jobs in the financial sector. 

Who Invented the Term?

The criminologist and sociologist, Edwin Sutherland is the man who is credited with inventing the term white collar criminal back in 1939. At the time, Sutherland suggested that such criminals and crimes should receive more lenient punishments than violent crimes, as the people committing them were less dangerous to society.

Are White Collar Crimes Less Dangerous?

While Sutherland’s original term has stuck around as the years have gone by, his viewpoint hasn’t. There are arguments to be made that these kinds of crimes are less physically damaging to people in the way that they don’t directly cause physical harm, but they can still lead to very dramatic consequences for the people and entities involved.

There have been many cases of white collar crimes in which investors or shareholders have lost billions of dollars, for example, with entire companies brought to a halt and families of business owners destroyed. The mental health toll of such crimes can also be catastrophic, with some white collar crimes leading to depression and suicide of the victims.

Clearly then, even though such crimes don’t involve the use of drugs, guns, or knives, they can still be deadly and dangerous in a lot of different ways, and a single white collar criminal can cause untold damage to countless lives, affecting everyone associated with a business, for example.

How Are These Crimes Punished?

Given that the effects of white collar crimes can be vast and widespread, the punishments for such crimes can be very severe. Criminals may be sent to prison for a long time or even for the rest of their lives in certain cases, but in many cases, since these criminals are less physically threatening than attempted murderers or other violent criminals, they tend to be sent to minimum security facilities where they can have a more comfortable quality of life.

Final Word

It’s important for business owners to be aware of the risks of white collar crimes, always carrying out background checks on prospective hires and taking action if criminal acts are suspected in their companies.

What Next?

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