It seems like a strange term: White-collar crime. It was originally defined by a sociologist named Edwin Sutherland in 1939. He called crime, “a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” A part of this somewhat antiquated definition still stands today. White-collar crime is a crime generally committed at work

A Modern Perspective

A more modern look at white-collar crime removes the socio-economic qualification. This isn’t to say white-collar crime isn’t still committed largely by individuals with high socio-economic standing, rather, it is not exclusively committed by them. White-collar crime generally covers the categories of: property crime, economic crime, corporate crime, environmental crime, and violations of health and safety laws. The FBI helps us find the common thread in all these crimes by defining white-collar crime as, “those illegal acts which are characterized by deceit, concealment or violation of trust and which are not dependent upon the application or threat of physical force or violence.”

The Whys and Hows

By definition, white-collar crime is a crime committed without the application of physical violence. Really, the only place people can pull this off is at work! It is hard to verbally rob someone or to taunt their car into stealing itself. No, white-collar crime is all about money laundering, identity theft, insider trading, Ponzi schemes, and forgery. You can’t commit these crimes unless you are in the position to commit them. Where else are you going to be in that position than at work? Well known cases involving Martha Stewart and the widely publicized Enron scandal are a few classic examples of white-collar crime. Martha Stewart was found guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of agency proceedings, while the Enron scandal centered on fraud as the company was found guilty of exaggerating, and even totally fabricating many of its assets.

White-collar crime is a crime of opportunity and position. Because its results are not immediately noticeable, it is widely misunderstood by many people. Hopefully now you have a better understanding of what white-collar crime is, and who generally commits it.