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Understanding White Collar Crime

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In the United States, there are many different types of crimes that are committed. One type of crime that is considered non-violent would be white-collar crime. Under white collared crimes there are hundreds of different types of crimes that would fall under this category. Sociologist and criminologists have come up with many different theories to what white-collar crime is and what type of people commit these crimes. In the next few paragraphs I will explain what white-collar crime is and my opinion on how white-collar crime should be dealt with. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI), white-collar crime can be defined as crimes that are built around lying, cheating and stealing (FBI.Web). Although white-collar crime is a broad term that encompasses many different types of non-violent criminal offenses that involve illegal transactions dealing with financial fraud. White-collar crime can range from bribery, embezzlement and larceny to white-collar schemes like auto repair, check kiting, coupon redemptions, ponzi and pyramid schemes (Schmalleger). Although these are just some of the crimes that are considered white-collar, there are many more crimes in-between these that are considered white-collar as well (FBI. Web).

Though white-collar crime is a major problem, it is difficult to document the extent of these crimes because the FBI crime statistics collect information on only three categories: fraud, counterfeiting and forgery, and embezzlement. All other white-collar crimes are listed in an “other” category (FBI. Web). White-collar crime didn’t just start in the past few years. Con men, swindlers, counterfeiters and embezzlers have been committing these crimes for many years (Friedrichs). In politics, white-collar crime polluted the nineteenth century and, for example, tarnished the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant (Friedrichs). The Teapot Dome Scandal of the mid-1920s did the same for President Warren G. Harding’s administration. But during these times, because of these high powered men that were involved, the United States showed lack in punishment towards these types of fraudulent crimes (Friedrichs).

After the crash of 1929 and the time of the Great Depression, the public and political attitudes toward white-collar crime began to change. Thanks to modern media outlets, these types of behaviors began to draw the public’s attention. In the 1930s, federal laws regulated the banking and securities industries (Friedrichs). In 1934, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was created to protect investors from white-collar crimes committed against them. Though the SEC has not always succeeded in catching these white-collar crimes, many brokers have been prosecuted since its existence (Friedrichs). Edwin H. Sutherland, a sociologist in the early twentieth century, gave his definition of the term white-collar crime while giving a speech to the American Sociological Association in 1939 (Schmalleger). Sutherland was also the publisher of the book White-Collar Crime, which he wrote ten years later. Sutherland believed that there was a huge difference between crimes of robbery, burglary and murder, which he called “blue-collar crime,” and white-collar crime.

Criminals of blue-collar crimes were typically “street criminals” (Schmalleger). Their crimes had no link to their occupations and they were most likely poor. Individuals of higher economic and social status, committed white-collar crimes and their crimes were linked to their socially respected professions. Sutherland also stated that few criminals of white-collar crimes spent any prison time compared to the blue-collar criminals. He also said that white-collar criminals had more of a negative impact on U.S. society than street criminals (Schmalleger). In the recent years, with more state and federal laws against these white-collar crimes, it has become more difficult to get away with such crimes.

There are more agencies out there today that help prevent and help catch these white-collar criminals before they hurt many individuals and investors. Agencies like the FBI, the National Check Fraud Center and the National White Collar Crime Center which teaches small to large businesses how to prevent and know how to spot a white-collar crime within their company. Even though there are many protections out there today, it is still a hard crime to prevent. Most local law enforcement officers don’t see these types of white-collar crimes happen due to the criminals committing the crimes are in a private setting when committing these types of crimes (Schmalleger). Usually, the individuals committing white-collar crimes are trusted employees within a business and the crime isn’t caught till after the offense has been made.

In conclusion, white-collar crime has become more of a common thing within businesses today than ever before. Or, it may becoming more noticeable as more prevention is put into place to catch these white-collar crimes. I do believe most of the white-collar crime committed is due to greed. I also believe some of these crimes may be caused because of the individuals strain in their life the time of the crime takes place (Agnew pg. 48). Though a lot more individuals are being prosecuted for white-collar crimes that they commit, I still believe that power and money help the individual get off easier because of their social status. I blame how the government first set the social class stigma between crimes that were committed by so called “poor” people and “sophisticated” people.

The terms white-collar and blue-collar should have never been established by an individual’s social class. The term non-violent crime mentioned by the FBI may be technically correct but tell that to the millions of victims that have suffered from the corrupt criminals that destroyed their families, homes and even pushed their victims to commit suicide. Although we cannot change the past, we can only change how we approach the future.


Agnew, Robert. (1992). Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology. 30(1), 47-87.
Schmalleger, Frank. (2012). Criminology Today an integrative introduction. Friedrichs, David O. 2004. Trusted Criminals: White Collar Crime in Contemporary Society. FBI.Gov. 2012. (Web)

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