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What Collar Crime

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Crime is just plain crime. Fraud, the art of deliberated deception for unlawful gain, has been around forever. Since 1939 a term, “white collar crime,” has surfaced. These crimes are almost looked at as a different type of crime with different and often less severe forms of punishment. These crimes should be treated as other crimes. White collar crime is a serious social issue. White collar crimes are on the rise; they are committed by all types of Americans whether they are business people, celebrities, or law enforcement and range from embezzlement, public corruption, or even health care fraud. Society needs to understand what exactly white collar crime is, why these crimes are on the rise, why people commit these crimes, who commits them, and the different types of white collar crimes as well as how white collar crime is a growing sociological issue.

The rates of murder, robbery, and assault and other types of violent and property crimes has declined or flattened in the last decade and there has been a noted increase in accounting and corporate infractions, fraud in health care, identity theft, etc (New York Times, 2002). White collar crime among the new generation seems to be the crime of choice. Considering the need and more frequent use of technology such as computers and cell phones, this is a society that are becoming more prone to white collar crimes such as identity theft. Many people bay bills online and have bank account information or updates of their checking account and credit card information sent to their computers or cell phones. The poor economic situations in this country also play a large part in these crimes. Unemployment rates are skyrocketing and everyone is being affected. Now more than ever people are more likely to commit these crimes to continue their lifestyles or to improve their financial situations.

People commit fraud because of three factors, financial pressure, the perception of an opportunity, and rationalizing that it is acceptable (New York Times, 2002). The education level of society has greatly increased in the last couple of decades (Zarka, 2007), and because of less harsh punishment, people feel that white collar crimes are the way to go. Many people perceive white collar crime as a rational choice opposed to other crimes such as mugging a person on the street or robbing a bank. In 1939 Edwin Sutherland coined the term “white collar crime”. Sutherland describes that these crimes are committed in commercial situations for financial gain. He also described the difficulty to prosecute because perpetrators use sophisticated means to conceal their activities through a series of complex transactions (Cornell Law School, 2010).

Most people recall seeing on the news the scandal involving Enron and Martha Stewart. The fact is, more and more famous celebrities, business professionals, and even law enforcement are committing these serious crimes. Walter Forbes, chairmen of Cendant Corporation, participated in a scheme to inflate the stock of their predecessor CUC International by $500 million. At the time, this was the largest accounting fraud in US history. Forbes was convicted of conspiracy and two counts of false reporting. He was only sentenced to 12 years in prison ( Biography Channel 2010).

Alexander Yakolev and Vladimir Kuznetsov were Russian diplomats serving in the United Nations office. They both took bribes totaling in the millions to sway directions of contracts and engaged in money laundering and committed wire fraud. Kuznetsov was found guilty and only sentenced to 51 months in prison and a $73,000 fine in 2007. Of course, who can forget the famous case of Martha Stewart? In December of 2001 Stewart sold over 3,000 shares of Imclone System shares to save her $45,000 on her stocks. She was convicted of conspiracy, false statement, and perjury charges. For her crime she was only sentences to ten months imprisonment and fines of $250,000. In more recent news Bernard Madoff, a pioneer of Wall Street and also ex chairman of NASDAQ, admitted that his entire business that he has had for twenty years, was a huge Ponzi scheme. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison, one of the longest sentences for white collar crimes.

After the Madoff case, among others, psychologists sought out answers to why people are driven to commit high stakes fraud or white collar crimes. It is thought that there can be certain behaviors of scam artists or people who commit white collar crimes that fit into certain “themes”. One is narcissism, which makes one perceive themselves as “greater than thou” and also is greed and lack of remorse. Also, many of these people who commit white collar crimes show antisocial personality disorder. Throughout the years there has been an increase in white collar crimes due to people putting more emphasis on money rather than family or community values. “Money has been equated with power” (Josephson, 2008). In Washington, D.C., Douglas LaBier has been a business psychologist and psychotherapist for senior executives in corporations for decades. Like Josephson, LaBier sees the heads of these Ponzi schemes as extreme examples of a cultural problem.”It’s a continuum and more extreme at the executive end,” said LaBier, who is president of Center for Adult Development in Washington.

“You’re in that stratosphere and everything you stand for is your career,” said LaBier. “If your identity is so wrapped up in your career, when that starts to unravel, there’s no grounding and you’re in quicksand.” LaBier said he’s seen a “careerist” culture blossom in past decades that connected a person’s value to their job. While everyone may become party to it, the more success one has, the more danger they are in to only identify with that success, and protect it with questionable actions. “It’s for any individual. He [Madoff] is not in a vacuum. He’s reflecting a larger culture,” said LaBier. “It took the form of money because that’s the arena he’s in. … but the personal collapse, the sense of who you are, gets destroyed” (Cox, 2008).

Types of white collar crimes vary and sometimes it is hard to constitute exactly what qualifies as white collar crimes. According to statistics from the National White Collar Crime Center (2010 FBI): * Approximately one in three American households are victims of these crimes, but only 41% report it * Of the crimes reported, only 21% are handled by law enforcement or consumer protection agencies * While arrests for violent crimes have declined, fraud and embezzlement arrests have risen. Some of the most common white collar crimes are: embezzlement, the taking of someone’s property by a person with whom it is entrusted. Fraud -often includes but it is not limited to health care fraud and tax fraud. Racketeering- the extortion of money by force or a pattern of criminal activity committed to further interests of a criminal syndicate. Also included are bribery, computer fraud, public corruption, and price fixing (Reiman, 1998).

White collar crime is a class based sociological concept of crime. These crimes are committed to business men, professionals, and politicians, according to sociologist Edwin Sutherland. These crimes are not as severely punished as other similar crimes committed by lower class people. Examples of white collar crimes are a majority of upper class professional people. A significant rise in white collar crime in the last twenty years is in part also due to the rise, need, and excessive use of technology such as computers and cell phones. White collar crime is a serious sociological issue society faces today and will continue to grow. Take a look at white collar crimes with the same disgust and detestation as other crimes. More severe punishment is needed for such crimes, heavier fines and more imprisonment.


Federal Bureau of Investigation (2010) White Collar Crime US Federal Government, US Department of Justice Also online: www.biography.com/notorious/crimefiles Cornell University Law School (May 7, 2002) Legal Information Institute White Collar Crime: An

Cox, L. (2008) ABC News, What Was Madoff Thinking?
New York Times (2002) Downturn and Shift in Population Feed Boom in White Collar Crime Reiman, J. (1998) The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and
Criminal Justice
Zarka, H. (June 5, 2007) The Causes Of White Collar Crime
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