What are white collar crimes?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines white collar crimes as financial crimes with fraud or deceit at their core. In other words, the term “white collar crime” refers to a whole category of crimes where someone fraudulently obtains the personal financial property of someone else for the purpose of enhancing his or her own financial position, or that of family members or friends, at the expense of the victim. 

Specific white collar crimes for which you can face either state or federal charges include the following: 

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

RICO crimes, i.e., those prosecuted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and various types of mortgage and banking fraud constitute additional white collar crimes. 

History of term

Edwin Sutherland, a prominent 20th century sociologist, first coined the term “white collar crime” during the 1930s. Per his definition, it consisted of a “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of their occupation.” 

Keep in mind that the term reflected the corporate dress code of the time. Top-level executives and stock brokers, those most likely to be in a position of trust on the part of their respective clients, invariably wore dark business suits and white shirts to work. Hence, “white collar.” 

Regardless of the type of business garb you wear today, if charged with a white collar crime, you can expect to face several charges, not simply one. Why? Because prosecutors like to cover as many bases as possible when they charge you. Statistics show that if the jury acquits you of one charge, they may well convict you of one or more of the other charges. 

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