What is White Collar Crime?

Cite this article as:"What is White Collar Crime?," in The Business Professor, updated January 5, 2015, last accessed November 26, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/lesson/what-is-white-collar-crime/.

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What is a “White-collar Crime”?

White-collar crime characterizes crimes by criminals of high socioeconomic status or individuals who hold high-ranking, professional positions, such as corporate executives. More broadly, it includes any offense that occurs in a business or professional setting. These crimes can either be for personal gain or with the purpose of harming or benefiting the business.

  • Note: Unlike individuals, corporations cannot be put into jail. Corporations can, however, be fined and face other criminal penalties, such as involuntary dissolution.
  • Example: White-collar crimes includes: embezzling money, making electronic advances to fictitious employee, and accepting kickbacks from suppliers.

Discussion: Do you feel like white-collar crimes are punished as regularly or severely as non-white-collar crimes? How do you feel about the inability to incarcerate a business entity, when these entities receive many of the same rights and procedural protections of human beings?

Discussion Input

  • The statistics show that white-collar offenses are generally subject to far less severe punishment than other offenses. There are numerous theories associated with this reality, such as classism, racism, corporate bias, etc. Part of the problem may be that much white-collar criminal conduct is carried out in the name of a business. While businesses can be fined or dissolved, many other criminal punishments are not applicable to a non-human actor.

Practice Question: Gina is the Chief Financial Officer of ABC, Inc. In her role, she approves all major expenditures of corporate funds. She authorizes the use of corporate funds to pay for her vacation to the Bahamas with her family. She uses the funds for travel, lodging, gambling, and dining. She is able to conceal the expenditures by acting as disbursing and approval authority. Do Gina’s actions constitute white-collar crime?

Proposed Answer

  • White collar crime is nonviolent crime committed for financial gain. These crimes are characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust for self-gaining. White-collar crimes are committed by shrewd people to obtain or avoid losing money, property, or services, or to secure a personal or business advantage. In order to prove that a white-collar crime was committed, the prosecution must prove the following four elements:
    • Intent-the defendant must intentionally commit an unlawful, wrongful act.
    • Disguise and concealment-the defendant hides or conceals their criminal activity to avoid getting caught.
    • Knowledge-the defendant must have known that they committed the crime.
    • Reliance-the plaintiff or victim relied on the defendant’s fraudulent act or scheme.

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