When you hear your Washington friends and neighbors talking about white collar crimes, you may not know exactly what they are talking about. Basically, according to FindLaw, a white collar crime is one in which someone defrauds someone else by engaging in some kind of deceit to do so.

As you might expect, the term “white collar crime” covers a multitude of specific crimes including the following:

  • Theft of wages
  • Bribery
  • Ponzi schemes
  • Insider trading
  • Copyright infringement
  • Money laundering

Other examples of white collar crime include fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, identity theft and labor racketeering. Keep in mind that both businesses and individuals can and do commit white collar crimes.

Origin of term

A sociologist by the name of Edwin Sutherland first coined the term “white collar crime” in 1939. He defined it as “a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of their occupation.”

At that time, virtually all business people and professionals wore business suits to work, and those business suits included white shirts for men and white blouses for women. Although the dress code changed over the years, the name stuck even though today’s white collar criminal, usually a high-ranking executive or stock trader, may wear jeans and a tee-shirt to work.

Fraud

Fraud represents one of the most frequently committed white collar crimes. Generally fraud occurs when someone with access to confidential information trades that information to a friend or associate in return for some type of financial gain. Or, in the case of insider trading, the perpetrator may tell no one about the information and instead use it to his or her own advantage, such as by buying a large block of a company’s stock right before the stock price skyrockets or selling a large block of a company’s stock right before the stock price declines precipitously.

Whatever form white collar crimes take, they often constitute federal crimes for which the perpetrator spends considerable time in federal prison and pays an extraordinarily high fine if convicted.

This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.