Introduction to White Collar Crime


The term “white collar crime” has been around since 1939, when Indiana sociologist Edwin Sutherland coined it to differentiate common thuggery from crimes “committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” The computer age has expanded the white collar crime portfolio and served to dull any lingering notion of respectability that corrupt corporate titans may have enjoyed. White collar crime traditionally included fraud and financial crime–counterfeiting, bribery, embezzlement, insider trading, securities fraud, extortion, forgery, money laundering, kickbacks and tax evasion. Today, it includes much more: identity theft, computer and Internet crime (sometimes known as cyber-crime), credit card fraud, phone and telemarketing fraud, bankruptcy fraud, health care fraud, environmental law violations, insurance fraud, economic espionage and trade secret theft. The FBI estimates that white collar crime costs the United States more than $300 billion annually. Many white collar offenses can be prosecuted under both state and federal law. The U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause authorizes the federal government to regulate white collar crime, and various federal agencies–including the FBI, IRS and Securities and Exchange Commission–are involved in enforcement.

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