White-Collar Crime and Victims

     White-collar crime is often described as dishonest and deceiving actions performed within a business setting. Even though the occurrences are hard to measure, national surveys have highlighted percentages of 17% and 24% when researching individuals and households who have experienced an incident of white-collar crime (Siegel, 2023). This type of crime can impact large populations and other corporations, making its impact more significant and widespread. White-collar crimes have been found to be both more costly and physically harmful than that of street crime. Comparisons between financial damages from street crime, such as burglaries, and white-collar crime differ by as much as $72 billion dollars, pushing white-collar crime into the trillions (Michel et al., 2016). Additionally, the annual deaths caused as a result of white-collar crime are nearly 22 times greater than those caused by murder and nonnegligent manslaughter (Michel et al., 2016). The impacts of white-collar crime often go unnoticed, as does the severity of the impacts. It’s important to consider the social position of the individuals within the business setting and their influence in order to gain a more clear perspective on how this type of crime occurs and why.

Social Conflict Theory

     One way to examine the impacts of white-collar crime is through the lens of social conflict theory. Social conflict theory is the sociological perspective that focuses on societal conflict as a result of inequalities among different social classes. Specifically, those in power often have control over the means of the needs within a society, creating an imbalance of resources and usually leaving some at a disadvantage. In terms of white-collar crime, major corporations play a significant role in the quality and distribution of needs to the general public. When aspects of the production, marketing, and/or selling of the product are neglected for the purpose of financial gain over public safety, hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of being victims.

   In Edwin Sutherland’s (1940) White-Collar Criminality, he breaks down the differences between the handling of street crime and white-collar crime as it relates to social classes. He describes the processes of lower-class crime through criminal courts as often resulting in punishments such as fines, incarceration, or even the death penalty. In contrast, the upper-class crimes, specifically white-collar, are handled through civil courts and rarely harsher sanctions beyond warnings, loss of a license, or minor fines/prison sentences. 

Social Control Theory

     According to Hirschi’s (1969) social control theory, crime occurs when an individual feels weakly bonded to society. Anyone has the potential to become a criminal, yet most don’t due to their stronger bonds within society. On the other hand, those who lack the tight bonds within society are not as much controlled by the potential damage of said bonds upon committing a criminal act. To further explain, there are four elements to this social control theory: attachment, commitment, belief, and involvement (Siegel, 2023). Attachment refers to an individual’s connection to family, friends, and other communities, including their sensitivity towards these figures; commitment describes an individual’s dedication towards a successful future and career, as well as general goals and aspirations; belief refers to the sense of honesty, morality and the overall (unofficial) obligation towards society to act fair and responsible; involvement includes the participation in extracurricular activities, usually positive and stimulating groups (Siegel, 2023).

     In regards to white-collar crime, research shows that the causes of these offenses resemble that of weaker bonds among some of Hirschi ‘s (1969) elements of social control theory. Many have found that factors such as weaker internal controls, greed, money, lack of  “social consciousness and integrity,” and others alike to be main causes of white-collar crime (Sagar, 2019). The lack of stronger internal controls can be interpreted as a weak bond within society in the form of belief. They often disregard the ethics of a company, greatly underestimate the impact and severity of their actions, and believe they are better than others so much to a point of “invincibility” (Gale Law Group, 2020). The greed and money can reflect weak bonds of commitment. Instead of honoring the fair process towards success and personal goals, the individual has stronger desires for instant gratification and wealth. A lack of “social consciousness and integrity” can resemble that of weak bonds of attachment. A lack of sensitivity and awareness for the people around you can make you more willing to commit actions that may harm them. 

Personal Experience

     Though I have not (knowingly) personally experienced an instance of white-collar crime, my interest in this topic was sparked by a conversation in one of my criminal justice courses this semester. We discussed a section on white-collar crime written by Edwin Sutherland (1940) that discussed the legitimate terminology when defining white-collar “crime.” Considering that crime, by definition, is a violation of the criminal law, and white-collar offenses are handled in civil suits, the term “crime” is technically not an accurate description. However, Sutherland breaks down the criterion of the violation of the criminal law as it relates to white-collar crime to emphasize that it is in fact a crime and should be treated as such (1940). He emphasizes how the definition of criminal law for one class should not differ from the other. In other words, street crime among the lower classes and white-collar crime among the upper classes should be treated with the same level of seriousness and appropriate severity. This discussion highlighted very important aspects of white-collar crime that I, and many others, were not aware of. For that reason, and others discussed in this blog, the impacts of white-collar crime are greatly misunderstood and overlooked.

Prevention and Protection

     Considering the concerning lack of knowledge about the extents of white-collar crime (Piquero et al., 2008; Michel et al., 2016), the first step to prevent and protect against white-collar crime is to educate the general public on its severity. Public knowledge may not only increase general awareness, pushing people to actively attempt to avoid victimization, but it also encourages the public to put pressure on prosecutors and the system to punish these offenses reasonably. Additionally, it is suggested to encourage integrity in the workplace and emphasize the risks of white-collar crime frequently to establish a stronger moral foundation (Saquella, 2023). Another strategy may consist of reducing the opportunities at which these individuals have in order to commit these offenses. This can include regularly reviewing and adjusting policies, as well as structure, and enforcing the legal standards (Sagar, 2019). 


Motivations and triggers for committing white-collar crimes. Gale Law Group. (2020, January 10).                                                                     https://galelawgroup.com/motivations-and-triggers-for-committing-white-collar-                                                                                             crimes/#:~:text=White%2Dcollar%20crimes%20can%20be,with%20some%20level%20of%20privilege.

Michel, C., Cochran, J. K., & Heide, K. M. (2016). Public knowledge about white-collar crime: an exploratory study. Crime, Law, and           Social Change, 65(1–2), 67–91. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-015-9598-y

Sagar, A. (2019). The Concept of White-Collar Crime: Nature, Causes, Political and Legal Aspects in Accountability and Way Forward.        Journal of Political Studies (Lahore, Pakistan), 26(1), 149–158.

Saquella, A. (2023, July 27). Prevention and mitigation of white-collar crime. Security Magazine RSS.                                                                  https://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/99687-prevention-and-mitigation-of-white-collar-                                                                      crime#:~:text=Removing%20unchallenged%20authority%20and%20showing,in%20combating%20white%2Dcollar%20crime.

Siegel, L. J. (2023). Criminology (8th ed.). Cengage.

Sutherland, E. H. (1940). White-Collar Criminality. American Sociological Review, 5(1), 2-10

Piquero, N. L., Carmichael, S., & Piquero, A. R. (2008). Assessing the perceived seriousness of white-collar and street crimes. Crime         and Delinquency, 54(2), 291-. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011128707303623

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