Were one to ask people in Mount Plesant to define “white collar crime,” the responses would likely be reflections of the sophisticated hijinks they see portrayed in movies or on TV. This comes from the various interpretations of the term. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the term was first used in 1939 by sociologist Edwin H. Sutherland. He described it as “a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” From this definition comes two assumptions: that all white collar criminals greedy, already well-off vagabonds, and that their criminal activities are only directed at large businesses and organizations.
Some might say that law enforcement agencies perpetuate this idea. Indeed, were one to go to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s webpage defining white collar crime, the first example given is corporate fraud. Yet this likely has less to do with supporting an establishment opinion than the fact that such fraud typically produces massive financial losses that can impact a large number of victims. For this reason, the FBI indeed defines investigating corporate fraud as one of its top priorities.
Yet data compiled by the DOJ implies that the definition of white collar crime has broadened over the years. While recent case records show that a majority of white collar offenses involve property crime, most of them are perpetrated against individuals, not businesses. This is no doubt due to the rise of new forms of criminal activity that have become more prevalent in recent years, such as:
- Identity theft
- Mortgage fraud
- Ponzi schemes
Furthermore, research shows that a majority of those accused of white collar crime are young adults (who are less likely to be wealthy). This information seems to show that anyone can be the target of white collar crime accusations.