The general public generally associates white-collar crime with social status, respectability,
sophistication and wealth; however the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s definition takes none of
these into consideration. The FBI has defined white-collar crime as “. . . those illegal acts which are
characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust and which are not dependent upon the
application or threat of physical force or violence. Individuals and organizations commit these acts to
obtain money, property, or services; to avoid the payment or loss of money or services; or to secure
personal or business advantage.” In more basic terms, white-collar crime is everything you were taught
not to do as a child: lying, cheating and stealing.
White-collar crime costs the United States an estimated $300 billion every year, and includes the
following violations: insider trading, securities fraud, antitrust violations, bribery, embezzlement,
environmental law and several more. In most cases perpetrators view such crimes as “skimming from
the top” and don’t see the long-term ripple effect of their actions. As a company begins to see less
money, they make up for it by raising costs for the consumers, cutting pays and cutting positions.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s The U.S. Congress passed a wave of laws and statutes to help prevent white-
collar-crime. Passed in 1970, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is a federal
law designed to combat organized crime in the United States. It allows prosecution and civil penalties
for racketeering activity performed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. RICO made it easier to
prosecute corrupt organizations and seize related assets. In 2002, shortly after the Enron scandal,
Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) in 2002 to improve the relationship and accountability
between corporations and their stakeholders.
Criminal penalties for white-collar crimes vary, but most laws will demand a monetary fine, a prison
sentence or both. Sentencing guidelines exist to ensure that a judge is given little discretion on
the sentence enforced. For felonies, prosecutors sometimes use grand juries to make decisions.
Punishments that can be imposed include compensation of payment, community service, fines, jail/
prison incarceration and probation. A civil action brought by the government may seek disgorgement.
This means that the accused party must turn over to the government any profits obtained due to
criminal action. In some cases the government will even request asset forfeiture, which allows the
government to seize anything that the accused party has purchased with the money in question. Victims
can bring their own civil liberty cases which would seek recovery of any financial losses they have
suffered due to the offense.
White-collar criminal cases are complex in nature and involve complicated financial documents.
If charged with a white-collar crime it is suggested to hire an attorney.