All crime threatens law and order, representing the breakdown of social norms. Moreover, all types of crime impact all strata of society. Violent crime is perhaps the most visible of all types of crime because of widespread media coverage and media sensationalism in reporting on violent crimes. Organized crime spreads its tentacles to almost every level of society. White collar crime is unique in that it is perpetrated by the wealthy and powerful social classes but has its greatest impact on the poor and working classes. Because white collar crime has the potential to impact large groups of people, and because white collar crime reinforces class conflict and social stratification, it is the most menacing type of criminal behavior.
One of the reasons why white collar crime can be potentially more devastating than other types of crime is the ease with which it can be perpetrated. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI 2010), “Today’s con artists are more savvy and sophisticated than ever, engineering everything from slick online scams to complex stock and health care frauds.” The heads of corporations often hide behind cleverly created cloaks of anonymity that are supported by legal loopholes. Ample opportunities exist for nefarious white collar crimes including fraud, embezzlement, extortion, and tax evasion. White collar crime entails the “full range of frauds committed by business and government professionals,” many of which are relatively simple to carry out during the course of otherwise legal business activity (FBI 2010; National Check Fraud Center 2006).
Because getting away with the deed depends only on a corporate culture of collusion and corruption, white collar crime occurs constantly behind closed doors. Unlike neighborhoods that are patrolled regularly be the police, the offices of major corporations are not public spaces that can be monitored without probable cause. White collar crime often involves large numbers of perpetrators, many of whom are not remotely suspicious to the police because of their relative wealth, class, and social power. Most white collar criminals have “limited criminal records” that would keep them under the radar,” (Weisburd, Waring & Chayet 2001).
The only way to prevent white collar crime is by instilling a strong ethical culture in an organization, which is nearly impossible to do in a society that rewards instant profiteering. The law is only useful once a white collar criminal is brought to the attention of the appropriate law enforcement officials, and that attention is not easily obtained. Whistle blowers and responsible employees are the only ones with any power to stop white collar crime from happening. However, as witnesses, whistle blowers have a lot to lose. The process by which whistle-blowers approach law enforcement is wholly different from the ones used to report a property violation or an assault. A whistle-blower does not simply dial 911 and fill out a criminal report with the local police. The FBI are likely to start an investigation and that procedure could be ongoing for many years and can also be stymied by political pressure. White collar crime can go unreported for years, well after the damage has already been done.
Another reason why white collar crime is potentially more serious than other types of crime is the sheer number of victims it can leave in its wake. In rare cases, white collar crime does lead to death. For example, a company that covers up flaws in its research design and hurries a pharmaceutical product to market knowingly endangers lives. Automobile and toy manufacturers, food producers, biochemists, and farmers are all potentially guilty of white collar crimes that can actually hurt people. With the tremendous amount of political power backing up major corporations, governmental regulations are relatively lax. White collar crimes are aided by a government that is corrupted by lobbying groups, financed by the perpetrators of white collar crimes. In this sense, white collar crime can be viewed as a larger, more sinister version of organized crime syndicates. Organized crime syndicates often hide behind a cloak of legitimate business. Thus, the line between the two is sometimes blurry. White collar crime can deprive millions of people of honest livelihood, and many of the victims will never be reimbursed. The extent of white collar crime is so severe as to ruin whole nations; corruption may be the root cause for financial collapse in many countries (Percy 2002).
White collar crimes warrant punishments that are generally less severe than those meted out to the violent criminal. Life in prison for a white collar criminal means something completely different than a life sentence dolled out for manslaughter, for example. Some federal prisons are so comfortable as to be known better as “camps,” with living conditions that are barely akin to punishment. The white collar criminal will also have the best lawyers that can help their clients receive reduced sentences and political grants of clemency. Except in cases in which the white collar case is being tried in the media, the courts may offer more of a wrist-slap than a genuine punishment. White collar crime can be so profitable that even a short prison sentence is no deterrent. The people committing the crimes have sufficient wealth, stored in off-shore accounts, to cushion them through tough times.
According to the FBI, property crimes are the most common crimes committed in the United States (“Types of Crime – Murder, Rape, Robbery, Aggravated Assault, Burglary, Larceny-theft, Motor Vehicle Theft” nd). However, high-profile cases like Enron are showing that “corporate and governmental officials regularly commit crimes that are as destructive to society as those of violent blue-collar criminals,” (Percy 2002). White collar crime must be taken more seriously, and treated as the tremendous civil threat that it is.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (2010). White collar crime. United States Department of Justice. Retrieved April 10, 2010 from http://www.fbi.gov/whitecollarcrime.htm
National Check Fraud Center (2006). Types and schemes of white collar crime. Retrieved April 10, 2010 from http://www.ckfraud.org/whitecollar.html
Percy, K. (2002). Fighting Corporate and Government Wrongdoing: A Research Guide to International and U.S. Federal Laws on White-Collar. Retrieved April 10, 2010 from http://www.llrx.com/features/whitecollarcrime.htm
“Types of Crime – Murder, Rape, Robbery, Aggravated Assault, Burglary, Larceny-theft, Motor Vehicle Theft,” (nd). Library Index. Retrieved April 10, 2010 from http://www.libraryindex.com/pages/13/Types-Crime.html
Weisburd, D., Waring, E. & Chayet, E. (2001). White Collar Crime and Criminal Careers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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