How Is a Crime Defined as a White-Collar Crime?

There is often some confusion regarding how a crime is defined as a “white-collar crime.” This is understandable since the term began more as an expression than a legal term. According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University, the term was initially coined by a sociologist named Edwin Sutherland during a speech he gave in 1939. During the speech, Sutherland essentially defined “white-collar crime” as a crime committed on-the-job by someone of reasonably high social standing. The phrase “white-collar” is a loose reference to the collared shirt-and-tie that was (and is) often worn by businessmen.

Today, the term “white-collar crime” has come to refer generally to non-violent crimes usually committed in a commercial or business context for the purpose of cheating or unlawful financial gain. Here are just a few examples of crimes that are typically defined as white-collar crimes:

  • Tax evasion
  • Embezzlement (stealing or misappropriating business funds)
  • Counterfeiting
  • Money laundering
  • Mortgage fraud
  • Securities fraud
  • Insider trading
  • Credit Card fraud

Many white-collar crimes (if not most) are prosecutable at the federal level, although most states have laws against these crimes, as well. A conviction for a white-collar crime can result in a wide range of penalties, including hefty fines and restitution, house arrest and prison.

While they are non-violent in nature, crimes classified as “white-collar” are still considered serious offenses. If you’ve been accused, it’s important to have an experienced attorney to help you navigate the process and to represent your interests. For expert legal help, call the Federal Criminal Law Center today at 404.633.3797.