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What is White-Collar Crime?

The phrase “white-collar crime” was first used in 1939 during a presidential address given by Edwin Sutherland to the American Sociological Society. Sutherland defined the term as “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation” and the term is now synonymous with the full range of frauds committed by business and government professionals. These crimes are most often characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust and are not dependent on the application or threat of physical force or violence. The motivation behind white-collar crime is financial-to obtain or avoid losing money, property, or services or to secure a personal or business advantage.

The most common white-collar offenses include: antitrust violations, bankruptcy fraud, bribery, computer and internet fraud, counterfeiting, credit card fraud, economic espionage and trade secret theft, embezzlement, environmental law violations, financial institution fraud, government fraud, healthcare fraud, insider trading, insurance fraud, intellectual property theft/piracy, kickbacks, mail fraud, money laundering, securities fraud, tax evasion, phone and telemarketing fraud, and public corruption.

According to the FBI, white-collar crime is estimated to cost the United States more than $300 billion annually. The penalties for white-collar offenses include fines, home detention, community confinement, paying the cost of prosecution, forfeitures, restitution, supervised release, and imprisonment. Federal sentencing guidelines suggest longer prison sentences when at least one victim suffered substantial financial harm. Often sanctions can be reduced if the defendant takes responsibility for the crime and assists the authorities in their investigation.

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