White Collar Crime
White-collar crime is deemed less offensive and deserving lesser punishment compared to street crime despite the greater impact it has on society. They are common among the wealthy elites who have the financial muscles and other privileges that allow them to manipulate public perceptions and the criminal justice system. On the other hand, street criminals are from the poorer classes who commit petty crimes as a necessity for survival. However, they do not have the resources to help them escape the law as compared to white-collar criminals. Despite its seriousness, the criminal justice system, lawmakers, the media, and the corporate have influenced the public to perceive street crime as more problematic and dangerous.
White collar crime is committed by people of high and reputable social status in the course of their occupation, unlike street crime that is committed by the poorer classes. While lower-level employees such as traders and accountants may lead to colossal damages, defendants are usually not lower class individuals. They are people who went to good schools and prestigious universities without previous criminal records. The perpetrators usually commit the crime at the individual, group, or corporation level for economic gains. White collar criminals aim to take advantage of the structural opportunities available to them, unlike street criminals who are mostly pushed by desperation. In line with Merton’s Strain Theory, poor people commit crimes out of necessity. Thus, a rational public should presume that street criminals are compelled by the need for survival. From such a perspective, street criminals should receive lesser punishment compared to white-collar criminals in relation to the amount of damage caused and the desperation attached to the former.
White collar crime does not involve direct physical violence. It occurs in normal business transaction settings and is often not the main business model. Another characteristic of white collar crime is that it often operates as part of culture in a corporation. Thus, it is difficult to ascertain individual responsibility for the crimes with defendants routinely denying any allegations leveled against them. Lower employees have the tendency of blaming their superiors for compelling them to commit the crimes while the superiors point to their inferiors for engaging in criminal activity without their authorization or knowledge (Berghoff and Spiekermann 291). Therefore, there is a grey line of the persons responsible for white collar crimes as there are blame games between seniors and juniors.
White collar crime falls into four categories according to the criminological perspective (Inzelt 20). The first category is corporate crimes involving the executives and company employees that aim to enhance themselves or company interests through organizational political corruption, corporate financial manipulation, and corporate larceny. The second category is an occupational crime that involves illegal financially motivated activities perpetrated through the use of lawful prestigious status. The third category is governmental crimes committed by government organs, agencies, or offices and their associates. Lastly, state-corporate crimes are those involving a partnership between a government body and a corporate. The list of white-collar crimes under criminal law and criminology is wide and varied, including but not limited to patent expropriation, budget fraud, tax fraud, bribery, environmental crime, computer crime, forgery, and economic crime. Organizations engage in one or more of the four categories of white-collar crimes to advance their interests or those of a few individuals in the firms.
The seriousness of white-collar crime is greater compared to street crime. The financial implications of white-collar crime are very huge. The average cost for every street crime in Florida is $35 while for white-collar crime is $621,000 (Van Slyke 18). Accordingly, as per these findings, it is noteworthy that white collar crime affects more people and is more harmful as compared to street crime. Reports by the National White Collar Crime Center indicate that white-collar crime costs approximately $300 and $600 billion every year (12). All the money lost through white collar crimes decreases the state budget and weakens the government’s ability to execute its functions properly. It is clear that white collar crimes are more costly to the economy compared to street crimes.
White collar crime pertaining to environmental pollution, tax evasions, poor investment quality, and unnecessary overcharging have serious impacts on the state and the public compared to the petty street crime. Financial irresponsibility may greatly affect the situation of a country and even extend to other countries due to globalization. Many people may lose their savings, pension funds, and investments while financial institutions may become bankrupt (Inzelt 21). Thus, white collar crimes constitute many activities that affect the public as well as financial institutions.
The seriousness of the white-collar crime is also reflected in the enormous psychological effects it has on the victims. Since the crime involves trust and loyalty under legitimate expectations that the other party will fulfill their part of the bargain, the victim is psychologically affected once the crime occurs (Friedrichs 8). Victims of white collar crime shy away from activities that make them vulnerable to illegal activities. In addition, they may fear to make investments in the financial market or to entrust qualified professionals with their business. These psychological effects may lead to an economic downfall as most people become skeptical. Whereas street crime affects the public’s trust in other individuals, white collar crime has a more disastrous effect as it affects the public’s trust in the established societal systems. White collar crimes have serious psychological effects on the victims because they least expect them when making investments.
The public perceives white collar crime less harmful compared to street crime. For instance, white collar crimes such as an overcharge of $60 on auto spares by a repair shop or evasion of $500 in federal income tax are perceived to be less harmful compared to street crimes such as snatching a handbag with $15 (Van Slyke 13). Nevertheless, the public perceives environmental crimes such as pollution of rivers more harmful compared to most street crimes. In addition, the public perceives white collar crime as less morally wrong compared to street crime. Although most white collar crime victims remain unknown until the commission of the crime and the completion of investigations, it is widely accepted that the crime affects many people across all the socio-economic classes. The effects of white collar crime vary depending on the activities but it is evident they are more widespread than known.
Public perceptions of white-collar crime as compared to street crime vary depending on various contexts. According to Piquero and Benson, white collar crime is considered more serious than street crime due to the corporate nature of wrongdoing (152). Their research found that the public has a tendency of judging corporations more harshly than individuals. Piquero and Benson also studied the historical advancements in book titles on white collar crime and found that there has been a tremendous change in the public opinion toward the vice. Nevertheless, there is much more evidence indicating that the public does not view white-collar crime as serious compared to the street crime that is committed directly against the public or a person (Piquero and Benson 153). In addition, corporates usually have a way of influencing lawmakers and the media to have a perfect image in the eyes of the public. Although people view white collar crimes differently, many deem it serious because corporates are involved and their illegal activities go unnoticed and unpunished.
The public perceives white collar crime as less common compared to street crimes (Van Slyke 14). Graber indicates that the perceptions of the public on the frequency of white-collar and street crimes are greatly influenced by the news media. In her research, the larger percentage of respondents perceived street crimes as more common while only 16% claimed that white collar crimes occurred more frequently (Martinez 16). It is evident that most people do not know the extent of white collar crimes considering only 16 percent believed that such cases occur.
The criminal justice system influences society’s acceptability of white-collar crime. Moreover, a large number of street crime offenders are in jail for less harmful crimes compared to white-collar criminals. In addition, most white collar offenders go unpunished or uncaught. White-collar offenders face less serious sanctions compared to street crime offenders. In addition, it is difficult to prosecute them since they use sophisticated means to conceal their illegal activities. In addition, such perpetrators are able to hire good lawyers and use political influence on legislative processes to their advantage. Due to their huge financial muscles, they are also better positioned to bribe prosecutors and judges to their favor. Accordingly, courts operate in favor of white-collar offenders due to general class bias. Moreover, the law is perceived as less binding to the economic elites. As one criminal once stated, the law operates as a cobweb that only catches flies and smaller insects but not the biggest bumblebees (Berghoff and Spiekermann 290). Mayer argues that the criminal justice system has failed to fight white collar crime, thus creating the perception that transgression is a thing for the poor in society (4). Essentially, white-collar offenders manage to get away their criminal activity as they cast blame on street criminals for the wrongdoing in society.
The wealthy elites who commit white collar crimes also have a great influence on the lawmaking process. They push lawmakers to enact laws that favor their crimes but not those committed by the poor. Corporations also have a huge influence on public perceptions as they use their power from to control the regulatory agencies supervising their actions. Such tricks make it easier for the elites to get away with serious crimes at the expense of the public good. Their efforts have led to the illusion that the crimes of the poor are the more problematic and dangerous. These perceptions are in line with the Conflict Theory that proposes that the higher class is left to do as it pleases while the law enforcement targets the lower class (Martinez 20). White collar criminals use their resources and privileges to blame the street criminals while vindicating themselves.
White collar crime is common among the wealthy elites who have a way of manipulating the law, the criminal justice system, and the media to their advantage. On the other hand, street criminals engage in criminal activities to survive but they are usually caught and handed harsh penalties. White collar crime is more serious and harmful compared to street crime considering the average cost is more than six hundred thousand dollars compared to thirty-five dollars for the latter. There is a need for tougher laws on white collar crime to ensure fairness and proportionality. The criminal justice system and media should also be reformed to achieve justice for everyone. White collar crimes are more costly to the public and state, which necessitates reforms in criminal justice system, the media, and politics to eradicate it.
Berghoff, Hartmut, and Uwe Spiekermann. “Shady business: On the history of white-collar crime.” Business History vol. 60, no. 3, pp. 289-304
Friedrichs, David O. Trusted criminals: White collar crime in contemporary society. Cengage Learning, 2009.
Inzelt, Eva. “Corruption – with or without a white collar. The changing meaning and forms of the white collar crime. Ph.D. Thesis, 2019.
Martinez, Joseph P. “Unpunished Criminals: The Social Acceptablity of White Collar Crimes in America.” (2014). Senior Honors Theses. 382.
Mayer, Doug. ” The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice” by Jeffrey H. Reiman (Book Review).” Crime, Law and Social Change vol. 5, no. 3, 1981, p. 337.
National White Collar Crime Center. The 2013 National Public Survey on White Collar Crime. National White Collar Crime Center, 2013,
Piquero, Nicole Leeper, and Michael L. Benson. “White-collar crime and criminal careers: Specifying a trajectory of punctuated situational offending.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice vol. 20, no. 2, 2004, pp. 148-165. [Accessed 28 May, 2019]
Van Slyke, Shanna. Social identification and public opinion on white-collar crime. Florida State University Libraries, 2009.
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