Understanding White Collar Crime

The criminals that strike fear in most people's hearts use weapons and lurk in the dark alleys of our imagination. But the reality is that violent crime has been on the decline over the period from 1993 to 2012 -- down from approximately 8,000 incidents per 100,000 individuals to 2,600 in 100,000.

While these so-called "blue collar crimes" have decreased in number over the years, white collar crime is on the rise and is estimated to cost the global economy more than $2 trillion a year.

What Is the Difference Between White Collar and Blue Collar Crime?

The two terms were initially coined because of the prevailing socioeconomic difference between violent criminals, such as burglars, rapists, and muggers, and people higher up on the economic ladder who would have access to records at their place of work that allowed them to commit acts of theft, such as securities fraud or embezzlement.

The rise of computer technology and the internet -- which have made white collar crime more prevalent -- render the socioeconomic distinction less valid. These days, anyone with enough knowledge of computer technology can perpetrate a white collar crime.

What Are Examples of White Collar Crime?

Most white collar crimes involve property theft and are therefore classified as larceny. According to NY Penal Law Article 155, larceny occurs when a person acts “with intent to deprive another of property, or to appropriate property to himself or to a third person" and who "wrongfully takes, obtains, or withholds such property from an owner thereof.”

Some examples of white collar crime are as follows:


Fraud is the generic term for any crime in which one person or entity deceives another person or entity for the purpose of monetary gain.

One common type of fraud is securities fraud, sometimes known as "insider trading," when someone uses privileged knowledge about a company to buy or sell stock or lures an investor into buying stock by giving false information.

Another common type of fraud is insurance fraud, when a person submits false claims in order to collect money from an insurance company.


Embezzlement, sometimes known as "cooking the books," occurs when a person takes money improperly from the person or entity to which they owe a duty, such as when an employee siphons company money into a personal account.

Money Laundering

Money laundering is the act of moving funds obtained in an illegal method through a series of complex transactions that make it difficult to trace their origin before combining these funds with legitimate assets.

Tax Evasion

When a person or company willfully attempts to avoid paying the taxes they owe by submitting false information, they are engaged in tax evasion.

How Is White Collar Crime Prosecuted and Punished?

In New York State, white collar crime is classified as larceny, prosecuted and punished under New York Penal Law Article 155. The law categorizes Grand Larceny, a felony offense, in four levels.

  • 4th Degree Grand Larceny is the theft of property worth between $1,000 and $3,000, including motor vehicles and credit cards. A Class E Felony, it is punishable by up to four years in prison.
  • 3rd Degree Grand Larceny is a Class D Felony of stolen property in excess of $3,000; if convicted, individuals may serve a prison sentence of up to seven years.
  • 2nd Degree Grand Larceny is the theft of property valued above $50,000. This Class C Felony is punishable with a sentence of up to fifteen years in prison.
  • 1st Degree Grand Larceny, the most serious larceny charge, is reserved for those who steal property worth more than a million dollars. The maximum prison sentence for this Class B Felony is 25 years.

In addition to criminal prosecution, state or federal action may also be taken to recover the fraudulently obtained funds through the civil court.


From the Author: White Collar Crime