The Other Kind Of Crime

If I were to mention crime, most people would picture a man (possibly of dark skin) hiding in an alleyway ready to jump out and steal your wallet. Or perhaps a burglar who sneaks into your house at night to steal your television. Or someone who will break into your car and steal it because you parked it in a bad area. Or a shifty looking teenager shoplifting from the local corner store. However, there is a type of crime that is greater than all of these combined. A crime not committed by poor ethnic minorities, but by wealthy white professional in offices. A crime committed not by the desperate underclass but by the elites of society. A crime that costs society more than all other thefts combined, yet rarely results in prosecution. I am talking about white collar crime.

White collar crimes costs an estimated $600-750 billion dollars in America or roughly 5% of GDP. This massive cost is more than all other crimes combined. Let me repeat that. White collar crime does more damage to society than all forms of stealing and violence combined. Contrary to the common perception, the most dangerous criminal is not a youth in a hoody, but a middle aged man in a suit. The biggest hot spots for crime are not the ghettoes, but the financial districts. It is not in council estates, but commercial offices that most criminals spend their time.

There are two reasons why white collar crime gets so little attention from either the media or the judiciary system. Firstly, unlike other crimes, it is relatively unseen. No physical force is used and no one physically takes money out of the victims’ pockets. It is nowhere near as visible as muggings or shoplifting even if far more money is involved. Often the victims don’t even know they have been robbed. It is extremely difficult to find evidence and prove someone guilty of white collar crime. The second and more cynical reason is due to the type of people who commit white collar crime. They are not poor minorities but rather wealthy professionals in well connected corporations. They are the elite and use their influence to divert attention. The poor on the other hand, have no such protection and so it is far easy to penalise burglars and petty thieves than corporations and their army of lawyers.

A major feature of white collar crime is the low reporting of it. It was estimated that 88% of white collar crime is not reported to the police. Most of the time people do not realise they are a victim. In this sense, white collar crime is a silent danger. Even when people realise they have been scammed, the stigma of guilt prevents them from going to the police. Many are afraid they will be ridiculed or blamed for their gullibility. Instead victims self-blame, believing it was their own fault they were tricked and have no one to blame but themselves. As white collar crime is not as straight forward as street crime, people are unclear over where they stand with the law and fail to prosecute even when it is in within their rights.

There is a notable disparity between punishment of street crime and white collar crime. A street robbery of a couple hundred dollars from a corner shop carries the same sentence (18 months to two years) as that of a million dollar scam. Were someone to rob one million dollars in an armed robbery, they would get ten years.  Huge resources are poured into tackling highly visible crimes involving low amounts of money, like muggings, while far less attention is paid to hidden crimes that net millions. This leads to a dual justice system where crimes that are equally damaging to society receive vastly disproportionate punishments. This can lead to complaints (even by judges), that there is one law for the rich and one for the poor. White collar criminals can afford better lawyers than street criminals which partly explains how they receive far more lenient sentences.

Getting tough on crime is a promise that is regularly made by politicians. It is usually interpreted to mean more police in the ghetto, more harassment of youths and even racial profiling. However, this misses the shark beneath the water. The financial crisis gave us a glimpse of the extent of fraud and theft committed by respected elites that far dwarfed the pickings of a street corner gang. If we really wanted to get tough on crime, we would send the police to the banks and commercial centres where the big money crime happens. We should no longer be distracted by the visible street crimes involving small amounts of money. Instead we need to focus on the other kind of crime, the one committed by middle class white men in suits. They are not the stereotypical criminals, but then again, things are rarely as they first appear.

8 thoughts on “The Other Kind Of Crime”

  1. If you are talking about financial crime, then I agree with you. One other reason is that white collar criminals are often able to afford lawyers PRIOR and DURING the commission of the crime, so that they can use the help of a lawyer to hide it better.
    But there is also a violent crime – murder, rape, assault, etc., – which is not considered white collar crime regardless of who commits it. While this may not have the financial impact of white collar crime, its consequences are often irreversible and much more physically and psychologically damaging.

    1. There is violence in white collar crime.
      -The humiliation of an elderly husband who has additional procedures done that leave him helpless, even though the first condition was quickly fatal.
      -The devastation of the frail elderly wife trying to care for him.
      -People thrown out of the safety of their homes into an uncertain future.
      -Children removed from the safety of their family and culture….

    2. Exactly, white collar criminals have more money and better education which helps keep them out of prison.

      I draw the distinction between street crime or violent crime which is harshly punished and white collar crime which is lightly punished despite being more damaging.

  2. You seem to believe that society chooses to be soft on White Collar Crime and hard on street crimes because of their racial or socioeconomic background. I am afraid you are mistaken. As someone who investigates White Collar Crime and holds a BA in Criminal Justice, I would like to chime in.

    People are afraid of violent crime, or crimes that bring violence (drugs, home invasions). No one is “afraid” of the big bad insurance fraudster or securities trader. Pressure on local law-enforcement is constant to take these violent people off the street. (much of this pressure comes from groups which you are describing as unjust victims). Consequently, much of the agencies resources are spent trying to protect the community from these violent offenders rather then putting away white-collar criminals.

    In addition, due to prison overcrowding, there is also constant pressure on the courts to reduce prison population. Example: you have two people. One who committed a violent home-invasion, beating you and your family and taking 10,000 dollars. The next is your insurance agent, who collected 10,000 dollars of your premium, but never actually placed your insurance, instead spent it on gambling. Now are you actually going to argue that we should reduce the home invasion offender’s sentence and tack on those years to the insurance agent?

    In a perfect world, they would both get long sentences, but due to the reasons above, that will never happen.

    I agree white collar crime cost society more and I hope there is harsher sentences handed down in the future. Nevertheless, I think you should take race and socioeconomic backgrounds out of your reasoning, that makes a poor argument for why we need to be harsher on white collar criminals.

  3. White collar crime is not just financial crime: it is violence — violence on a vastly greater scale than street crime. It’s poisoned drinking water (leading to cancer and disease); it’s unsafe products that kill people; it’s workers forced to work in unsafe working conditions. The list goes on and on. To give just one example, your chances of being killed on the job are ten times greater than those of being the victim of a homicide. Two thirds of those deaths involve breaches of occupational health and safety laws by employers. We must get away from this deluded mindset that for only sees the harm from WCC as purely “financial.”

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