What Is White-Collar Crime? How Does It Differ From “Street Crime”?
There are many ways to categorize criminal offenses, but one of the most common is by type—the distinction between “violent/street crimes” and “white-collar crimes.” The most common definition of street crime holds that it typically (though not always) involves some level or threat of violence in a public area, as contrasted with white-collar crime, which is usually done privately through manipulation of documents, data, or assets.
The Primary Difference Between Street Crime and White-Collar Crime?
Though many so-called street crimes, such as robbery, are financially motivated, white collar crimes are almost always perpetrated for financial gain. As a general rule, white-collar crimes do not involve threats or acts of violence but instead rely on subterfuge, misrepresentation, and fraud. Typically, white-collar crimes are committed by persons inside an organization or business who have access and opportunity to commit their crimes because of the level of trust or authority they hold. Conversely, street crimes tend to be crimes of opportunity where the perpetrators must physically compel others to submit to their criminal acts.
The Different Types of White-Collar Crimes
The most common type of white-collar crime is fraud, defined as the intentional misrepresentation of a material fact, reasonably relied on by the victim, and resulting in some harm. Fraud can take many forms, including:
- Mail fraud—The use of the postal system to perpetrate fraud, includes mailing out misleading or fraudulent documents or representations
- Financial fraud—Forging documents, including checks, or falsifying financial information for material gain
- Health care fraud—Falsifying documents or billing for services not performed
- Insurance fraud—Claiming losses that did not occur or falsely representing the value of lost items
- Bankruptcy fraud—Misrepresenting debts or hiding assets in a bankruptcy proceeding
- Securities fraud—Engaging in activities that falsely manipulate the value of stocks, bonds, or other investments
Theft is another common type of white-collar crime, often committed by executives, officers, or persons within an organization who have control or access to accounts or funds. It frequently involves manipulation of documents, such as check registers, profit-and-loss statements, and balance sheets. It’s not uncommon for those individuals engaging in white-collar crime to create a false set of books for presentation to others within the organization.
Of the different theft crimes, the most common are embezzlement and the wrongful use or misappropriation of property by employees:
- Embezzlement occurs when someone within an organization redirects earnings or assets of the company into his or her own account, uses company funds to purchase personal items, or directly takes funds belonging to the organization.
- Misappropriation of property involves the transfer of company or organization property to the possession and use of an employee, such as when a worker takes a company computer home for personal use.