‘White Collar Crime’ is the notion of criminality which is opposite to the notion of blue collar crime. The concept of white collar crime has been necessarily a product of industrialization, laissez-faire, business boom and ultimately globalization. The upliftment of middle class and business group in the early twentieth century paved way for corruption in business and government deals. But this very truth was being kept aside by the criminologists of contemporary ages. But it was Professor E. H. Sutherland who broke the silence by pronouncing that corruption in the big corporate or government deal is also a crime just like any other crime and he termed it as ‘White Collar Crime’. White collar criminality has grown with pace of time and with the development in trade and commerce.


From a laymen prospective White collar crimes are those that are commonly attached to businesses and business employees. White collar crime is most often theft. The difference between regular and white collar theft is that force or fear is used in the commission of a regular theft. White collar crime is different. This crime is the use of trickery or fraud rather than force or fear to convince an individual to entrust property to the thief. Typically, the victim of white collar crime is not the subject of violence, and he or she is generally not in fear of violence when unknowingly giving property to a thief.

Common forms of white collar crimes include larceny by false pretenses, embezzlement, trickery, and fraud. These are known as the common law offenses. However, there are wide-ranging white collar crimes that extend beyond the normal senses of crime. A person accused of using unfair and deceptive trade practices can be prosecuted. Unfair and deceptive trade practices cover such acts as false advertising. These statutes in this regard were developed with the essential purpose of protecting the consumer.

Other white collar crimes include tax violations, regulatory, health, or environmental violations. Anti-trust is another white collar crime, but it is not exactly the type of crime a typical small business owner can commit. It is generally reserved for the giant corporations. Fraudulently acquiring investments or business opportunities are white collar crimes. So is real estate fraud and construction fraud. While many of these crimes seem harmless, they are not. There are typically many victims who are left with nothing as the result of a white collar crime


Now a day many people do not consider it crime and they take it as ‘granted’ in the corporate deal. But with the growth of white collar crime there has been the growth of ‘corporate good governance’ and also ‘transparency’. This paper has examined the contemporary issues and also tried to through some recommendations regarding the whole scenario.



The history of white collar crime is not that ancient. The term white-collar crime dates back to 1939. As said earlier Professor Edwin Hardin Sutherland was the first to coin the term, and hypothesized that white-collar criminals attributed different characteristics and motives than typical street criminals. Professor Sutherland originally offered his theory in an address to the American Sociological Society in attempt to study two fields, crime and high society, which had no previous empirical correlation. He defined his idea as “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation”. Many contemporaries pointed out the development of Sutherland’s notion to the explosion of U.S business in the years following the Great Depression. Sutherland noted that in his time, “less than two percent of the persons committed to prisons in a year belong to the upper-class.”


The nucleus idea of Sutherland’s theory or proposition was to prove a relation between money, social status, and white-collar crime, compared to more visible, typical crimes like theft, robbery, murder etc. even though the proportion is a bit higher today, numbers still show a large majority of those in jail are poor, “blue-collar” criminals.


In USA many fiscal laws were passed in the years prior to Sutherland’s studies including antitrust laws in the 1920’s, and social welfare laws in the 1930’s. After the depression, people went to great lengths to reconstruct their financial security, and it is theorized this led many hard workers, who felt they were underpaid, to take benefit of their positions. Thus the white collar criminality came into action as everybody tried to be benefited economically by using the position that he holds or the influence that he enjoys by his peer groups.


Much of Sutherland’s work was to separate and define the differences in blue collar street crimes, such as arson, burglary, theft, assault, rape and vandalism, which are often blamed on psychological, associational, and structural factors. Instead, white-collar criminals are opportunists, who over time learn they can take advantage of their circumstances to accumulate financial gain. They are educated, intelligent, affluent, confident individuals, who were qualified enough to get a job which allows them the unmonitored access to often large sums of money. Many also use their intelligence to con their victims into believing and trusting in their credentials. Many do not start out as criminals, and in many cases never see themselves as such.



Modern criminology generally rejects a limitation of the term by reference, rather classifies the type of crime and the topic:

  1. By the type of offense, e.g. property crime, economic crime, and other corporate crimes like environmental and health and safety law violations. Some crime is only possible because of the identity of the offender, e.g. transnational money laundering requires the participation of senior officers employed in banks. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation has adopted the narrow approach, defining white-collar crime as “those illegal acts which are characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust and which are not dependent upon the application or threat of physical force or violence” (1989, 3). This approach is relatively pervasive in the United States, the record-keeping does not adequately collect data on the socioeconomic status of offenders which, in turn, makes research and policy evaluation problematic. While the true extent and cost of white-collar crime are unknown, it is estimated to cost the United States somewhere between $300–$660 billion annually, according to the FBI (Lane and Wall 2006, cited; in Friedrichs, 2007, p46)
  2. By the type of offender, e.g. by social class or high socioeconomic status, the occupation of positions of trust or profession, or academic qualification, researching the motivations for criminal behavior, e.g. greed or fear of loss of face if economic difficulties become obvious. Shover and Wright (2000) point to the essential neutrality of a crime as enacted in a statute. It almost inevitably describes conduct in the abstract, not by reference to the character of the persons performing it. Thus, the only way that one crime differs from another is in the backgrounds and characteristics of its perpetrators. Most if not all white-collar offenders are distinguished by lives of privilege, much of it with origins in class inequality.
  3. By organizational culture rather than the offender or offense which overlaps with organized crime. Appelbaum and Chambliss (1997, 117) offer a twofold definition:
  4. Occupational crime which occurs when crimes are committed to promote personal interests, say, by altering records and overcharging, or by the cheating of clients by professionals.
  5. Organizational or corporate crime which occurs when corporate executives commit criminal acts to benefit their company by overcharging or price fixing, false advertising, etc.



The concept of white collar crime has always been a phenomenon after the colonialization and industrialization in the eighteenth century. But before Sutherland, no criminologists used this term or took the concept of white collar crime in the context of criminology. A white collar criminal belongs to upper socio-economic class who violates the rules for economic gain while performing his professional duties. White collar crime is also done by the professionals by using the influence of his peer groups. Thus misrepresentation through fraudulent advertisements, cheating, infringement of patents, copy rights and trade mark etc are the instances of white collar criminality. There are some other criminalities which can be categorized as white collar crime , for example fabricated balance sheet, passing of goods, concealments of defects, bribing for getting government contract etc.

The introduction of white-collar crime was a relatively new issue to criminology at that time. He was urging other criminologists to stop focusing on the socially and economically disadvantaged. The types of individuals who committed these crimes lived successfully and were respected by society in general-also criminologists; because these criminals were held to such a high regard, these individuals were given a blind eye to the crimes they committed.


It was Professor Sutherland who challenged the traditional image of criminals and their predominant etiological theories of crimes of his day. The white collar criminals he identified were often middle aged men of responsibility and high social status. They live in affluent neighborhoods and they are well respected in the society.


Though professionally Sutherland was the first to formally address the issue, he was not the first to think on this subject. In earlier times, criminologists and scholar like W A Bonger, E A Ross, Upton Sinclair and Lincoln Steffens pointed out the criminality by the upper strata of the society. But the formal expression of this criminality was being done by Professor Sutherland.


Sutherland argued that the predominant conceptions and explanation of crime in those days were deceptive and incorrect as they were developed from predisposed samples of criminals and criminal behavior. He noted that the vast areas of criminal behavior of persons not in the lower class had been neglected in prior studies. As per Sutherland, poverty and social disorganization could not been seen as the key causes of crimes, if crime could also be found among people who grew up in the neighborhood and good homes and lived in state of authority and opportunity.

The white collar criminality thrives because of the public apathy to it. The reason for this public insensibility is that such criminals operate within the strict leter of the law and exploit the credibility of their victims. The impact of white collar criminality is often so much diffuses in the community that the individual victims are often only marginally affected by it and many of them conveniently forget all about it with the pace of time. But the unseen havoc that it makes to the society is much and it is totally disastrous to the development of the society.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of USA has divided white collar crime into two types:

  1. Occupational Crime and
  2. Corporate Crime.

Occupational crime consists of offences committed by individuals for themselves in the course of their occupations and offences of employees against their employers. Corporate crime is defined as the offences committed by corporate officials for their corporation and the offences of the corporation itself.



There are many types of white collar crime. But the most known are criminal misrepresentation of property, occupational offence, criminal breach of trust, pollution offences, cheating, consumer fraud, exchange control violation, bribery and corruption, forgery of credit card, counterfeiting currency or product, immigration fraudulence, customs and smuggling offences, defamation, product piracy, cyber crime, multimedia corruption, tax evasion, corporate offences, maritime fraud, money laundering commodities fraud, insurance fraud, loan fraud, financial fraud etc. Apart from the above mentioned activities many other activities are also considered as white crime.



Criminologists offer a variety of explanations for white collar crime, but they all have in common a way they approach their explanations.  They usually start with a disciplinary school of thought; e.g., biology, psychology, or sociology.  This is not the only starting point which can be taken, but it’s as good as any, especially since the study of white collar crime has so many confusing definitional issues, and a school of thought, after all, represents the initial starting point of a vast number of scholars called unit of analysis).      The “holy grail” in criminology for many years has involved the question of whether a general theory can be put together which explains both white collar crime and ordinary crime.  This has been the quest ever since Sutherland (1940) first raised the question.  No such general theories exist in criminology, although about every four decades (the last being the 1980s “integrated” theory movement), criminologist take up the challenge a new.  It might be worth mentioning that a general theory ought to be able to explain not only different types of crime, but provide similar reasons for why females and males, and minorities and non-minorities commit crime.  This is certainly a tall order, and makes it readily understandable why so many criminologists are specialists in one type of offender and/or one type of crime.  There are also those who approach the study of white collar crime from a criminalization or victimological standpoint.  Both of these people tend to perpetuate the endless definitional debates in the field, the criminalization specialists because they ponder over why so few white collar criminals get caught, and the victimological specialists because they say we haven’t got any good grasp of the cost or impact.

Nonetheless, every theoretical explanation has at least one master concept which represents its central idea or thesis.  For scientific purposes, that master concept must be variable.  It’s not enough to say that white collar criminals are greedy, that is, unless one invents a scale of greediness which allows for some range of variation or degree of greed.  Some of the oldest ideas are about fixed traits of offenders.  Old ideas die slowly in criminology, but there are some completely discredited theories.  For example, demonic explanations are totally discredited nowadays, not because careful research has been carried out on exorcism, but simply because the idea was a false start and didn’t carry the field forward very much.

Psychological theories exist, some of which are quite good and others of which aren’t. ).  Psychoanalysis is generally regarded as untestable and improvable by most scientists.  Personality traits which have been most studied include:  risk taking, recklessness, ambitiousness, and egocentricity (Coleman 2006).  Risk taking and recklessness are personality characteristics shared by both white collar criminals and ordinary criminals, although with ordinary criminals, the trait is most often referred to by the master concept of impulsiveness (or inability to defer gratification).  The leading theorists of impulsiveness are Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) who have actually put together a much larger Low Self Control theory which tries to overcome the usual criticism of all temperament theories — which came first, the trait or the criminality?  Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) end up arguing that it’s the first six years of life which matter.  So, we’re back to a Freudian childhood experience explanation.  Wheeler (1992) further argues that risk taking among white collar criminals is done more intelligently and isn’t such a bad thing at all.  Similarly, with the characteristic of ambitiousness, one has to wonder why a hunger for power and the desire to rise up economically are expected to be correlates of shameful behavior when they so strongly correlate with admirable behavior (in most people).  Punch (2000) has said, of all the psychological characteristics, it probably is egocentricity which is the best explanatory tool, and for white collar criminals, this characteristic is usually over the top, bordering on paranoid megalomania.  Other promising psychological theories of recent note involve the notion of character.  Character is different from the concept of personality because it isn’t so strongly tied to a temperament (or predisposition toward behavior).  A person’s character simply reflects their mood, or nature (good or bad), and several criminologists have started studying character in recent years (e.g., Paternoster and Simpson 1996).

Sociological approaches tend to cluster around the notion that power corrupts, and that the rich and powerful develop stronger deviant motivations as well as enjoy more deviant opportunities that come their way.  The central, or master, concept in this regard within sociology is relative deprivation.  It refers to a sensation of envy or jealousy about what other people have.  Rich people presumably experience it strongly.  Absolute deprivation (the kind which is associated with poverty) tends to produce a sense of “deep anger” which manifests itself in violent crime.  Relative deprivation, on the other hand, provokes a seething, brooding, get-even, kind of resentment.  However, this kind of explanation is really at the socio-psychological level, and most sociological theories try to explain things at the organizational or societal level.  At the organizational level, the most important thing to remember, as Cressey (1989) reminded us, is to NOT attribute human capabilities to corporations.  Structures and organizations don’t suffer from mental disorders, but they do develop dysfunctional cultures or environments.  A deviant organizational culture may even exist once all the original people who created it are long gone.  A deviant organizational culture may even socialize new people into it despite the best intentions of written policies and procedures.  Because a deviant organizational culture can do such things is the reason why many criminologists  conclude that corporations ought to be legally responsible for their actions.  Punishing replaceable people within corporations may be a futile way to control white collar crime.  On the other hand, the entire organization is seldom involved in corporate crime, but this is the dilemma of sociology involving the so-called ecological fallacy.  People commit criminal acts, not entities like communities or societies.  The further up you go in your level of analysis, the further away you get from real, flesh-and-blood actors who actually do things.  Nonetheless, there have been numerous attempts by sociologists to classify deviant organizations, the Needlemans’ (1979) typology of “crime coercive” and “crime facilitative” being the most well-known.


Practically all the traditional criminological theories have been applied to white collar crime.  A list of the traditional criminological theories, in rank order of their popularity (high to low), is as follows:  rational choice, social control, social learning, strain, conflict, and labeling.  Routine activities theory  is the field’s most well-known rational choice theory, and it focuses upon the absence of capable guardians and the pool of suitable victims.  This variety of rational choice theory is essentially a classical criminological opportunity theory which assumes pre-motivated offenders who are simply making a rational choice to get away with things while they can.  Social control theory has long dominated the criminological landscape as a popular theory, and it too assumes pre-motivated offenders, but holds that a weakness in social bonds (attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief) triggers a release of criminal inclinations.  Learning theory is the approach that Sutherland (1940) himself invented, and it basically holds that people slowly condition or reward themselves (along with others) over time in rehearsing or preparing for the day they commit their big criminal act.  Most learning theories focus on the changing belief systems of offenders, with one variety of the approach calling them neutralizations, because they are self-learned excuses or justifications for wrongdoing.  Strain theory (Vaughn 1983; Passas & Goodwin 2004) holds that even good people commit crime whenever they become confused about the goals and/or means of their material success.



In general, the causes of white collar crime are the economic difficulty and greed. There are other causes such as opportunity to commit crime, situational pressure on the individual and the issues pertaining to integrity. Many scholars on the other hand believe that the greed is not main reason for white collar crime, but the inherent characteristics of getting more than others are the main causes of white collar crime.  There are other issues like inflation, economic pressure, depression etc.



White collar criminality has been an alarming issue in the context of criminology of Bangladesh and abroad. The white collar criminals as are the leaders of their respective fields, often keeps themselves behind the curtain. The issue of white collar crime is very much severe and it should be pondered upon very carefully.













Theories of Crime- CJ511