Understanding white collar crime - Marinaro Law - Lancaster, PA
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Home 9 Criminal Defense 9 Understanding white collar crime

When you think about crime in Pennsylvania, you probably think about such things as drugs, DUI, robbery and other such crimes that seem to make it onto the evening news all too regularly. You probably do not think about white collar crime and possibly do not even realize what this category of crimes includes.

White collar crime represents a broad category of crimes that include all of the following:

  • Embezzlement
  • Bribery
  • Counterfeiting
  • Ponzi schemes
  • Money laundering
  • Insider trading

Such additional crimes as labor racketeering, identity theft, tax evasion and copyright infringement likewise constitute white collar crimes.

If you notice a pattern here, that is because all white collar crimes have one thing in common. Someone defrauded someone else, illegally obtaining the victim’s property or assets.

Origination of term

While people have committed white collar crimes for centuries if not millennia, the term itself did not appear until 1939. A sociologist by the name of Edwin Sutherland coined the phrase, defining a white collar crime as one “committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of their occupation.” Keep in mind that at that point in time, people of “respectability and high social status” almost invariably wore business suits in public, especially when they went to work. And the shirt or blouse underneath the suit’s jacket almost invariably was a white one. Hence a white collar criminal literally wore a white collar.


Regardless of the fact that all white collar crimes consist of some sort of fraud, fraud itself is a white collar crime. To prove fraud per se, the prosecutor must show that the alleged criminal used some form of deception, oral or written, to gain the victim’s trust to the extent that (s)he gave valuable assets, usually money, to the perpetrator who, in turn, simply kept the assets himself or herself so as to achieve a financial gain.

The other thing about white collar crimes is that they usually violate both state and federal laws. Consequently, should you ever find yourself accused of committing a white collar crime, you could face prosecution in either jurisdiction, possibly both.

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