- Andrea SchoepferAndrea SchoepferDepartment of Criminal Justice, California State University San Bernardino
Studies of white-collar crime have largely focused on the crimes and immoral and unethical actions of adults during the course of their legitimate occupations, yet adults are not the only offenders, and white-collar crimes don’t always require employment. By narrowing the focus to who can offend, we may miss out on a fuller understanding of the phenomenon. The specific category of “white-collar delinquency” has been proposed to address this gap in the research. The original conceptualization of white-collar delinquency focused on crimes of juveniles that are of major financial and social consequence. The concept largely focuses on computer crimes, fraud, and crimes of skill, including piracy, securities fraud, espionage, denial of service attacks, hacking, identity fraud, dissemination of worms and viruses, and other crimes that can result in serious economic harm. Just as juveniles engage in conventional street crime offenses as do adult offenders, they also possess the ability to engage in white-collar offenses as do adult offenders, and there is a need to study the two age groups separately, as motivations, influences, and opportunities may differ.
The literature thus far has largely ignored juvenile involvement in white-collar crimes due to the nature of the phenomenon, the reliance on offender-based definitions, and the presumption of opportunities to engage in the actions. Some white-collar offenses that were historically committed exclusively by adults have a place in the juvenile community as well. This “migration” has taken place for a number of reasons, with the majority of them closely tied to the nearly limitless access juveniles currently have to technology. Due to the overwhelming popularity of personal computers in homes and marked advancements in technology, opportunities for hybrid white-collar crimes (e.g., credit card fraud, identity theft, hacking, phishing, general fraud, intellectual property theft, financial/bank fraud) have dramatically increased, yet criminological studies focusing on technology related crimes have, until recently, been relatively sparse, and studies of fraud have predominately focused on characteristics of the victims as opposed to the offenders. As access to computers and the internet grow, so too do opportunities to engage in these types of crimes. Juveniles are able to interact with others from the privacy of their own homes with the benefit of complete anonymity. This anonymity may contribute to the appeal of computer-related delinquency, as such acts involve almost no confrontation and no violence, and are individualistic in nature. These individualistic crimes may attract those who would normally avoid more conventional crimes that involve confrontation. Technology has opened the door for a new type of offender and new types of offending.
Although it is difficult to identify an exact dollar amount, financial losses from serious computer crimes such as audio, video, and software piracy; security breaches; and intellectual property theft are likely to exceed the financial losses from conventional crimes, and it is therefore imperative that more attention be given to these types of crimes and perpetrators. Theoretical explanations for this new category of crime have not yet been fully explored for many reasons. First, technology advances much faster than the laws regulating behavior. Second, apprehension and prosecution for crimes of technology are relatively low, and thus little data exists for theory testing with these crimes and offenders. Finally, computer and technology crimes fall into a gray area; they are not necessarily either property crimes or traditional white-collar crimes. In criminology, computer crimes tend to fall into a “hybrid” or “other” category of white-collar crime and as such are often ignored in studies on white-collar crime. Furthermore, juveniles are often overlooked in white-collar crime research due to their status and limited access to opportunity. By proposing the term “white-collar delinquency,” researchers hope to bring more focus to the understudied topic of juveniles engaging in crimes of serious economic consequence.