White-collar crime has not developed in a linear way as an academic subject. Its definition remains contested, between those who consider that, when deciding on the boundaries of what we can explain, we cannot depart far from the decisions of criminal courts and, at the other extreme, those who substitute “social harm” for “crime” and see the theoretical task as explaining why criminal justice reacts far more severely to the less socially harmful acts. Most scholars are somewhere closer to the legalistic view, except that they substitute convictability for conviction, though convictability may be disputable except where there is a Deferred Prosecution Agreement or an agreed statement by the corporation. Individual, organizational, and cultural explanations of white-collar offenses are considered and are complementary, depending on the research question to be explored. Incomplete or distorted datasets are commonplace, but the increasing number of life course studies of white-collar criminality show that serious white-collar (and organized crime) offending typically has a later onset than other crimes. This may be due to established professionals being recruited as ‘enablers,’ and/or that a certain maturity is necessary to act as a credible borrower or investment intermediary, depending on the crime.
An important dimension of white-collar crime explains the decisions about formal and informal social control as ways of dealing with misconduct. These decisions range from detailed analysis of individual cases and patterns in a financial and/or industrial/service sector to macro explanations such as intentional or neglectful police/prosecutor resource starvation and protection of elites in neo-liberal societies. Some of the strategies are affected by whether regulator/regulatee relationships are repeat players progressing up the regulatory pyramid, or whether they are outsiders or intentional harm-doers, who may be less likely to be deterred or reformed by engagement with the regulators.
Jón Gunnar Bernburg
Originating in the tradition of classical sociology (Durkheim, Merton), anomie theory posits how broad social conditions influence deviant behavior and crime. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim was the first to discuss the concept of anomie as an analytical tool in his 1890s seminal works of sociological theory and method. In these works, anomie, which refers to a widespread lack of commitment to shared values, standards, and rules needed to regulate the behaviors and aspirations of individuals, is an intermediate condition by which social (dis)organization impacts individual distress and deviant behavior. An observant of the massive social changes of 19th-century Europe, Durkheim argued that anomie resulted from rapid social change and the weakening of traditional institutions, in particular the reduced authority of such institutions in the economic sphere, as well as changes in the principles underlying social inequality. A few decades later, the American sociologist Robert Merton re-formulated anomie theory, arguing how a particular malintegration of the culture-structure constitution of modern society produces high rates of crime. Echoing selected themes in Durkheim’s work, and discussing the United States as a prime example, Merton argued how a shared overemphasis on monetary success goals undermines individual commitment to social rules, and generates a particularly acute strain on individuals in disadvantaged social positions. Thus having implications for research on crime rate differences between societies as well as between individuals and groups within the society, anomie theory has inspired a broad range of both macro- and micro-level applications and extensions. On the one hand, the theory has shaped studies of crime rates across large social units, such as countries and metropolitan areas. Such research, while often limited in terms of the types of crime that can reliably be compared across large social units, has linked crime with economic inequality, materialistic values, the institutional dominance of market-driven processes and values, and rapid social change. An important development in this tradition is the advent of multilevel research that links societal factors with individual normlessness, strain, and criminal behavior. On the other hand, micro-level implications of anomie theory, often referred to as classic strain theory, have shaped studies of individual and group differences in criminal behavior within societies. This type of work often studies youths, at times bringing in notions of gangs, subculture, and differential opportunities, focusing on the criminogenic effects of strain stemming from opportunity blockage and relative deprivation. Yet the work rarely examines individual normlessness as an intermediate process linking social structure and delinquency. Finally, anomie theory has been extended and applied to research on business/corporate and white-collar crime. While more research is needed in this area, the extant work suggests how anomie theory provides a particularly powerful explanation of national-level differences in business/corporate crime (e.g., bribery). The article concludes by noting that an increased emphasis on multilevel research may lead to an integration of the macro-level and micro-level extensions and applications of anomie theory in the future.
Gema Varona and José Luis de la Cuesta
In a broad sense, international criminology can be described as the set of activities related to crime prevention and control, coming from the academia, public and private institutions and agencies, to join efforts to debate and publish and make policies, addressed to a global audience beyond a single country. This process of internationalization of criminology, started since its beginnings as a science, at the end of the 19th century through important congresses and meetings developed in Europe, where public officials and academics met. In the 21st century we can talk of a global or globalized criminology around the world, expressed also via websites on the Internet. Together with international crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of war and, to a lesser extent, aggression as crime against peace), transnational crimes (corruption, financial crime, terrorism, organized crime, and its different modalities of illegal trafficking, cyber-attacks, and crimes against the environment), as well as crimes of abuse of (political and economic) power (enforced disappearances, summary executions, torture) are the subject matter of international criminology. However, the concept of international criminology is elastic and welcomes any international approach to other topics, traditionally thought domestically; in any case from the international perspective the social-political dimension of criminality appears as a much more relevant issue than the criminal’s personality (and treatment) and protection of victims and the community become the focus of interest.
Within the internationalization of criminology there are at least two trends that deserve further analysis. The first one is how to balance the cultural differences among all the countries and the myriad of interests involved in the construction of an international criminology. Some criticism is heard in the sense that international criminology is influenced by American or Anglo-Saxon views. From this perspective it is observed a risk of producing academic, legal, and policy criminological transplants without considering the cultural and socioeconomic context of every country and the voices of their inhabitants. The second trend refers to the role of international criminology in relation with the increasingly diffuse borders between police, intelligence agencies, and military forces; crime control and war; or internal and external security. Even though international crimes have always been a core topic, war and political and economic abuse of power across borders have been quite forgotten in the agendas of both national and international criminology. Today there are different forms of cooperation among countries in conflict situations, (e.g., terrorism, border controls, and the so-called refugee crisis) where the military, intelligence agencies, police forces, and private corporations of different countries work together, providing international criminology new topics for critical reflection and action.
Women and white-collar crime is a topic that has, overall, received little attention in the literature. Initially, women were omitted from discussion and research because of their lack of participation, though some early commentary focused on victimization. When Edwin Sutherland first drew public and academic attention to white-collar crimes, few women were employed in positions that were conducive to commit elite crimes related to occupations or professions. According to Sutherland, white-collar crime involved professional men in positions of trust. From 1939 until the 1970s, work on white-collar offenders and offenses was male-centric, which included both scholarly researchers who were exploring the topic and males committing the majority of crimes. Corporations and respected professionals, not women, were presented with a multitude of opportunities to engage in white-collar crimes with little or no serious consequences. Primarily male corporate executives, politicians, and medical professionals committed white-collar crimes that included, for example, activities such as price fixing, insider trading, bribery, insurance fraud, and Ponzi schemes.
Women, who lacked opportunity outside the private sphere of the home, were less involved in crime overall and certainly were in no position to commit white-collar offenses. In the 1940s and 1950s, female crime was typically viewed as promiscuous, aberrant, and male-like behavior. Eventually, in the mid-1970s as more women moved into the public sphere seeking employment, early predictions by female scholars suggested that an increased involvement in white-collar crime was inevitable. The types of crimes committed by women, as noted by pioneering female scholars, were likely to expand beyond prostitution, check kiting, and shoplifting to white-collar offenses as opportunities became increasingly available in the public sphere. Gender inequality in most criminal endeavors continues to exist and more recent debates continue about the role of women in white-collar crime.
Individual, Educational, and Other Social Influences on Greed: Implications for the Study of White-Collar Crime
Long Wang, Ziwei Wang, and David H. Weng
Greed is a central part of human nature. In history, feudal barons and kings, as war profiteers, continued to engage in war to acquire more after they had accumulated excessive wealth; in the modern era, greed is still rampant as the wealthy and powerful keep accumulating inordinate amounts of wealth and power. Greed does not exist in a social vacuum: it often involves a complementary reduction in other people’s outcomes, even as the greedy actor achieves substantive gains. In addition, people’s resource accumulation often stimulates rather than sates, creating a vicious cycle of extravagant spending and insatiable desire. Historical and philosophical approaches typically connect greed with immoral and deplorable behavior. Religious admonitions even make it more obnoxious and despicable.
Greed is often believed to be an obvious, perhaps too obvious, cause of white-collar crime. There is no shortage of notorious cases of corporate greed, where white-collar offenders engage in amazing frauds and/or extravagant spending sprees. Yet empirical research on the relationships between greed and white-collar crime is rather limited. Greed can be both personal and environmental. On the one hand, our natural needs and wants suggest that people cannot always easily escape the temptations of greed. Thus, for at least some people, greed may be intrinsic, dynamic, and grow across spans of their life cycle. This may make restraining greed a challenging task as it represents a dissonance of human nature. On the other hand, greed is not always portrayed as disgraceful or unacceptable because of its connection to self-interest maximization and market competition, foundational elements of business and economics education and management practices. In particular, when the push for profits is pervasive, traditional, and taken-for-granted in modern organizational life, greed may inadvertently become less derogatory.
Each year, millions of individuals worldwide find themselves victims of online fraud. Whether it is responding to a fraudulent email with bank account details or being defrauded through a false relationship, fraud can have a life-changing impact on an individual victim. For many victims, this goes beyond pure monetary losses and impacts their physical and emotional health and well-being. Historically, fraud has not been the priority of police or government agencies; however, increased developments in technology mean that fraud is affecting a greater number of victims than ever before. The online nature of many fraudulent approaches carries with it a new set of unique challenges associated with the policing and prevention of online fraud, and victim support services are currently not well equipped (if even in existence) to deal with the aftermath of victimization.
Extortion as a crime has long attracted the interest of scholars, and much effort has been put into coining a precise definition that would allow distinguishing it from other similar predatory practices such as blackmail, bribery, coercion, and robbery. Academic literature classifies extortive practices according to their degree of complexity and involvement of organized crime. In this sense, the simplest form of extortion displays one offender who receives a one-time benefit from one victim, while the most sophisticated form is illustrated by racketeering, whereby an organized crime group systematically extorts money from multiple victims. Extortion as an organized crime activity can involve both episodic extortion practices and well-rooted systemic practices over a certain territory, where the latter is usually regarded as perpetrated by Mafia-type criminal organizations. Some scholars argue that extortion racketeering as a Mafia crime should be defined as sale and provision of extralegal protection services—protection of property rights, dispute resolution, and enforcement of contracts. However, others contend that extortion by Mafia-type organizations should not be counted as an economic activity but rather be considered as an illegal form of taxation imposed by quasi-political groups. In economic terms, it is a transfer of value and creates no economic output.
In contrast with the traditional understanding of extortion racketeering as “defining activity of organized crime,” some scholars have also focused on “extortion under the color of office,” or, in other words, extortion perpetrated by public servants or politicians in their official capacity. Extortion has often been compared with bribery, since both crimes can be defined as an unlawful conversion of properties and goods belonging to someone else for one’s own personal use and benefit. The debate on the differences between bribery and extortion, however, is a contested one, and has followed two lines of argument: respectively, the degree of coercion involved in the crime and the role (or modus operandi) of public officials in the bribery and extortive scheme. The common element for both crimes is the fact that representatives of the state abuse their power and official position for their own benefit.
Finance crime, that is, white-collar crime that occurs in the markets for financial goods and services, appears to be pervasive in 21st-century capitalism. Since the outbreak of the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, virtually all established financial institutions have been implicated in finance crime scandals, ranging from the mis-selling of financial products to money laundering and from insider dealing to the rigging of financial benchmarks. The financial stakes involved in such scandals are often significant, and at times have the potential to destabilize entire economies. This makes the phenomenon of finance crime a highly relevant topic for white-collar crime researchers. A major challenge, however, for those studying the phenomenon of finance crime is to engage with the complex mechanics of finance crime schemes. These often involve esoteric financial instruments and are embedded in arcane market practices, making them seem impenetrable for those unfamiliar with the intricacies of financial market practices. A helpful way to make the empirical universe of finance crimes intelligible is to construct a typology. This can be meaningfully done by distinguishing finance crimes by the different rationales that underlie the laws and regulations they violate. Doing so renders five main types of finance crime. These are (i) financial fraud, (ii) misuse of informational advantages, (iii) financial mis-selling, (iv) market price and benchmark manipulation, and (v) the facilitation of illicit financial flows.
White-collar crime scholars have taken various theoretical and analytical approaches to the study of finance crime. Some scholars have studied finance crimes in the light of their macro-institutional contexts. Such approaches are based on the premise that actors find meaning—motivations and rationalizations—and opportunities for their actions in the cultural and institutional environments in which they are situated and that such environments can be criminogenic in the sense that they structurally facilitate or even promote illegal behaviors. Others have studied the organizational dimensions of finance crime, looking at both the social networks through which finance crimes are perpetrated as well as the ways in which these networks are embedded in broader organizational and industry structures. Still others have studied the costs, consequences, and victims of finance crimes. Finally, some white-collar crime scholars have studied the ways in which societies create legal regimes that prohibit certain financial market practices as well as how these prohibitions are subsequently enforced by regulatory agencies, public prosecutors, and the courts.
State-corporate crime is defined as criminal acts that occur when one or more institutions of political governance pursue a goal in direct cooperation with one or more institutions of economic production and distribution. This concept has been advanced to examine how corporations and governments intersect to produce social harm. The complexity of state-corporate crime arises from the nature of the offenses; unlike traditional “street crime,” state-corporate crime is not characterized by the intent of a single actor to violate the law for personal pleasure or gain. Criminal actions by the state often lack an obvious victim, and diffusion of responsibility arising from corporate structure and involvement of multiple actors makes the task of attributing criminal responsibility difficult. Sufficient understanding of state-corporate crime cannot be gained through studying individual actors; one must also consider broader organizational and societal factors.
Further subclassification illuminates the different types of state-corporate crime: State-initiated corporate crime (such as the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion) occurs when corporations, employed by the government, engage in organizational deviance at the direction of, or with the tacit approval of, the government. State-facilitated state-corporate crime (such as the 1991 Imperial Food Products fire in Hamlet, North Carolina) occurs when government regulatory institutions fail to restrain deviant activities either because of direct collusion between business and government or because they adhere to shared goals whose attainment would be hampered by aggressive regulation.
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.