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Article

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.

Article

Nicholas Lord, Yongyu Zeng, and Aleksandra Jordanoska

Historically, white-collar crime scholarship, including and since the seminal work of Sutherland, has tended to concentrate empirical, conceptual, and theoretical focus on manifestations of associated crimes and deviance, their dynamics and generative conditions, within individual nation-states. While white-collar crime scholarship itself has expanded across the globe, this predilection for analyses of local and/or national-level cases and the nature, extent, and scope of these white-collar crimes has largely remained. Notwithstanding, it is not entirely uncommon for white-collar crime scholars to make reference to the international, multinational, transnational, or global aspects of the crimes they study, even if these are predominantly national in nature, but the corresponding features and components of these “beyond-national” dynamics have not been comprehensively unpacked or conceptualized. Similarly, conceptualizing and interrogating the dynamics of white-collar crimes that go beyond national boundaries as part of their organization and nature, while recognized as significant, is often not a core analytical concern. Understanding the varying characteristics and features, as well as the differing configurations, interrelations, and organizational dynamics of those white-collar crimes that in some way transcend jurisdictional boundaries, is significant for white-collar crime theory and research. Examining these issues in further detail and thinking through the implications of the beyond-national aspects of white-collar crimes is a useful framework for interrogating white-collar crimes and understanding the necessary and conditional relationships of the white-collar crime commission process that overlay onto common patterns of routine business activities. There are notable examples from the academic literature but also from real cases of white-collar crime that demonstrate how white-collar and corporate offenders have organized their criminal activities across jurisdictional boundaries, how they have externalized the risks associated with their crimes, how they have exported their crimes to take place in other jurisdictions, and/or how they have utilized cross-jurisdictional structures and systems, including digital spaces and infrastructures, to facilitate their criminal activities and associated concealment, conversion, and control of illicit finances. Such analyses have often been accompanied by reference to purported processes of globalization as a generator of new and increased opportunities for white-collar crimes (though little is known about why some opportunities are realized but not others). Globalization, despite itself being a contested concept, has emerged as a significant factor for analyses of white-collar and corporate crimes that extend beyond individual nation-states as greater interconnectedness, increased mobilities, and increased interdependencies are seen. These purported processes of globalization have been identified as possessing varying intensity and speed that have influenced opportunities for, and the organization of, white-collar crimes. That said, globalization per se does not inevitably generate more white-collar crimes organized beyond the nation-state if they can be productive without having to do so. In these terms, globalization of white-collar crimes is not automatic, but is one explanatory factor that contributes to how some white-collar crimes have beyond-state aspects, usually alongside the expansion of routine business activities. Nevertheless, there is a need to explore the spatial (including digital) contexts of white-collar crimes that have beyond-national scope with a view to questioning how useful it is, or can be, to understand how different white-collar crimes pertain to, are associated with, or are restricted to particular “territories” at the domestic (i.e., nation-state), international, transnational, multinational, supranational, and global levels and how this has implications for research, policy, and practice.

Article

Gerald Cliff and April Wall-Parker

As far back as the 19th century, statistics on reported crime have been relied upon as a means to understand and explain the nature and prevalence of crime (Friedrichs, 2007). Measurements of crime help us understand how much of it occurs on a yearly basis, where it occurs, and the costs to our society as a whole. Studying crime statistics also helps us understand the effectiveness of efforts to control it by tracking arrests and convictions. Analysts can tell whether it is increasing or decreasing relative to other possible mitigating factors such as the economy or unemployment rates in a community. Politicians can point to crime statistics to define a problem or indicate a success. Sociologists can study the ups and downs of crime rates and any number of other variables in the society such as education, employment rates, ethnic demographics, and a long list of other factors thought to affect the rate at which crime is committed. Property value is affected by the crime rates in a given neighborhood, and insurance rates are said to fluctuate with the ups and downs of crime. Analyzing any criminal act’s prevalence, cost to society, impact on victims, potential preventive measures, correction strategies, and even the characteristics of perpetrators and victims has provided valuable insights and a wealth of useful information in society’s efforts to combat violent/index crimes. This information has only been possible because there is little disagreement as to exactly what constitutes a criminal act when discussing violent or property crimes or what has come to be grouped under the catch-all heading of “street crime”; this is decidedly not the case with crimes included under the white-collar crime umbrella.

Article

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.

Article

A considerable body of research on societal response to white-collar and corporate crime has evidenced a hardening of public attitudes, including increased perceived seriousness of upper-class criminality and punitiveness toward its perpetrators. These findings suggest that, over time, the public has gained a better understanding of white-collar crime and its deleterious social impact. However, none of the opinion surveys included a direct measure of public knowledge. As a result, it is difficult to determine to which extent U.S. citizens are objectively informed about crimes of the powerful. In fact, only a few studies have focused exclusively on the intersection between knowledge about white-collar crime and sentiment toward it. These scholarly efforts have concluded that the American people continue to underestimate the actual financial and physical consequences of white-collar crime, which may be the result of selective reporting by the mass media and biased research foci by scholars. By choosing to focus on traditional criminal law violations, such as homicide and theft, and relegating white-collar offenses to the rank of victimless crimes, journalists and criminologists have contributed to the construction and propagation of myths about upper-world criminality. In turn, continuous adherence to these myths might lead to polarized opinions about which type of penal policy to adopt against white-collar crime.

Article

Arjan Reurink

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.

Article

Steven Tombs and David Whyte

From the best estimates we have, workers die as a result of health and safety crimes at perhaps 70 times the rate of people who are murdered and perhaps 15 times the rate of people killed in car accidents. Yet health and safety crimes are not the typical subject matter for criminology simply because they are not interpersonal crimes. Yes, individuals are involved, but health and safety crime always requires us to look beyond individual actors playing out a criminal event in a self-contained crime “scene.” This chapter provides a detailed overview of how safety crimes might be regarded as crimes of violence, and explores in detail the way scholars have characterized the regulation of those crimes. It closes by providing a theoretical and empirical description of the “political economy” approach to understanding safety crimes with reference to the case of a young English worker, Simon Jones, who was killed at the hands of his employer.

Article

In 1940, Edwin Sutherland claimed that the discipline of criminology was operating with an inaccurate view of criminal behavior. He argued that criminology focused too much on the offending of working-class people via the causal mechanisms of poverty, psychopathy, and sociopathy. His theory on white-collar crime was an observation that people of high social class commit crimes and have their own forms of offending behavior. Of this behavior, Sutherland noted that it could be more far-reaching and damaging than offenses committed by the working class, while at the same time encountering less scrutiny and condemnation from society. By taking the first steps into the study of crimes of the powerful, Sutherland opened up discussion of a wide range of nonviolent, financially motivated offenses such as corruption of state officials, fraud, and embezzlement. He proposed the theory of differential association as an attempt to provide a more effective explanation of offending behavior inclusive of the offending of the rich and powerful. During the 20th century, research into white-collar criminals and the professional con artist has revealed broad typologies of offending behavior and patterns of offending. Today, white-collar crime is a broad term that applies to a range of activities and has become shorthand for discussions of crimes that involve deception, abuse of trust, and intelligent criminals. Media representations have emphasized these characteristics and portrayed white-collar criminals and con artists as offending elites, both in terms of social class and type of offending. Film and television depictions present an elaborate form of criminality based on guile and manipulation of victims. The image of the white-collar criminal, the professional con artist, and their victims in popular culture are equally nuanced and tap into ideas about the moral acceptability of this kind of offending. The influence of popular culture on attitudes toward white-collar crime is of great interest in the study of criminology.

Article

Shanna R. Van Slyke and Leslie A. Corbo

Consumer fraud is the intentional deception of one or more individuals with the promise of goods, services, or other financial benefits that either never existed, were never going to be provided, or were grossly misrepresented. In contrast to ancient times when consumer fraud and other white-collar crimes were considered to be at least as serious as violence and other street crimes, today’s consumer fraudster tends to be viewed as less dangerous and deserving of harsh sanctioning. Despite several social movements against consumer fraud and a proliferation of popular and scholarly literature on the topic, contemporary U.S. society has maintained a relatively lenient stance toward white-collar crime—a “soft on crime” position that is inconsistent with conservative “tough on crime” approaches that have dominated U.S. penal policy since the 1960s.

Article

Andrea Schoepfer

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.

Article

Clayton Peoples and James E. Sutton

The state is responsible for maintaining law and order in society and protecting the people. Sometimes it fails to fulfill these responsibilities; in other cases, it actively harms people. There have been many instances of political corruption and state crime throughout history, with impacts that range from economic damage to physical injury to death—sometimes on a massive scale (e.g., economic recession, pollution/poisoning, genocide). The challenge for criminologists, however, is that defining political corruption and state crime can be thorny, as can identifying their perpetrators—who can often be collectives of individuals such as organizations and governments—and their victims. In turn, pinpointing appropriate avenues of controlling these crimes can be difficult. These challenges are exacerbated by power issues and the associated reality that the state is in a position to write or change laws and, in essence, regulate itself. One possible solution is to define political corruption and state crime—as well as their perpetrators and victims—as broadly as possible to include a variety of scenarios that may or may not exhibit violations of criminal law. Likewise, a resolution to the issue of social control would be to move beyond strictly institutional mechanisms of control. Criminological research should further elucidate these issues; it should also, however, move beyond conceptual dilemmas toward (a) better understanding the processes underlying political corruption/state crime and (b) illustrating the broader ramifications of these crimes.

Article

Adam Ghazi-Tehrani

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.

Article

The looting, trafficking, and illicit sale of cultural objects is a form of transnational crime with significant social and legal dimensions that call into question competing ideas of ownership and value, as well as how we define organized crime, white collar crime, and crimes of the powerful. The looting of cultural objects from archaeological and heritage sites is inherently destructive and is almost always illegal. However, through a complex smuggling chain which depends on lack of import/export regulation standardization in transit and opaque business practices at market, stolen cultural objects are able to be passed onto the international market in large quantities and at little risk to market actors.

Article

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.

Article

State–corporate crime research has developed significantly since William Chambliss’s presidential speech to the American Society of Criminology in 1989 calling for specific attention to corporate crimes and connections with the state. From 1992 to 2000, four foundational case studies established a working theoretical framework. Since its debut in 1998, the integrated theoretical framework has had two levels of analysis added as well as the key concepts of state-initiated, state-facilitated, corporate-initiated, and corporate-facilitated crime. However, events of the 21st century have demonstrated the importance of developing the international level of analysis of the theoretical framework. The Great Recession of 2008, the Panama Papers and tax evasion by those people and corporations named, Peruvian lawsuits against German fossil fuel industries regarding climate change, the Cambridge Analytica data-mining scandal, and the global Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 elucidate the international connections between states and businesses and the need for extensive research uncovering these connections and the mechanisms used by states and corporations to maintain and reproduce these criminal partnerships.