The term “white collar crime” covers a wide range of individual crimes. Per the Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, all of these crimes have one thing in common: some form of deceit or fraud on the part of the perpetrator for the purpose of his or her own financial gain or the gain of a family member or friend. 

Common examples of white collar crimes include the following: 

  • Corporate fraud 
  • Financial institution fraud 
  • Mortgage fraud 
  • Health care fraud 
  • Identity theft 
  • Intellectual property theft 

Money laundering, embezzlement, securities and commodities fraud, and Ponzi schemes likewise represent common white collar crimes. 

Edwin Sutherland, a sociologist, reportedly first coined the phrase “white collar crime” in 1939. He defined it as a “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of their occupation.” Keep in mind that at that time, virtually all corporate executives wore business suits to work, including white shirts or blouses. While the corporate dress code evolved over the years to include a wide variety of apparel, the name stuck. 

Today’s white collar criminal may well wear jeans to work, but his or her motivation remains the same. (S)he uses his or her position of trust to defraud customers, suppliers or even the company for which (s)he works, all for the purpose of enhancing his or her own financial picture. In the process, (s)he also enhances his or her power base, thereby gaining a corporate advantage and continuing to climb the ladder of success until caught. Depending on the sophistication of his or her scheme, this could take years or even decades.