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White-collar crime, as opposed to blue-collar crime, is a relatively sophisticated criminal activity in which individuals entrusted with commercial or governmental responsibilities abuse their positions for financial or political gain. The term "white-collar crime" was coined in 1939 by Edwin Sutherland, who defined it as "crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation." White-collar crime often overlaps with, but is not strictly limited to, Corporate Crimecorporate crime, state crime, and state-corporate crime.
White-collar crime can be difficult to successfully prosecute. Those who commit crime of this sort are often in a position to cautiously plan out their actions, and tend to operate in areas where they possess intimate and sometimes exclusive knowledge. This cautious planning and in-depth knowledge of their targets often makes it easy for white-collar criminals to conceal or dissimulate their offenses. Furthermore white-collar crime can often occur under the guise of regular business and political transactions, and there is even an ethic in certain lines of business that encourages professionals to get away with as much abuse as they can without getting caught, an accusation which might be leveled at the entire financial industry, to say nothing of the political arena.
On the whole, the criminal law of the United States does not hunt down and prosecute white-collar crime with nearly the same vigor as blue-collar crime. Most police forces do not have authority to investigate crime at the white-collar level, and almost no effort goes into monitoring corporate and state criminal activities. This task falls on the shoulders of organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Furthermore, it is commonly known (and resented) that those guilty of white-collar crime can afford to hire the best legal defense, or even influence the way a jurisdiction defines and prosecutes crime, so that the minimum punishment will fall on their heads.
It is estimated that white-collar crime cost the United States from $200 to over $300 billion every year. This is staggering compared to the estimated $15 billion to $20 billion in damages that blue-collar crime inflicts. The problem is, fortunately and unfortunately, these tremendous financial losses are usually spread out quite thinly through the population, making it difficult to raise the kind of awareness and concern that are usually necessary to spark criminal investigation. White-collar crime almost never involves violence against the person or the destruction of physical property, and national consciousness is often barely high enough to realize white-collar crime is going on, let alone experience moral outrage. In a sense, this is a species of crime that victimizes no one and everyone at once.
Common examples of white-collar crimes include but are not limited to tax evasion, financial fraud, securities fraud, insider trading, bankruptcy fraud, healthcare fraud, antitrust violations, government fraud, bribery, kickbacks, economic and industrial espionage, money laundering, and embezzlement.
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