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White collar vs. corporate crime

The term “white collar crime” has sprung up in recent years and now pervades our media. Many of us have an abstract understanding of what white collar crimes entail. We may have vague notions of rich Wall Street investors sitting in their lofty high-rise offices, collecting money through duplicitous means. But what are white collar crimes actually, and how do they differ from corporate crimes?

White collar crime

White collar crimes are non-violent, financial crimes. When an individual uses deceptive means to achieve personal financial gain, this is considered a white collar crime. Common examples of white collar crimes are embezzlement, money laundering and fraud.

For example, a person claiming to represent a prominent bank sends out phishing emails designed to trick recipients into divulging their personal bank account details. This is a type of fraud. Since the individual is committing this crime for their own financial benefit, it is considered a white collar crime.

Corporate crime

Corporate crimes may be similar to white collar crimes in many respects. They can also include the types of crimes listed above. One main difference, however, is that with corporate crimes, the person (or people) committing the crimes are working on behalf of the company they work for. Their goal is to financially benefit the company or its shareholders. It is worth noting that to be considered a corporate crime, the company in question does not need to be aware of—or condone—such criminal activity.

The recent Volkswagen emissions scandal is an example of fraud that is a corporate crime. Certain Volkswagen employees installed software designed to significantly low the cars’ emissions readings, making these cars appear to out-perform their competitors by a long shot. In reality, these cars’ emissions were actually 40 times higher than the permissible level. Since the goal of this fraud was to financially benefit the business—not the perpetrators directly—it is considered a corporate crime.

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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