White-collar crime is a phrase everyone is probably familiar with. When you hear it, you likely call to mind a person in a suit, white shirt and tie doing something illegal in connection with business in order to boost profits.
Indeed, that does seem to rather reflect how the term came into existence. According to the Cornell University Law School website, sociologist Edwin Sutherland coined the phrase in 1939. He used it to describe business crimes, but his frame of reference for possible offenders was limited — restricted to individuals of high social status and respectability.
In the early years, the crimes that might have been tagged as white collar fell into only a few categories. They included embezzlement, securities fraud, Ponzi schemes and insider trading. These days, the scope of possible wrongdoing is broader, including a wide array of activities, such as insurance, mortgage, mail and credit card fraud. Money laundering, identity theft, forgery, tax evasion and Internet crimes now fall into the white-collar bucket.
Not only has the list of crimes expanded over the years, but so has the nature of those who are charged. Alleged perpetrators are not just those of elite standing, as Sutherland described. They can be anyone, including you or your next door neighbor.
What is common to any of the variety of crimes that can be leveled in this category is that they result in serious penalties for those who are convicted. It might involve an order of restitution for the amount taken and additional fines. In more serious of cases, it could mean time in prison and a complete loss of reputation.
What this serves to show is that the nature of white-collar crime is complicated. To mount a strong and timely defense is paramount when charges are brought. And consulting an experienced attorney is the right first step in making that happen.