The phrase “white collar crime” was first used in a 1939 speech before the American Sociological Society. Edwin Sutherland, a professor at Indiana University, coined the phrase, which he said was meant a “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” This was a challenge to the popular beliefs at the time that a person from the upper economic classes would never commit a crime, and that criminal activity was exclusively limited to the poor.

Since then, the popular understanding of the phrase has expanded. Today, white collar crime generally refers to any type of nonviolent property crime, often using the tools and resources of big business, in order to achieve financial gain.

Even though these crimes are nonviolent, they are not victimless crimes. The FBI reports that white collar offenses cost more than $300 billion every year. The loss of life savings and financial security causes untold heartache and distress to the victims of these crimes. Consequently, North Carolina district attorneys and federal prosecutors give these cases their full attention. Defendants accused of white collar crimes in North Carolina should not expect to be shown leniency just because their offense was not a violent crime.

Types of White Collar Crimes

Criminal defense lawyers in Wilmington know that there is a broad class of offenses under state and federal law that can be considered white collar crimes. We provide a list of some of the most common here, with brief explanations:

  • Adoption scams. These involve taking money from a couple or a single person to arrange a private adoption—and then leaving the devastated prospective parents without their savings or a child.
  • Antitrust violations and price fixing. These financial crimes manipulate the normal workings of the free market. Competitors collude to get special pricing agreements or to boost their profits artificially.
  • Bankruptcy fraud. Most of these crimes involve filing for bankruptcy to discharge debts while concealing substantial assets.
  • Bribery. Paying officials to ignore activity they are supposed to guard against, or to violate their duties in some other way.
  • Counterfeiting and forgery. Forgery is the fraudulent creation of a document, check or money order, art works, sports memorabilia, or other valuable item. Counterfeiting is a federal offense involving forgery of currency, coins, or postage stamps.
  • Credit card fraud and identity theft. Criminals may obtain someone’s credit or debit card number in order to make unauthorized purchases without paying, or to transfer funds from the account in cash. Identity theft is a more comprehensive crime that can loot a victim’s bank accounts and destroy his or her credit rating for years to come.
  • Embezzlement. Embezzlement involves a person using her position of authority to take property or money from another person or organization for her own.
  • Environmental law violations. Dumping toxic or dangerous materials into waterways or onto public lands are considered white collar offenses.
  • Fraud. Fraud consists in taking money from another for false reasons. This is the broadest area of white collar crime.
  • Insurance scams. The range of fraudulent acts here is breathtaking. People can make false claims to their car and home insurance carriers for accidents and damage that never happened. Fraudulent health insurance claims for Medicare and Medicaid are federal offenses that can be prosecuted in District Court.
  • Larceny. Larceny is a form of theft, in which someone takes another person’s valuable personal property without permission or compensation, with the intention of making it his own.
  • Money laundering. This involves mingling the profits from an illegal activity with the revenue of a legitimate business, in order to disguise the source of the illegal income.
  • Securities fraud and insider trading. These are forms of investor deception. Securities fraud sell worthless investments to victims; pyramid and Ponzi schemes are forms of this crime. Insider trading occurs when someone informed early of important news uses his foreknowledge to profit from how stock prices change when the news becomes public.
  • Tax evasion. Failure to pay the taxes legitimately assessed is a white collar crime. Avoidance of federal taxes is, of course, a federal offense.
  • Telemarketing fraud. High-pressure tactics from phone callers—often targeting senior citizens—are often successful in obtaining bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, and other personal information. This often leads to identity theft or unauthorized credit card cash advances.
  • Trade secret theft and commercial espionage. A growing area of crime involves a business trying to gain advantage over a competitor by sneaking a spy onto the business property to discover manufacturing processes or other trade secrets.

Protect your good reputation and your future

If you have been accused of fraud in Wilmington or Whiteville, or any other white collar crime, turn to the criminal defense lawyers at Speaks Law Firm for robust legal representation. Call us locally at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 today. We would be happy to answer your questions and schedule an appointment to explore your options.

Contact us today. Delay cannot help you. The sooner we can begin working on your case, the better.


R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.
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