So-called “white-collar crime” is a term that is largely understood in modern society to encompass certain crimes of a non-violent nature wherein substantial harm is caused to another entity, typically through methods of deceit, manipulation, or some other form of illegal circumvention. Many crimes considered to be “white-collar” in today’s society include copyright infringement, money laundering, bribery, and identity theft.
White-collar crimes are almost always financially motivated, which is primarily why financial motivation has largely become a defining characteristic of modern white-collar crime. The origins of both the term “white-collar crime” and its use as a categorization of certain criminal activity draw significant contrast from this modern reality, though. Sociologist Edwin Sutherland coined the term back in 1939, where he intended it to describe crimes committed by people of high socioeconomic status, and through the course of their personal occupations. That definition had evolved greatly over time, as the concept of white-collar crime became further ingrained within our criminal justice system.
As white-collar crime evolved from Sutherland’s initial definition into a term defining non-violent and financially motivated crimes, many of which had been developed as crimes in the years after Sutherland’s term begun catching on, it has gradually come to fit into the mold of our modern criminal justice system and society. The designation of crimes that are now considered to be “white-collar” is both appropriate and necessary within contemporary society, simply as the prospect of crime has so substantially evolved, particularly as a result of advancing technologies. While “white-collar” crimes can certainly be relabelled, perhaps simply as “financial crimes,” this relabelling would serve no meaningful purpose. This is especially true because the term has already become so ingrained within our society at this point, significantly as a result of the media’s adoption of the term and its role in categorizing the type of crimes that fall under the “white-collar” umbrella.