A white-collar criminal belongs to upper socio-economic class who violates the criminal law while conducting his professional qualities. For example, misrepresentation through fraudulent advertisements, infringement of patents, copyrights and trade-marks etc., are frequently resorted to by manufacturers, industrialists and other persons of repute in course of their occupation with a view to earning huge profits.
Other illustrations of white collar criminality include publication of fabricated balance sheets and profit and loss account of business, passing of goods,’ concealment of defects in the commodity for sale etc.
Southerland further pointed out that a white collar crime is more harmful to society than ordinary crimes because the financial loss to society from white collar crimes is far greater than the financial loss from burglaries, robberies larcenies etc. The most dismal aspect of white collar, crimes is that there is no effective programme for the enforcement of criminal law against them and the influential persons involved in these offences are able to resist enforcement of law against themselves.
White collar crimes by their very nature are such that the injury or damage caused as a result of them is so widely diffused in the large body of society that their gravity in regard to individual victim is almost negligible. It is probably for this reason that till late these crimes did not attract much attention as they do not carry with them any loss of social status of the offender even if he is caught or detected.
There is yet another reason for white collar criminals escaping prosecution. In cases of misrepresentation, concealment or fraud etc., the courts usually place reliance on the principle of caveat-emptor, which signifies that the purchaser must enter into a deal with open eyes and guard himself against ordinary dishonesty of the vendor.
As a result of this attitude of the courts there was enormous increase in white collar crime during the period of depression in 1930’s in United States. Perhaps it is for this reason that American President Roosevelt in 1933 insisted on withdrawal of the doctrine of caveat-emptor from adjudication of cases involving white collar crime.
Sir Walter Reckless, an eminent American criminologist suggests that white collar crime represents the offences of businessmen who are in a position to determine the policies and activities of business. Some authorities suggest that white collar crimes are committed by persons of status not for need but for greed.
Referring to this variety of the upper world of crime, Barnes and Teaters quoted Lord Acton who said, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely”. Wherever citizens of a particular nation become apethetic to the working of their Government, corruption and alliance between public servants, politicians and the criminal world become rampant resulting is crimes such as breach of trust, fraud and other malpractices.
During the Truman administration in U.S.A. the well known “Fine percenters” and “Friendship Racket” operated between the high ups close to President and contractors who procured war contracts. Bruce Cotton’s book “The War Lords of Washington”, amply reveals the story of the callousness of some businessmen during World War II.
It indicates the indifference, greed, inaptness and arrogance of many of those responsible for conducting a war and how they shelved of the democratic ideals for their personal gain while performing their official duties. The reason for such deals remaining undetected as pointed out by Sutherland was that “the fine line between criminal activity and immorality either in business or in government is often difficult to discern”.
It must be emphatically stated that white collar criminality thrives because of public apathy to it. The reason for this public insensibility is that firstly such criminals operate within the strict letter of the law and exploit the credibility of their victims; and secondly, the legal battles involved are dragged out for years in the courts, with the result the gravity of the offence is completely lost in the oblivion. That apart, the impact of white collar crime is so much diffused in the community that the individual victims are only marginally affected by it, and, therefore, they conveniently forget all about it.
There is yet another important point in context of white collar crime. At times, the members of the community themselves contribute to the commission of various white collar crimes willingly or unwillingly. For instance, illegal gratification to public servants to get the work done quickly, black-marketing in times of scarcity, evasive price violations, rent-ceiling violations etc. are some of the common examples where ‘victims’ of the crime are themselves to be blamed for involvement in white collar criminality. In fact, such crimes cannot be committed unless there is a demand for illegal favour from consumers and they are actively involved in the deal.