What Are White Collar Crimes?

Images of a man in a white collared shirt against orange background - What are white collar crimes

What Are White Collar Crimes?

White collar crimes are not just the subject of a hit TV show from the early 2000s—they could land you some time in prison. From pyramid schemes to money laundering, the penalties for white collar crimes can top nearly a decade in prison. In fact, the penalty for one Arizona man who (along with several others) defrauded nearly 20 million dollars from seniors in several states, was 16 years! 


Examples of White Collar Crimes

The term “white collar crime” comes from a time when most people who wore suits to work—bankers, accountants, and office workers—would also wear white-collared shirts. It was coined in a 1939 sociology paper to describe crimes committed by people who use their jobs (or the respectability that comes with certain jobs) to defraud others.

Usually, when people think of white collar crimes, they think about Ponzi schemes or the Nigerian prince email scam. While these are two good examples of types of fraud, they are not the only types of white collar crimes. 

For example, accountants who move money around or make fraudulent transactions look legitimate are engaging in money laundering, a type of white collar crime. And artists who use their skills to recreate famous paintings and sell them as originals commit forgery, another type of white collar crime. 

Common white collar crimes include:

  • Fraud (corporate, mortgage, financial, credit card, etc.)
  • Forgery
  • Money Laundering
  • Embezzlement 
  • Intellectual Property Theft (Piracy)
  • Identity Theft

What About Pyramid Schemes?

With the recent uptick in Multilevel Marketing techniques (MLMs), many have asked the question, “What is the difference between MLMs and pyramid/Ponzi schemes?” 

The main difference is that MLMs meet certain specifications and can be considered legitimate, while Ponzi schemes do not. While they look very similar on paper (it’s that pyramid graphic) MLMs must maintain a certain percentage of product sales—about 70% of gross sales. Ponzi schemes, however, generally gain money from investors or fees. 


What Are the Penalties for White Collar Crimes?

The complex nature of white collar crime makes it difficult to give a comprehensive list of the crimes and their penalties without quoting the entire Arizona penal code. However, it’s important to note that most white collar crimes are felonies. Felony penalties include prison time, restitution, and the loss of several civil rights, like voting.

In general sentencing for felonies varies by class:

  • Class 2: three to ten years
  • Class 3: two to 25 years
  • Class 4: one to fifteen years
  • Class 5: six months to seven years
  • Class 6: three months to five years


Contact a Lawyer if You Are Accused of a White Collar Crime

While not directly violent, law enforcement does not consider white collar crimes as victimless. This means that they will prosecute if they have enough evidence. The nature of these crimes makes it harder to gather evidence, but not impossible. 

Speaking with an experienced attorney is always your best course of action if you have been accused of a white collar crime. A good lawyer will go over all the possible ramifications of a charge and trial, including the maximum penalties you might face. 

With a smart, experienced criminal lawyer on your side, you have the best chance of a felony-free future. Contact Todd Coolidge today for a consultation.


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (11/30/22). Photo by Nimble Made on Unsplash.