White Collar Crime
by Stephen D. Rogers
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Some people ask whether a mystery has to revolve around murder. While murder (or the threat of murder) is the genesis of most mysteries, you can also write about other violent crimes (such as rape or assault), non-violent crimes (such as car theft or vandalism), or even white-collar crimes.
White-collar crimes are those committed in a business setting for financial gain. The perpetrators are individuals or corporations which appear above reproach and the crimes are non-violent in nature. Because the victims are not physically threatened, these actions are also sometimes called victimless crimes. But are they?
- Joe robs a liquor store, holding the clerk at gunpoint.
- Joe robbed the store after losing his job and life savings when the company he worked for went bankrupt. The executives apparently cooked the books which eventually led to a loss of credibility and the backing of the financial community. As a result, thousands of people lost their jobs as well as their contributions into the corporate savings plan. Furthermore, private and corporate investors watched their stock in the company become worthless overnight. The total cost to vendors and business partners is difficult to calculate.
- Joe is arrested while fleeing the scene. He is later found guilty of armed robbery and sentenced to ten years in a state prison. His ex-employers are now running other companies with a hefty increase in salary.
One imagines many victims of victimless crimes fighting the urge for revenge when the perpetrators receive little or no punishment. One imagines the self-restraint failing.
The Urge for Revenge?
Financial crimes, though slow to raise a passionate public outcry, can still generate at least six kinds of mysteries:
A victim can hire a private investigator to bring the wrongdoing to light after the authorities fail to generate enough evidence to move forward. While the PI may never have worked this kind of case before, the victim's sense of betrayal might cause the PI to accept the challenge.
An investigator for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), United States Postal Service (USPS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or other federal agencies may crusade against an unimpeachable foe. At the state level, possible investigating agencies include the Attorney's General Office, State Police/Troopers/Highway Patrol, Division of Insurance, and Division of Consumer Protection. (Check the locality of your story for the actual agencies.) The hero is attempting to change the system from within while pushing the need for reforms and introducing the reader to an insider's world.
Several white-collar crimes are investigated at the local level. Law enforcement officers might feel the strain of trying to justify their investigation when serious violent crimes hold the community's interest.
White-collar crimes are often so complicated that only in the courtroom are the stories ever untangled. The drama comes from the cat-and-mouse games of testimony and reversals, of lies exposed for all to see. Then the defense turns around and postulates that the accused was actually a victim of entrapment.
Conning the Con.
White-collar criminals unpunished by regular channels may be targeted for a con job that will strip them of their ill-gotten gains. A victim who turns the tables on a perpetrator is often the sweetest executor of justice.
The victim may chose to follow the path of least resistance and physically assault or even kill the perpetrator.
Types of White Collar Crime
Following are more than twenty forms of white-collar crime. Fraud is considered lying in order to separate a victim from something of value.
- Antitrust Violations.
This covers corporations which violate the Sherman and Clayton Acts by price fixing, forming a monopoly, or otherwise squashing competition.
- ATM/Credit Card Fraud.
This includes unauthorized use of a credit, debit, or ATM card.
This describes an attempt to sway a decision-maker with something of value.
- Computer/Internet Fraud.
This includes fraud conducted through computers and actions taken against computers.
- Bankruptsy Fraud.
This includes the hiding of assets or otherwise defrauding creditors.
- Copyright Infringement.
This includes the illegal use of copyrighted materials.
This includes unauthorized copies of money or goods which are presented as real.
- Economic Espionage.
This includes the theft of trade secrets.
This includes the personal use of money or property entrusted in someone's care.
- Environmental Law Violations.
This includes violations of federal environmental laws.
- Financial Fraud.
This includes fraud or embezzlement involving institutions insured or regulated by the federal government.
- Government Fraud.
This includes fraud against government agencies.
- Healthcare Fraud.
This includes kickbacks and fraudulent billing.
- Identity Theft.
This is an expanded version of credit card theft where the perpetrator may steal personal information instead of the physical cards.
- Insider Trading.
This includes the use of confidential information to beat the stock market.
- Insurance Fraud.
This includes fraudulent claims and lying to receive better premiums.
This describes a seller secretly returning a portion of what the buyer paid.
- Mail Fraud.
This describes when the US postal service is used in a crime.
- Money Laundering.
This describes the process of making illegal money appear legally gained.
- Public Corruption.
This includes when an elected or appointed official accepts or demands something of value in return for a decision.
- Securities Fraud.
This includes manipulating the stock market, stealing from securities accounts, and wire fraud.
- Tax Evasion.
This includes not filing or lying on tax returns.
- Telephone/Telemarketing Fraud.
This covers fraud conducted over the telephone.
The following sites contain a mixture of general and specific information on white-collar crime. Statistics are more difficult to compile since many reports lump the various crimes under other.
- FBI: White Collar Crime Section
- Federal Trade Commission: Identity Theft
- National White Collar Crime Center
- United States Department of Justice
- United States Department of the Treasury
- United States Environmental Protection Agency
- United States Postal Inspection Service
- United States Secret Service
Copyright © 2004 Stephen D. Rogers
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Stephen D. Rogers has published mysteries in magazines ranging from Plots With Guns to Woman's World, multiple anthologies, and several non-mystery markets. He is a graduate of the Framingham Police Department's Citizen Policy Academy and a member of Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Visit his website at http://www.stephendrogers.com).
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