Characteristics of a White Collar Criminal

Categories: CharacterPsychology

Anyone that has taken a class or even worked a “hint” of a white collar crimes understands that Edwin H. Sutherland is responsible for coining the term. In his book, White Collar Crime, Sutherland defines white collar crime as “[a]pproximately as a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” (Benson & Simpson, 2009 ) While that definition may have held true in when he made the public definition in 1939, there are many examples in modern times that would argue against Dr.

Sutherland’s characterization of the white collar criminal. In her paper to the U.S. Justice Department, Cynthia Barnett explains that even though the definition of white collar crime is , “hotly contested”, there appears to be three major categories white collar crime fits into. Those crimes are categorized by either the type of offender, the type of offense and those based upon organizational structure rather than offender or offense (Barnett, 2000). Barnett’s statement alone should tell us that the characteristics of a white collar criminal may be far too long of a list to generate.

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According to Barnett, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has decided to define white collar crime as “[t]hose illegal acts which are characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust and which are not dependent upon the application or threat of physical force or violence. Individuals and organizations commit these acts to obtain money, property, or services; to avoid the payment or loss of money or services; or to secure personal or business advantage” (Barnett, 2000).

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With a slight understanding of what white collar crime is, it is important to highlight the characteristics of the typical white collar offender in order to establish profile when conducting an investigation. Reverting to what we have learned in previous psychology classes, we know that there are dozens of traits in an individual’s personality. It is virtually impossible to narrow down exactly which one(s) produce fraudulent behavior. Obviously, there are red flags that stick out for every behavior trait. It is important for business executives to be able to recognize or have trained personnel who can recognize these traits and develop appropriate risk management plans.

According to Bauwens and Egan, there are five personality traits that are common between most individuals. Rather than define them all, it is most important to note that people who possess all five traits are what many would consider as “normal”. Those who exhibit more conscientiousness and agreeableness have the most direct influence on whether executives will or will not participate in fraudulent activity (Bauwens & Egan).

According to our text, there are other characteristics that the “common” white collar offender may exhibit. White collar offenders tend to be, on average, sum 10 years older than non-violent offenders who commit common crimes (Benson & Simpson, 2009). While there are probably many theories why this may be, one could conclude that business executives may spend many years working their way up the corporate ladder and into a position opportunity. Another characteristic Benson and Simpson note is that many white collar offenders are college graduates. Again, many theories are possible; it can be assumed that a higher level of education must be achieved in order to move into a position of opportunity.

Finally, it is important to consider the rate of employment between white collar offenders and offenders of non-violent, common crimes. In order to commit many of the offenses that are considered white collar, the offender must be employed by or have an extremely close relationship of trust with the victim organization. Therefore, steady employment is a necessity in order for the white collar offender to be successful. For many of the non-violent common offenders, their crimes are their employment. It can be said that when a common criminal wakes up each day and begins committing their crimes, they are actually going to work.


Barnett, C. U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division. (2000). The measurement of white-collar crime using uniform crime reporting (ucr) data. Retrieved December 8, 2013, from website:

Bauwens, A., & Egan, V. (n.d.). Are white-collar criminals a homogeneous or hetrogeneous group?. Home Team Journal, 91-101. Retrieved December 8, 2013, from

Benson, M., & Simpson, S. (2009). White-collar crime. (pp. 5-32). New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

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Characteristics of a White Collar Criminal. (2016, Mar 09). Retrieved from

Characteristics of a White Collar Criminal

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