History, careers and examples of white-collar crime

March 17, 2021

Makenna Rivers

What is white-collar crime?  

With the Reddit takeover of the stock market, many questions have begun to arise about both the fairness of Wall Street traders and the stock market itself. Many consider the takeover of stocks like GameStop a warning sign, or even a flashback to the 2008 financial crisis — when the actions that were taken were considered unfair. Following the emergence of movies like The Wolf of Wall Street, it is almost impossible not to associate corporate companies with copious white-collar crime. 

Although awareness of white-collar crimes was raised during the late 90s and early 2000s, the term white-collar crime was coined in 1939. White-collar crime encompasses criminal acts that are not directly violent and use a form of deception for the predator to create a personal financial gain. These crimes are unique because they can be committed by any individual and there is no predisposed group. This field is not always thought of when we think of crime, despite incidences of white-collar crime all around us. 

Have you ever been a victim of identity theft? That’s a white-collar crime. Have you been unknowingly overcharged for car labor? This is also a type of white-collar crime. White-collar crime encompasses a list of crimes including but not limited to fraud, embezzlement, impersonation, money laundering, bribery, environmental crime, workers rights crimes, and public corruption. Because this type of crime is abundant and targets individuals regardless of age, sex, and status, it leaves us especially vulnerable.  

Moreover, because companies are conducting these crimes against individuals or target populations, this crime often goes unreported. Whistleblowers, or individuals who alerted others from inside of the corporation, continue to be a large part of solving financial crimes. As a result of how widespread and underreported white-collar crime is, many careers and organizations were made to combat and prevent these acts from ever unfolding.  

This article looks at some common examples of white-collar crime as well as the professionals in the criminal justice system who work hard to bring white-collar criminals to justice.

Careers in white-collar crime

  • Private detective/investigator 

A private investigator is an individual who is assigned to investigations on a case-by-case basis. While a high school diploma can get you into an agency, obtaining a bachelor’s degree is recommended. There are specialties, including financial investigators, that need different specialties of information to fully investigate a crime. For instance, for a financial investigator a bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, or economics may be recommended. The median salary of a private detective was just over $58,870 in 2021 with a projected market growth of 8% in the next 10 years. 

  • Forensic technician 

A forensic technician examines the physical science of evidence to determine the cause or perpetrator of a crime. This requires some school, ranging from a certificate program to ideally a bachelor’s degree. While there are many conventional avenues of forensic tech including crime scene investigation and evidence collection, white-collar crime also has a special place . Forensic technicians can trace white-collar crime or identity theft via the world wide web. Because the internet is vast, this gives a new pathway to chasing and catching white-collar criminals. The average salary of a forensic technician in 2021 was at $57,755 with a projected market growth of 14% in the next 10 years. 

  • Police and police detectives 

While police officers are mainly known for enforcing the law, there is an unknown world that sits behind the scene analyzing live data and solving complex crimes. The world of law enforcement has many divisions, including homicide, narcotics, and financial crime. There are 2 ways an individual can specialize in financial crime through the police department: they can come in as an officer and work their way up, or they can earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or higher education that highlights the skills they can provide to the unit. For financial crimes, the best options would be economics, finance, or accounting, however these are not all the avenues that can get you into a financial crimes department. Financial crime departments investigate companies or individuals involved  in activities such as embezzlement or fraud. The average median salary of a police officer in 2021 was at $57,800 with a projected market growth of 5% in the next 10 years.  

  • Federal agencies 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and many other federal agencies also play a part in regulating and preventing financial crimes. When thinking of the FBI, you may think of shows like Criminal Minds and CSI, where agents solve homicides and kidnappings. This depiction only highlights a small portion of the types of crime the bureau solves. The FBI focuses on many more crimes, including fraud, money laundering, and insider trading in corporate institutions. Many federal agencies require a 4-year degree and some even require a specialized master’s or doctoral degree. In addition, FBI programs like have their own specialized training that an individual completes becoming an agent. Salaries here range depending on education level as well as training.  

  • Fraud examiners and analysts 

Fraud examiners and analysts investigate fraud crimes, where the roles of companies and individuals can widely vary. One of the most important places a fraud examiner can be is at a bank, where money is often transferred electronically. Fraud examiners can also examine individual cases. If you have seen the film Catch Me if You Can, you may remember that the basic premise of the movie is that you can forge your way into whatever you want to be.  

The film is based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, who figured out that logos and numbers could be changed on checks, which resulted in a substantial amount of forgery and impersonation crimes. At the end, he was ultimately caught but because of his expertise in forgery and impersonation, he began to work for the FBI. After his white-collar crime career, he used his forgery skills to help banks improve their fraud measures on checks.

While the education of fraud examiners and analysts can vary, most often fraud examiners should be well versed in cybersecurity, linguistics and forgery identification, and legal terms in reference to money. This role requires at least a bachelor’s degree but makes a lucrative salary. In 2021, the average salary for a certified fraud examiner is $83,656, with the market projecting a growth of 6% in the next 10 years.  

  • Insurance investigators  

If you have ever watched crime shows, you know that homicides can occur because of money, an example being lucrative life insurance policies. This is where the art of insurance investigation begins. Insurance investigation occurs when a suspicious claim is filed to the government. Sometimes you can enter this role with a high school diploma, but to gain advancement in the field it is advised to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. The duties of an investigator can include monitoring claims or interviewing witnesses. In 2021, an insurance fraud investigator earns an average salary of $48,716. However, the employment market is predicting a negative growth rate of -4% over the next decade.  

  • Postsecondary criminal justice teachers 

Our teachers often become our mentors and influence the way we think or work when we start our careers. If you are looking to make an impact on those who go into white-collar crime or create more experts, teaching may be for you. As a teacher specializing in white-collar crime, you can provide students with the ability to conduct field analyses. Because you will be teaching the students of tomorrow, the level of work you need to put into your education is high. While it is possible to teach with just a master’s degree, most often individuals who teach a specialty like white-collar crime have earned a Ph.D. Postsecondary teachers receive an average salary of $88,515 in 2021 with a projected 10 year market growth of 8%. 

  • Journalists and authors 

While a lot of solving white-collar crime seems to be strictly technical and applicable to law enforcement degrees, journalists and authors play an important part in the field. Journalists and authors do much of the translation work from the field by ensuring that stories are correctly represented to the public. They also create interest in these stories from having their work published in print and online media. If you get good enough, sometimes you can solve the crimes you are writing about. The 2021, average base salary for a journalist is $40,810, with no projected growth over the next 10 years. 

  • Regulatory agencies 

Regulatory agencies are responsible for ensuring autonomy over certain areas. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for ensuring autonomy over the aviation industry and the National Transit and Safety Board (NTSB) is responsible for discovering the cause of accidents. Within these agencies, there are various roles related to investigating white-collar crime.  

Flight 3407 as an example of white-collar crime

While organizations that cover white-collar crime often focus on the actions of individuals and companies, there are also organizations and agencies that oversee the treatment of employees. Take the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as an example. OSHA is crucial in preventing white-collar crime because it protects individuals employed by large companies from being required to endorse or work in cruel and harsh conditions.  

There are several examples of companies with OSHA violations, including but not limited to Nike and H&M. My favorite example is Colgan, a former connector for Continental Airlines. As someone who loves travel adventures, I have been on many flights. While the way to the destination is fun, the return journey seems to be a one way ticket to fatigue and missing your bed. 

It is for this reason that I am intrigued by the world of airline pilots and staff. They have one of the most important jobs in the world, and despite time zone changes or tight schedules they still manage to fly huge, complicated pieces of machinery between destinations. Only, sometimes they do not. This is exactly what happened on Colgan-Continental flight 3407, which killed all 43 people onboard when the plane crashed into a house in Newark, New Jersey.  

This accident highlighted a myriad of discrepancies between Colgan, the connector airline, and Continental, as well as unethical practices in hiring, salaries, and training throughout the airline industry.  

At the time of the accident, pilots flying Colgan-Continental connector planes received only 250 hours of training and yet were allowed to commandeer flights. A commercial pilot now needs 1500 hours of in-flight training to fly a plane. To put this into perspective, the amount of training hours pilots needed to fly these planes was less than what a barber needs to obtain his license. As a result of this accident, training requirements were tightened and mandated across the airline industry in the United States. 

The accident report filed by the NTSB showed that all the involved pilots were fatigued due to working overtime to maintain an adequate level of pay. It was rumored that a crew member had even slept in an airport lounge, which if you have ever slept in an airport you will know that this is less than ideal for a good sleep. The first officer of flight 3407 flew all night, from one side of the country to the other, to not miss her shift. She reported feeling ill but did not want to miss out on pay. 

The consequences of flight 3407 were disastrous, but they were also important because this accident gave attention to the flaws in the training programs used by many connector airlines to catch up with the more branded airline industry. Flight 3407 introduced new legislation that made the airline industry markedly safer and reduced human hazard, a type of white-collar crime by corporations imposed on its employees.  

While pay information varies between regulatory agencies, this field will always have a need. What will change is the regulatory agency that is in need of positions to be filled. There is always a need to adjust or correct laws or agendas. For instance, the Security and Exchanges Commission (SEC) now will most likely need to hire more agents due to GameStop’s recent ascension to ensure that there was no fraudulent activity or insider trading.  

Concluding remarks 

This article has only encompassed some types of white-collar crime. Opportunities for financial crime are all around us. There are many avenues an individual can use to become further involved in solving and preventing financial crimes. For instance, those who study computer science have the ability to understand the location and details behind transactions. Those who study linguistics, finance, or economics can see patterns and understand if one signature is void from another. Those who study journalism and teach have the very important gifts of information translation and mentorship. With a growing world of financial opportunities also comes a growing field of individuals dedicated to combating white-collar crime.   

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