Posted on Jul 3, 2015 in Commercial Security, General Security

White collar crime

White collar crime – a crime like any other

White collar crime was defined in 1939 by sociologist Edwin Sutherland as “a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of their occupation”.

It refers to financial gain and is classified as non-violent but, no matter how you butter it up, the knock-on effect can have massive implications for business and local communities.

In general, we view the criminal world at a distance, worthy of gangland/drug-related newspaper headlines. White collar crime challenges our stereotypes of criminals and forces us to admit that people just like us can be as dishonest as a house burglar. That makes us slow to admit that we may have dishonest people working within an organisation.

Unfortunately, this leads to a “Ostrich-head in the sand” approach, leaving white collar crime as a low priority and rumbling along in the background. Indeed, most managers are unwilling to deal with white collar crime issues, because to acknowledge them is to admit management’s own failings.


However, not dealing with any problem means it multiplies to a dangerous level of acceptance with no expectation of punishment. Recent incidents have demonstrated that there is a major breakdown in the ability of auditors, the legal profession, political administrations and chief executives to find a way to handle white collar crime in the public and private sectors.

Our society needs a solid foundation and cornerstones to hold it together. We are all part of our society.
Each of us has an obligation not to weaken society.

However, the ground on which we stand is being eroded by the nature of attitudes towards government, religion, family and a moral ethos. Our rapid descent into a society governed by materialism has led to a promotion of “self”, with less loyalty to the structures of our lives. In a work context, that leads to a disconnect between the employee and the overall aim and wellbeing of any organisation. Taking money, stock, or ‘fiddling the books’ is seen to be taking what a person feels they are entitled to, not stealing that which hits the organisations ability to pay its bills or invest in future business or community structures.

But, if left unchecked, white collar crime becomes contagious and spreads throughout an organisation. It may even become the norm, an acceptable part of normal life, not a wrongdoing but justified as a given right based on self honesty.

Conditioned honesty

To move forward, we must understand that honesty is a respect for others and their property. That honesty can be born out of a moral honesty, instilled in us as children by family, teachers, religion, and our friends. Honesty can also be motivated by fear: if I do this, will I get caught and what are the consequences. This fear factor, where we analyse our own conscience, is a conditioned honesty which prevents, controls and protects organisations against white collar crime. That is why, in an organisation, the emphasis of a security programme should be based on conditional honesty.

The core of dishonesty is temptation. Greed triggers temptation and these are the main ingredients for white collar crime. The preventive cure is that each organisation builds steps to control internal crime, not tolerating any form of dishonesty and, most importantly, management must practice what it preaches.

Fabian Doyle

Security Practitioner

Copyright © 2014 Sovereign Security Ltd.

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