There is no specific, universal definition of white collar crime. The FBI calls it, with tongue only partly in cheek, “lying, cheating, and stealing.” An alternative definition would be crime that is committed by means of deceit, rather than violence, force or stealth. Whatever the definition, the ultimate goal is to:
Fraud in its many forms—bank, securities, insurance, corporate, health care, etc. — is the bedrock of white collar crime. Identity theft in various forms, including filing tax refunds in someone else’s name, is also quite common. Insider theft of various kinds, like embezzlement, also qualifies as white collar crime.
Estimates of how much white collar crime costs its victims each year are astoundingly high—as much as $400 billion. Despite the high cost to the nation as a whole, white-collar crime is often viewed by the public ̶ which includes jurors, judges, and legislators– as less serious than “street crime.” Although it carries a less severe connotation, white collar crime convictions can still have a serious affect on a person’s future. Gary Gerson is a Pittsburgh white collar crimes attorney with over 25 years of experience.
Just as there is no standard definition of it, “white collar crime” is not one specific offense. Both state and federal governments treat the many different forms that white collar crime takes as individual offenses. Federal statutes address a very wide range of white collar crimes, targeting both specific kinds of fraud, like insider trading, and any fraudulent act committed by using specific instrumentalities, such as wire fraud and mail fraud. Pennsylvania law targets many different white collar offenses, many under the label of fraud.
Among the many different offenses that can be based on white collar criminal activity are:
We are a nation of identifiers: names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, Medicare IDs, passwords for a multitude of uses, and so on. Just about all information that our dense web of computer systems uses to identify a specific person can be used to impersonate that person for fraudulent purposes. And it’s almost impossible to keep that information out of the hands of people determined to get their hands on it. In a nutshell, that’s the basis of identity theft and the endless stream of media stories about innocent people who one day realize that someone pretending to be them is racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.
Both state and federal law treat identity theft as a crime. Pennsylvania defines identity theft generally as nonconsensual use (or even possession) of another person’s identifying information for any unlawful purpose. The state can charge a separate crime for each and every instance of using the personal information. If the defendant stole under $2,000 the offense is a first degree misdemeanor (up to five years in prison), but is a third degree felony for larger amounts (up to 10 years). Given the great public interest in protecting senior citizens, the offense is raised one degree if the victim is 60 and older.
Under the federal law, penalties range from 5 to 30 years depending on a variety of factors like the amount of the theft and the purpose of it.
Electronic communication and record keeping is everywhere. Rare is the case in which a serious white collar crime can be accomplished without the use of some means of electronic communication that will provide the federal authorities the jurisdiction to charge wire fraud. In the great majority of cases, mail fraud will also be a potential charge.
Anyone who has been accused of a white collar crime, or suspects that they soon will be, needs to obtain the aid of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. The longer you speak to people—employers, police, bank officials, anybody—without legal representation, the greater the chance that something you say can be interpreted as incriminating, even if you aren’t guilty.
These cases are almost always very complex. Intent is a crucial element, with the specific circumstances open to conflicting interpretations. It’s up to your white collar crimes defense attorney to make sure that the interpretation most favorable to you gets at least as much attention as the state’s version.
Many cases allow the state to charge any one or more of several offenses. An attorney with experience handling white collar crimes can unravel the maze and simplify both the case and your life at a very stressful time.
Get help with your case as soon as possible. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania white collar crime defense lawyer Gary Gerson has spent 25 years successfully defending white collar and other crimes in Western Pennsylvania, in both federal and state court. Call today for a consultation, whether you have been charged or only questioned and believe charges may be forthcoming.