What Is The Difference Between White Collar Crime And Conventional Crime?

The Difference Between White Collar Crime And Conventional Crime:

It must be noted that white collar criminality has a close affinity to the attitudes and values of culture in a particular society. This is evident from the fact that white collar criminals are intelligent, stable, and successful and men of high social status as compared with the ordinary criminals.

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They are foresighted persons belonging to the prestigious group of society. White collar crimes which are committed in commercial world are indirect, anonymous, impersonal and difficult to detect. As against this, ordinary criminals commit crimes which are direct and involve physical action such as beating, removal of property or use of force, etc. which can be easily identified and detected.

It is often said that ordinary crimes which are otherwise called ‘blue collar crimes’ are more common with the under-privileged class while the white collar crimes are committed by the members of privileged group who belong to upper strata of society. Edwin Sutherland, however, suggests that status alone is not determinant of white collar or blue collar crime.

This is evident from the fact that even the most privileged and prestiged persons may commit heinous crime such as assault, murder, rape or kidnapping for which they can be severely punished, while, on the other hand, most under-privileged persons may be involved in a white collar crime like tax evasion, corruption or misrepresentation which may not be looked as serious offence.

This however, does not mean that white collar crimes are petty offences because they do not carry major punishment. Undoubtedly, the penologist hitherto confined their attention to prevention of ordinary predatory crimes but the recent penal programmes sufficiently indicate that emphasis has now shifted to suppression of white collar criminality with equal vigour and strength.


The amendments introduced in the Indian Companies Act in 2000, Monopolies And Restrictive Trade Practices Act, in 1992 (subsequently repealed by Competition Act, 2002), Insurance and Banking laws, the appointment of Lokpal, Lokayukta and tightening of governmental control over private business groups sufficiently reflect upon the Government’s determination to suppress white collar criminality in India.

There is much resemblance between white collar and the blue-collar crime. Both owe their origin to common law and are adaptations of principles of theft, fraud etc. to modem socio-economic institutions and in fact there is no basic difference between the two. The only peculiarity of white collar crime is that it is committed by the persons of relatively high status of society.

The criminal content in both the types is more or less common. It must, however, be noted that mens rea or guilty mind is an essential ingredient of every blue collar crime but many statutes dealing with white collar crime do not require mens rea in strict sense of the term. The doctrine of constructive mens rea applies in such cases.

It must be stated that besides being a social problem, white collar crime is also a legal problem. As E. H. Sutherland rightly puts it, no distinction in terms of social status, occupational activity, attitude or gravity of consequences can separate white collar crime from those of traditional crime.


The only distinguishing feature of this type of crime is the temptation for considerable material gain with little or no loss of status. This again, gives a misleading impression that the executive and judicial authorities who are concerned with the prevention of crime react favourably to the upper and middle class society and dispose of white collar criminals with mere censure or admonition while other criminals are subjected to severe penal sanctions under the law without being given any pre-warning.

But that the reason for this soft attitude of law-makers and prosecutors towards white collar criminals is perhaps the latter’s closer contacts with agencies of social control on account of their social status and privileged position. More often than not, these criminals are friendly with the top ranking public officials.

That apart, the impact of white collar crime is so widely diffused in a large number of people that it does not aggravate the feelings of one single individual. Therefore, the public cry against white collar criminality is far less than for the predatory crimes.

Commenting on the preponderance of white collar crime in the modern time Edwin Sutherland rightly comments that, “social disorganisation on account of individualistic policies and competitive economy are the root causes for this type of criminality”. It is rather a reflection on society’s attitude towards different types of crimes and the accepted values of its culture.

The financial cost of white collar crime is probably several times greater than that of all the crimes taken together. In a recent study it has been concluded that the financial loss to society from white collar crime is far greater than the financial loss from the predatory crimes committed by persons of lower socio-economic status. It has been further concluded that the average loss per burglary is less than ten thousand rupees and a burglary which yields as much as one lakh of rupees is exceedingly rare.

On the other hand, there may be several crores rupees embezzlements reported in one year. Notably, these embezzlements are nothing as compared with the large scale crimes committed by corporations, investment trusts and public utility concerns. It can, therefore, be inferred that white collar criminals violate trust and create distrust which lowers social morale and results into social disorganisation to a large extent while other crimes produce relatively little effect on social institutions.

By way of generalisation it may be stated that like other criminal behaviour, white collar criminality can best be explained through the process of differential association. It is a generic explanation for both white collar as also the blue collar criminality.

Those who become white collar criminals generally start their career in good neighbourhoods and good homes, well educated with some idealism and get into peculiar business situations in which criminality is practically a routine way of life. Another explanation for white collar criminality is to be found in the process of social disorganisation in the community.