White-Collar vs. Blue-Collar Crime

Begin the Admission Process

Take the next step in your education with Notre Dame College Online.

Get Started
White-collar vs blue-collar crime graphic depicting someone stealing money.

The word “crime”conjures up a variety of images. Often, we think of violent crimes, such as assault or murder. Crime, though, is any harmful act or omission that results in incarceration or a major fine. In fact, most crime committed is non-violent.

One of the clearest delineations between types of crime is white-collar vs. blue-collar. While we often hear these terms in the media, we rarely think too deeply about what makes white-collar crimes different from blue-collar crimes. The two types differ not just in the criminal action itself but in the way they’re investigated and prosecuted.   

What is White-Collar Crime? What is Blue-Collar Crime?

Blue-collar crime can refer to violent acts, such as murder, sexual assault and armed robbery. It also includes non-violent crime such as prostitution, illegal gambling and more. Blue-collar crimes are often easier to detect, have a clear victim and are without a doubt illegal to those observing the action. The phrase blue-collar crime is not a legal term but is often used to contrast illegal acts with white-collar crime.

White-collar crime is a bit trickier. According to the FBI, white-collar crimes consist of a range of criminal actions committed by government and business professionals. Typically, white-collar criminals don’t rely on violence or weapons. Instead, they commit crimes using internet browsers, bookkeeping software, or even their own reputations. White-collar crimes include mortgage fraud, embezzlement, election law violations and healthcare fraud. Oftentimes, white-collar crimes remain undetected as it’s not clear to onlookers that a crime is being committed. The illegal acts can sometimes appear as part of someone’s average work day.

While often undramatic, white-collar crimes are unique in their ability to victimize many people at once and cause significant monetary damage. A 2015 study estimated that white-collar crime results in up to $600 billion in financial losses each year. Another study in 2016 estimated approximately 36% of businesses have been the victim of white-collar crimes in recent years.

White-collar crimes can cause a lot of damage, both to individuals and organizations. Therefore, investigating them thoroughly is vital to ensuring that more aren’t victimized.

Investigating Types of White-Collar Crimes

Investigating white-collar crimes is complex. Unlike blue-collar crimes, which usually fall under the jurisdiction of a single state, white-collar crimes commonly cross state lines because they involve bank accounts, wire transfers and computer use. Because of this, federal agencies such as the FBI will often investigate white-collar crimes, which include:

Corporate Fraud

Perpetrators of corporate fraud may supply false financial information to investors, engage in insider trading or accept kickbacks from contractors. The FBI usually cooperates with agencies such as the IRS or the SEC to conduct investigations into these events. The agents subpoena documents or emails, receive approval to put wiretaps on communication devices and interview prospective witnesses.

Money Laundering

Money laundering involves falsely legitimizing illegally gained assets. Criminals engage in money laundering to avoid taxes, fund other nefarious enterprises or simply build wealth. Because cash is easy to use and conceal but difficult to trace, many criminals trade it across international lines. Therefore, the FBI cooperates with other countries’ criminal justice agencies to combat money laundering. 

Securities & Commodities Fraud

Securities and commodities fraud can take many forms, but often involves a trusted person who sells non-existent stocks, bonds, promissory notes or other investment vehicles. Typically, these schemes come crashing down when an investor contacts the authorities because they cannot gain access to their money.

This is not an exhaustive list of types of white-collar crime but offers a look at how complicated they can be to investigate properly. Prosecuting this category of offense is often equally difficult and multifaceted.

Prosecuting White-Collar vs. Blue-Collar Crime

A graduate student from Middlesex University recently explored how the public perceives blue- and white-collar crimes and how police typically investigate them. Their work suggests that white-collar crimes, which are characteristically committed by socially and economically powerful people, are investigated and prosecuted differently from blue-collar crimes, which are often associated with lower economic and social classes.

Distinctions in public opinion are important to how these crimes are prosecuted because they contribute to media and societal attention given to the crime. Oftentimes, violent and overt crime is covered first in the news and results in more dramatic responses from the public compared with organizational, white-collar crime. Because of this, the public may have a disproportional view of how prevalent blue-collar crime is or perceive white-collar crime as rare.

Blue-collar crime is often easier for the public to understand, as well. White-collar crimes tend to be more complex and difficult to unravel, understand and penalize. Even those victimized by white-collar crime may have a hard time understanding the crime and the extent of its damage.

White-collar criminals have another advantage – their affluence and connections. An article in Psychology Today argued that white-collar criminals “benefit from institutionalized non-enforcement practices, regulatory policies and legal representation not available” to other types of criminals. “As a result, white-collar criminals are extremely difficult to apprehend and prosecute, even when they do tremendous harm to society.”

Fight White-Collar and Blue-Collar Crime

Educated investigators are needed to combat both blue-collar and white-collar crime. While these types of illegal acts differ greatly, both deserve the attention of criminal justice professionals. Current police officers interested in investigating either category of crime can enhance their criminal justice resumes by earning an online B.A. in Criminal Justice at Notre Dame College.

You can receive up to 30 credits for your police officer experience through Notre Dame College’s Badge to Grad program. You will graduate faster, allowing you to help bring violent and non-violent criminals to justice in a variety of roles.