The Battle against White-Collar Crime: "The Exponential Growth of Technology and the Use of Computers Have Triggered a Purposeful Rethinking of the Tools Needed by Law Enforcement Organizations to Address Internet-Related Crime." (Law & Justice)

Article excerpt

ONE IN THREE American households are victims of white-collar crime, yet just 41% actually report it. Of those reported, a mere 21% made it into the hands of a law enforcement or consumer protection agency. This means that less than eight percent of white-collar crimes reached the proper authorities, according to the National Public Survey on White Collar Crime, a groundbreaking survey conducted by the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), a nonprofit, Federally funded organization that supports state and local police in their efforts to prevent, investigate, and prosecute economic and high-tech crime. For consumers and businesses alike, these statistics are unsettling as the threat of white-collar crimes invades our new, high-tech society.

Why do Americans fail to report these crimes that are costing the nation hundreds of billions of dollars every year? Our statistics show that there is a wide disparity between how people believe they will react when they are victimized and how they do so when they actually are. One reason may be that they may not have initially considered the offenses to them as crimes; they may have been uncertain about which agency to contact; or they may have a lack of faith that the offenders would be apprehended.

White-collar crimes come in many different forms, including money laundering; credit card, health care, insurance, securities, and/or telecommunications fraud; intellectual property and computer crimes; and identity theft. The growth of the information age and the globalization of Internet communication and commerce have impacted significantly upon the manner in which economic crimes are committed, their frequency, and the difficulty in apprehending the perpetrators.

According to the National Fraud Center statistics, economic crime cost the nation $5,000,000,000 in 1970, $20,000,000,000 in 1980, and $100,000,000,000 in 1990. As businesses and financial transactions become more and more computer and Internet dependent, the reality of increased economic crime grows exponentially, fueled by the rapid growth of technology.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports national arrest statistics for the period 1988-97 show that, while arrests for most index crimes of violence (e.g., murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, rape) and property crimes (robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft) have declined, those for fraud and embezzlement have risen significantly.

Considering the amount of government funding allocated to the control of "street crime" there has been relatively little money set aside for dealing with white-collar crime. This is due in part to a long-standing belief that the public is apathetic towards white-collar offenses and offenders.

The aim of the NW3C in administering the National Public Survey on White Collar Crime was to add broader and more-current information to the insights furnished by prior surveys. Rather than limiting our focus to any one aspect, we touched upon several perception dimensions to present a comprehensive picture of what the average American thinks about white-collar crime. We were interested in obtaining answers to questions such as: How serious do you believe white-collar crime is? How safe do you feel from white-collar crime? Have you or someone in your household been victimized by white-collar crime? If so, did you report the victimization? What type of person do you believe the average white-collar crime victim is? We also asked about participation in risk behaviors associated with white-collar crime victimization, perceptions of the control of white-collar crime; and opinions on workplace theft.

The results proved informative to the law enforcement community, consumer protection organizations, and victim advocacy groups, as well as to criminologists. Statistics to the contrary, the results uncovered a deep concern with white-collar crime and how effectively the criminal justice system deals with such offenses. …