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What motivates white-collar crime?

When people think of crime in the US, they tend to default to robbery, burglary and assault. While those are real problems with real victims, white-collar crime is often overlooked. The fact is that white-collar crime costs over $500 billion, which is far more than the $15 billion estimated cost of personal property crimes like burglary and assault.

The stereotypical white-collar crime is somebody in a middle or upper class home who already has much of what they need to get by. It’s often painted as an employee who wanted more. Of course, the stereotype doesn’t match how things really work.

A piece in Forbes last month explores why people commit white-collar crimes in the first place. Breaking it down to the main points, workers are either disengaged from the consequences of their actions, or subtle cues influence them toward unethical behavior.

Ambiguous rules and culture

Exploring cues first, it’s possible that people read workplace policies as accepting and even encouraging criminal acts. Poorly chosen job incentives or overly aggressive goals can push employees in a race to win, no matter the cost. When workplace culture encourages this aggressive and often competitive behavior, it can unintentionally lead to unethical actions. Similarly, when one business is dependent on another, employees may be motivated to grease the wheels to protect themselves.

Subtle cues don’t explicitly encourage breaking the rules, but they don’t discourage it either. Different personality types will respond to those cues in kind, according to academic studies.

The victimless crime myth

Perhaps the biggest motivation is that perpetrators don’t see a victim on the other end of their action, a clear difference from the property crimes mentioned earlier. Most white-collar crime involves money movement behind the scenes, typically affecting a business rather than an individual.

Many employees in large companies believe that corruption is widespread, that “everybody else is doing it so why shouldn’t I?” It feels commonplace, almost a part of the job within certain cultures.

Many people involved

When employees don’t sense a stigma, they’re more inclined to act a certain way, the article concludes. A company’s culture and motivation techniques will influence employee behavior.

These are not the only reasons why individuals commit white-collar crime, but they explore the complexity of the situation. While white-collar crime is a serious problem that costs the country billions of dollars, it is not as cut and dry as people make it out to be. Anyone accused of a crime should consult with an experienced attorney who understands corporate infrastructure, government regulation and the intricacies of employee interaction and motivation.

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