In 1939 sociologist Edwin Sutherland coined the term “white collar crime.” He wrote, “White collar crime is crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” It was a radical redefinition in criminal law as Sutherland was making distinctions not on the basis of an act or intent, but according to the status of the accused.
Unlike Edwin Sutherland’s definition, the U.S. Department of Justice’s formal definition of white-collar crime disregards class or economic status. However, government prosecutors are far more likely to indict the “upper-class” businessman who works for a major corporation than the middle-class grandmother who buys counterfeit medications from Canada.
The general components of white-collar crime:
• It is a non-violent, illegal act that principally involves deception, deceit, concealment, manipulation, breach of trust, subterfuge or illegal circumvention.
• It is typically committed by a business person or public official
• Its evidence usually involves a “paper trail” that investigators use to prosecute the case.
There are numerous types of white-collar crime, including antitrust violations, bankruptcy fraud, cell phone fraud, credit card fraud, counterfeiting, credit card fraud, environment schemes, healthcare fraud and insider trading.
PIs Who Specialize in White-Collar Crime
As with any crime, there are investigative procedures, then there’s the creativity, experience, tenacity and intellect of the investigator. That last one – intellect – is key for an investigator who specializes in white-collar crimes. A homicide detective we know claims that all homicides are easy. He claims that unless they’re strategized by organized crime (for example), they’re typically cases whose clues are easily followed.
Alternatively, criminals who practice white-collar crime are smart. They are usually highly educated, savvy and familiar with how to manipulate the inner workings of business. A PI who investigates a white-collar crime case has to match wits with these criminals to uncover the crime. Plus, the practice of private investigations is just as much an art as it is a science, so a successful investigator always thinks outside of the box while also applying concepts and procedures.
Next, let’s analyze one of our white-collar crime cases by looking at our investigation goals, tasks, unforeseen glitches and end result.
Case Example: The Case of the Disappearing Money
An attorney who specializes in probate, elder law, and estate planning/administration asked our investigations agency to investigate what had happened to the money that disappeared from a family’s trust fund. The family already suspected a specific member.
Our investigations on the suspected family member included the following tasks:
• Researching public records for significant purchases for land, cars and other high-price-tag items.
• Researching purchases made by the suspect’s daughter and son-in-law. Our investigation revealed that the son-in-law had come unexpectedly into large amounts of money that he had used to fund large purchases, one being a new home.
• Checking records in the assessor’s and clerk of recorder’s offices. We learned the suspected family member had acquired an interest in a pricey downtown condo.
• Surveilling the suspected family member. Although she claimed to be unemployed, we discovered she suddenly had sufficient amounts of money to attend a university full time.
• Investigating suspected family’s member’s claim that she occasionally babysat for another family member to earn some money. Our investigations, including surveillance, showed she never conducted any babysitting, and that the children in question were enrolled in a daycare that the suspected family member had no ties to.
The object of our investigations learned from another family member that private investigators were watching. Therefore, the suspect became cautious, and spent a lot of time looking around the corner whenever they left the house. Too bad that they left so much evidence in public records regarding their acquisitions using family money.
The lawyer applied for a court order forfeiting the ill-gotten property back to the deceased person’s estate. In other words, the pricey downtown condo was taken over by the family members who had been ripped off.
Writing a Sleuth Who Specializes in White-Collar Crime?
If so, think about these character attributes:
• Does she have a background in business or accounting? Is he a former nurse or health care professional? In other words, does your sleuth have training or expertise ancillary to the white-collar crime?
• How identity theft often dovetails with other white-collar crimes. For example, criminals conducting health care fraud often also need to know how to obtain, or buy, personal information such as people’s SSNs. Therefore, it’s beneficial for a sleuth to have contacts/informants in the identify-theft community.
• Does your fictional sleuth have inside contacts in hospitals, insurance companies, doctors’ offices who can provide intelligence?
Thank you to Elizabeth Craig for hosting us today as guests at “Writing Is Murder”! We’re giving away a gift Kindle version of How to Write a Dick to one of today’s readers who posts a comment/question (name will be randomly picked before midnight today – please be sure to leave your email address for notification). If you don’t have a Kindle, there are free downloadable Kindle apps for PCs and Macs (we use the downloadable app at home, and it’s great).
Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman are co-owners of Highlands Investigations in Denver, Colorado. Their ebook How to Write a Dick: A Guide to Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, is available on Kindle and Nook.
Colleen Collins is a co-owner of Highlands Investigations in Denver, Colorado. Her articles on private investigations have appeared on various Internet sites as well as in PI Magazine, Romance Writers Report, Pursuit Magazine, PInow.com and other publications. She is an active member of the Private Eye Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America. She has written 20 novels for both Harlequin and Dorchester, several of which have placed in the finals for national competitions, including the prestigious Holt Medallion and RITA awards.
Shaun Kaufman, co-owner of Highlands Investigations, has worked in and around the criminal justice field for more than 30 years, as a former trial attorney and a current legal investigator. He has published articles in PI magazine, the Denver Law Review, as well as authored numerous briefs for the Colorado Court of Appeals, Colorado Supreme Court and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. As a trial attorney, Shaun hired and managed private investigators, training them on such issues as ethics, death penalty litigation, homicide and gang evidence, and search and seizure techniques.
“Forget Google and Bing. When you need to research PI work, go to the experts, Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman: they live it, they teach it, they write it. How to Write a Dick is the best work of its kind I’ve ever come across because it covers the whole spectrum in an entertaining style that will appeal to layman and lawmen alike. This will be the industry standard for years to come.”
– Reed Farrel Coleman, three-time Shamus Award winner for Best PI Novel of the Year and author of Hurt Machine
“If you want authenticity in creating a fictional private investigator for your stories, then this is a must-have reference book. Its authors, Colleen and Shaun, are living, breathing PIs with years of actual experience in the PI game.”
– R.T. Lawton, 25 years on the street as a federal special agent and author of 4 series in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine