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While the true extent and cost of white-collar crime is unknown, it is estimated by the FBI to cost the United States more than $300 billion annually and accounts for approximately 3.8 percent of incidents reported. Most white-collar offenders are distinguished by lives of privilege. It is estimated that a great deal of white collar crime is undetected or, if detected, it is not reported, because white-collar crimes are committed by those with opportunities that do not require violence. By virtue of their relative affluence, those accused as white-collar offenders are able to afford the fees of the best lawyers, and may have friends among senior ranks of the political elite, the judiciary and the law enforcement agencies. These connections often not only ensure favorable treatment on an individual basis, but also affect legislation and the allocation of resources and thus ensure that such crimes are not defined or enforced too strictly. Many of these crimes are only possible because of the identity of the offender. For example transnational money laundering requires the participation of senior banking officials. Organizational or corporate crime occurs when corporate executives commit criminal acts to benefit their company by the manipulation of accountancy or inventory records, overcharging, price fixing, or false advertising, etc. Because the crime is technical in nature, the identification of a victim is less obvious. The issue of reporting is complicated by a culture of commercial confidentiality to protect shareholder value. Because the negotiation of agreements between a state and a corporation will be at a relatively senior level on both sides, this is almost exclusively a white-collar "situation" which offers the opportunity for crime.
There are three different levels of a white collar crime investigation. The first is the checking of leads after receipt of initial information that a follow up regarding possible criminal activity is warranted. This is followed by preliminary inquiries and then if necessary full investigations. General crimes investigations may be opened where facts or circumstances reasonably indicate that a federal crime has been, is being, or will be committed. Under the General Crimes Guidelines, the FBI can use any lawful techniques in a preliminary inquiry, even if “intrusive,” where “the intrusiveness is warranted in light of the seriousness of the possible crime or the strength of the information indicating its existence or future commission.”
The second type of full investigation defined by the General Crimes Guidelines is a criminal intelligence investigation. The focus of criminal intelligence investigations is on a group or enterprise. The focus of these criminal intelligence investigations is to obtain information about the nature and structure of an enterprise – including its membership, finances, geographical dimensions, past and future activities, and goals. The purpose of collecting this information is to detect and prevent the enterprise’s ongoing criminal activities and prosecuting those responsible for them. There are two types of criminal intelligence investigations: racketeering enterprise investigations (REIs) and terrorism enterprise investigations (TEIs).