The terminology used in the legal profession can be confusing. Highly specific terms under the law can sound to the layman like synonyms. White-collar crime and organized crime are two such terms that are often used interchangeably, but actually have very different meanings.
White-collar crime is a term used to describe non-violent crimes, generally of a financial nature, that are committed by businesspeople or public officials. The term itself comes from the fancy button-up dress shirts that people in those professions are generally known to wear. White-collar crimes include such crimes as insider stock market trading, embezzlement, Ponzi schemes, bribery and fraud.
Organized crime refers to crimes that can be either violent or non-violent in nature, and are generally committed for profit of a group of people with a hierarchical internal structure. The organized nature of these enterprises gave the term its genesis. Organized crimes include such crimes as racketeering, robbery, theft, drug dealing, assault and trafficking and smuggling of illegal goods and humans for prostitution.
Similarities Between White-Collar Crime and Organized Crime
While there are myriad differences between the two, similarities do exist between the two types of crime. Both terms refer to crimes that are committed within the guise of a legal operation, whether as a corporation or a legal cover business such as garbage hauling. Both terms include crimes that may not have individual victims so much as they have richer victims like defrauding businesses or embezzling government funding. And both terms generally refer to an extended series of crimes committed together in furtherance of profit, such as a combination of extortion, fraud and embezzlement.
Differences Between White-Collar Crime and Organized Crime
There are marked differences between white-collar crime and organized crime. White-collar crime rarely includes any violent offenses, while organized crime often does. White-collar crimes are generally each punishable individually but not in the aggregate; however, organized crimes can be punished separately but also together as racketeering, the legal term for certain illegal activities committed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. Racketeering is punishable under federal law by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO. Finally, white-collar crimes are generally masked behind corporations or other high-level business, while organized crime is generally hidden behind less esteemed fronts such as garbage hauling, licensed gambling and auto repair shops.