Guide to white collar offences

Guide to white collar offences

The phrase ‘white collar offence’ was first coined by sociologist Edwin Sutherland, who defined it as ‘a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation’.  This description is clearly dated, but nearly 80 years on, we still understand white collar crime to be fraud that is financially motivated, non-violent and usually carried out in connection with the offender’s place of work.

As one of the top criminal law firms in Birmingham, the solicitors at Purcell Parker can provide expert advice to anyone who finds themselves in the unfortunate position of being accused of a white collar crime. Our experienced solicitors can also represent you in the Coventry, Warwick, Wolverhampton and Worcester areas.

Common types of white collar crime

Fraud and theft charges in connection to organisations can take many forms. Some of the best known white collar offences include the following:

Bribery

It’s against the law to offer bribes in a professional setting. It’s also illegal to agree to or accept bribes. This is can be a complicated area of the law which is open to interpretation as gifts, hospitality and donations are a long-established practice in many businesses. Because of this, the government introduced the Bribery Act 2010, which imposed some of the strictest anti-bribery legislation in the world.

UK companies, directors and individuals can all be held liable for crimes under the bribery act. Because of this, the onus is on companies to create robust and up-to-date anti-bribery policies that are clearly shared with employees.

Under the Bribery Act 2010, consequences of being convicted of bribery include:

  • Confiscation of property under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002
  • Disqualification of holding a directorship under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986
  • An unlimited fine
  • A prison sentence of a maximum of 10 years for the most serious cases

If you are being investigated for bribery (or corruption) at work, through an internal investigation, the police or an overseas agency, it’s crucial to take the advice of, and be represented at any interview by a criminal defence lawyer with experience defending bribery cases.

Cyber crime

The Computer Misuse Act 1990 made the following illegal:

  • Accessing information on a computer without permission, for example by looking at someone else’s files
  • Accessing this information in order to commit an offence such as stealing money or fraud by means of altering data

Unfortunately, in 2018 the area of computer-related crime is almost unrecognisable from the problems that needed to be dealt with in 1990. Also in May 2018, the new EU-wide GDPR laws added a new dimension to what is an ever-evolving and complicated area of the law.

Many of the cyber crime offences that hit the headlines relate to large organised criminal gangs exploiting businesses for financial gain. The scale of much of this crime means that it cannot be perpetuated by one sole employee working against the company they work for. However, some cybercrime is at least in part an ‘inside job’ involving the following:

  • Sending bogus emails asking for personal details (phishing) in order to commit identity theft
  • Hacking into the system; for example by recording what is being typed on keyboards (key locking), taking over company webcams, taking screenshots of computer screens or accessing a computer to click a specific link
  • Instigating a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack where online services are flooded with traffic to prevent users from accessing a service
  • Using ransomware to lock computers and other devices to encrypt files in order to demand a ransom to regain access to files
  • Stealing a company’s data in violation of GDPR regulations

Depending on their nature and severity, penalties following a cybercrime investigation can include imprisonment of between 2 years and life. Fines can also be applicable. As this is a fast-changing area of the law and many cases have no legal precedent, it’s important to take advice from one of Purcell Parker’s specialist solicitors as soon as you become aware that you have been accused of a cyber crime.

Embezzlement

Embezzlement is defined as someone who has legal responsibility for someone else’s property or money, stealing the money or property in question. Although the embezzler has been entrusted with legal responsibility for the funds or possessions, they have no legal ownership of them, so when they benefit financially from them, a crime has been committed.

Embezzlement can happen in the following situations:

  • When an employee misappropriates company funds or assets
  • When a charity trustee steals from the charity’s funds
  • When an individual uses money they are responsible for in connection with responsibilities as executor of a will or lasting power of attorney

In a white collar context, embezzlement often involves the crime of false accounting, where company accounts and other financial records are dishonestly forged, fabricated or altered in order to give a false impression of the business’s financial position.

Each case of embezzlement is unique, and in many instances where an individual is correctly accused of this crime, they are often of a previously good character with mitigating factors involved, including the urgent need for money and the intention to pay it back .The consequences of embezzlement can be severe, however our solicitors are experienced in getting the best outcome possible in embezzlement cases.

Identity theft

These days the term identity theft or identity fraud is most closely associated with cyber crime. However, the term was first coined back in 1964 and it is still used to describe any instance when an individual uses another’s personal identifying information such as name, bank details or passport number in order to commit a crime by forging a document and/or using the information to commit another crime such as the theft of money. If you have been accused of identify fraud in connection with white collar investigations, contact our specialist team for free initial advice.

Insider trading

Insider trading is defined as abusing the markets by misusing confidential information in order to trade investments in the markets in the UK. Although many high profile cases of insider trading involve traders and people who work in the financial sector, you don’t have to work in this industry in order to commit or be accused of insider trading.

Although many insider trading cases hinge on the prosecution of employees who have used or leaked confidential information that will affect the price of stocks or shares in order for themselves or others to profit, you can also be prosecuted for insider trading if you share confidential information about your company with a friend or family member, even if you have no intention of them acting on this knowledge in order to gain financially.

Insider trading is taken very seriously indeed in the UK and if you find yourself in the position of being suspected of it, you are likely to be investigated by the Financial Services Authority (FCA) in association with overseas authorities if appropriate. The maximum sentence for insider trading is 7 years in prison, so it’s essential to have an experienced white collar fraud solicitor on your side to fight your corner if you have been accused of it.

Money laundering

Money laundering involves setting up systems to exchange money that was obtained through criminal activity for ‘clean’ money that can be invested or spent without raising suspicion from the authorities. The scale and structure of money laundering operations varies hugely but they are often international in scale and linked to organised crime and terrorism.

However, it’s not just international criminals who can be prosecuted for money laundering offences. Certain types of businesses are required to register with HMRC for money laundering regulations even if they are already regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FCA). If HMRC think their terms have been breached, they can impose fines or even instigate a criminal investigation in more serious cases.

Ponzi and pyramid schemes

Ponzi schemes are named after Charles Ponzi who set up a scheme offering a 50% return on investment to people who invested in his scheme, only for the scheme to collapse when he could no longer attract new recruits in order to pay investors. Pyramid schemes also operate by recruiting investors to part with their cash to join with the promise of financial gain at a later date – in other words a chance to get rich quick. However, as recruitment inevitably dries up, those who joined the scheme after the initial opportunity to make money will lose their cash.

In the UK it is illegal to promote or run a Ponzi or pyramid scheme and the penalties include fines or imprisonment for the most serious cases. If you have been accused of running or promoting a Ponzi scheme, speak to our fraud team immediately. In some cases, those accused of promoting these kinds of schemes are victims themselves who have been lured in by the false promises of the instigator.

Tax fraud

Our experienced tax fraud lawyers can help with cases involving:

  • Tax evasion, where an individual or business avoids paying tax by failing to declare their income or by falsifying expenses
  • Smuggling goods into the UK that should have VAT, customs duty or excise duty paid on them
  • Carousel fraud, when VAT is charged on a product but that tax is not passed on to the government

Tax fraud can be a complicated area of the law. If you find yourself in the position of being investigated for tax-related offences, it’s vital to contact one of the team at Purcell Parker immediately.

Expert white collar solicitors on your side

If you have been accused of a white collar crime, the experienced team of fraud solicitors at Purcell Parker can help you. You can call us for free initial advice on 0116 236 9781. In instances where we proceed to defending you against allegations made against you, we can offer you competitive fees which may include a fixed-fee quote.