Fraud Spotlight

Catch her if you can

Pink-collar criminals

Versions of this column have appeared in Pursuit Magazine and Cascade Business Journal. — ed.

Betty has worked for your dentist as long as you remember being a patient. She knows your insurance plan, your kids' names and your Social Security number. But what you don't know is that Betty knows how to steal. She stole to the tune of nearly $1 million in 10 years. Betty is a pink-collar criminal.

Kathleen Daly, Ph.D., professor of criminology and criminal justice at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, coined the term "pink-collar crime" in her 1989 article, "Gender and varieties of white-collar crime," in the academic journal, Criminology, to describe the growing number of lower- to mid-level office women — bookkeepers, office managers, accountants, clerks — who steal from their employers. Unfortunately, pink-collar criminals are increasing not only in numbers but also in the amounts they steal.

I spoke with Freda Adler, Ph.D., author of "Sisters in Crime: The Rise of the New Female Criminal." Adler said she had to defend her work for years after the publication of her book in 1975. At the time, many thought she was trying to criticize the ascendant women's movement. She appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to defend herself. She also gave more than 300 interviews to newspapers, magazines and television, including one with Barbara Walters.

"Her nuanced statement of this thesis would be reduced by others to the provocative contentions women's liberation causes female crime," wrote the editors of the 2014 Oxford University Press textbook, "Sisters in Crime Revisited: Bringing Gender into Criminology."

Adler argued back then that the criminal justice system wasn't adequately prepared for the future increase in female incarceration, with only 4 percent of the criminal justice budget dedicated to women. She was proven correct as the rate of female incarceration rose. From 1990 to 2010 embezzlement arrests increased 11 percent for women and decreased 12 percent for men, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. See Arrest in the United States, 1990-2010, by Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D., U.S. Department of Justice, page 24.

Adler would scarcely have to defend her thesis in today's environment. So the question turns to what has changed to increase the number of pink-collar criminals? Put simply, more women are in the workplace and have access to funds.

Be it a small business, medical practice, parent teacher association, town government, charter school, volunteer organization or even a kid's athletic club, we're seeing a rise in the number of friendly, "regular-type" women who break their employers' or peers' trust and steal their money.


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