April 20, 2011 / 1:15 PM / 8 years ago

Factbox: Are you a white collar criminal?

(Reuters) - A behavioral analysis group with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is trying to bring the same skills it uses to work up profiles of serial killers to the world of white collar felons. It’s an ambitious goal, one that many in the legal community believe the FBI will have a difficult time achieving.

One of the big challenges facing the criminal profilers with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit is that successful Wall Street traders and corporate executives often share many of the same characteristics with the most notorious white collar criminals.

In other words, there’s a fine line between what makes someone the chief financial officer of the year and a convicted felon doing hard-time for cooking the company books.

It’s worth remembering that Enron’s Andrew Fastow, one of the architects of the company’s off-balance sheet shenanigans, was named CFO of the year in 1999 by the trade publication CFO Magazine. Three years later, he was charged with securities fraud in one of the biggest U.S. corporate scandals.

With those caveats, here are some of the most common character traits FBI profilers, prosecutors, lawyers, academics and criminologists say are markers for white collar criminals:

1) a controlling personality

2) hard-charging and overly aggressive

3) charismatic and charming

4) lack of transparency in dealing with clients

5) revenge

6) greed

7) hunger for power

8) feeling of intellectual superiority

The FBI profiling group also is planning to investigate the impact a company’s culture has on individuals and whether that is what causes some to break the law.

Susan Kossler, an agent with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit/2, which is overseeing the white collar crime project, said, “Corporate culture is very important.” She adds, “One of the important things in a white collar case is how a person relates to his co-workers.”

Here then, is a scenario that three criminologists asked a group of business school students to analyze and respond to:

“Tom is an upper-level manager at the XYZ accounting firm. During the end of the fiscal year board meeting, Tom is told that his division needs to “take care” of particular documents relating to the Smith account. When Tom returns to his office, he calls a staff meeting and instructs his employees to destroy all documents relevant to the Smith account. Each of the employees begins to shred the documents.”

The business school students were told they could answer anonymously and were instructed to answer truthfully to help the researchers, Nicole Piquero, Andrea Schoepfer and Lynn Langton, conduct their study.

Do you think Tom did the right thing?

Reporting by Matthew Goldstein

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