Security threat: acts

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Over the years, crime has been defined in many ways. There is no single definition of crime or of a criminal act per se. Acts that were punishable by law 80 years ago, are not considered to be a crime anymore today. Or when one country speaks of a criminal act, another country defines that same act as non deviant and normal (being a member of the LGBTQ community for instance). Therefore, within the criminological discourse and literature and on this website, the term criminalization of acts is often used. The types of acts that have been described, have been criminalized by several laws.[1] Crimes can be divided into financial crimes, organised crimes and high impact crimes.


Different types of crimes can be distinguished.

Financial crime

Financial crime comes in many forms and is often defined as the ‘misleading or unlawful usage of an object of value (i.e. theft) or a valuable aspect that can be linked to a business activity (i.e. cybercrime, money laundering, skimming, financing terrorism, pyramid schemes)’.[2]  The two main categories of actors of financial crime are blue collar criminals and white collar criminals. In 1905 Bonger[3] described a difference between “street crime” and “economic crime”. Street crime being financial crimes that were committed by individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds, such as theft, robbery, pick-pocketing and vehicle theft. In the present day, cybercrimes such as phishing or skimming also add to these types of financial crimes. Edwin Sutherland[4], building forth on the distinction between “street” and “economic crime”, introduced the term “white collar crime” in 1940. The term “White collar criminal”, refers to perpetrators in managing positions that are often trusted by the companies they work for as opposed to the “blue collar criminal”, that wears an overall. White collar crimes’ estimated direct costs are approximately 385 times higher than those of blue collar crimes.[5] The total projected yearly costs of all total financial crime compliance programs for prevention in Europe are estimated at $136.5 billion[6].

organised crime

Within criminological literature on organised crime, a recurring discussion has taken place on whether organised crime should be defined in terms of group characteristics or based on the nature of criminal activities groups carry out.[7] In the Organised Crime Monitor, the term organised crime differs from criminal activities such as terrorism, corporate crime, group crime and other types of crime by the characteristics of the groups involved. Groups are considered to be organised when their focus primarily lies in “obtaining illegal profits; systematically commit crimes with serious damage to society; and are reasonably capable of shielding their criminal activities from the authorities”. Examples are drug crime, white collar crime, burglary or cybercrime.

High Impact crime

High Impact Crimes are criminal acts that are considered to have a large impact on the victim, their environment and/or on society. High Impact Crimes often cause both material (financial) and immaterial (psychological or indirect) damage. Examples of High Impact Crimes that have a large impact on society are terrorism, crimes that are considered to be extremely deviant and vile, such as serial homicide and child molestation networks. Examples are terrorism (mass killings), homicide (such as crime passionèl, financially motivated homicide and drug homicide), sexual crimes (such as rape, child molestations and sexual assault) or violent crimes (such as domestic, hate crime and assault).


Terrorism is often defined as “The premeditated use or threat of use of extra-normal violence or brutality by subnational groups to obtain a political, religious or ideological objective through intimidation of a huge audience, usually not directly involved with the policy making that the terrorists seek to influence”[8]. Terroristic acts are often carried out by radicalized individuals (lone actor terrorists) or terrorist cells (groups and/or networks). The EU Directive 2017/541 on combating terrorism[9], which all EU Member States were obliged to transpose in their national legislation by 8 September 2018, specifies that “terrorist offences are certain intentional acts which, given their nature or context, may seriously damage a country or an international organisation when committed with the aim of:

●    seriously intimidating a population;

●    unduly compelling a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act;

●    or seriously destabilizing or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation.


There are different motives for crime. One can at least distinguish four types of motives: financial gain, boredom or compulsive behavior, impulse and ideological or political motives.

Ideological or political motives

Ideological of political motivation to act is based on individuals or groups that want to impose their political or cultural beliefs and ideals on others. In doing so, sometimes this results in crimes bases on these ideological or political beliefs. Crimes stemming from ideological or political motives are, for example, terrorism, mass killings, genocide, VIP abduction or assassination.


There can be four different terrorism motives that can be distinguished: ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism, jihadist terrorism, right-wing terrorism and left-wing and anarchist terrorism.

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Footnotes and references

  1. DiCristina, B. (2016). Criminology and the “Essence” of Crime: The views of Garofalo, Durkheim and Bonger. International Criminal Justice Review, 26(4), Pp. 297-315.
  2. Politie Academie (zj.). Financieel-economische criminaliteit: we kunnen niet zonder. Tijdschrift voor de Politie, (74), pp. 20-21.
  3. Bonger, W. A. (1905). Criminalité et conditions économiques. University of Michigan Library
  4. Sutherland, E. H. (1940). White-collar criminality. American Sociological Review, 5(1), 1–12.
  5. Friedrichs, D.O. (2010). Studying White Collar Crime and Assessing its Costs in: Trusted Criminals: White collar crime in contemporary society. Pp. 43-59, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  6. LexisNexis (2020). True Cost of Financial Crime Compliance Study. Pp. 8-9.
  7. Kleemans, E.R. & de Poot, C.J. (2008). Criminal Careers in Organized Crime and Social Opportunity Structure. European Journal of Criminology, 5(1), pp. 60-98
  8. Phillips, P.J. (2016). The Economics of Terrorism. Routledge: New York.
  9. Directive (EU) 2017/541 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2017 on combating terrorism and replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/475/JHA and amending Council Decision 2005/671/JHA,