The very notion of being a victim of crime is scary to most people, but potential danger is typically associated with street crime perpetrated by a stranger. In reality, white collar crime—especially when committed by a trusted professional—can be equally dangerous, albeit less physical, but with significant long-term effects.
As a licensed professional, you may think the worst thing that can happen if you abuse your patients’/clients’ trust is a fine or slap on the wrist in the form of a censure, but you’d be wrong. Depending on the misdeed, you may find yourself dealing with the loss of your license, or even criminal prosecution.
The fact is, agencies take a very dim view toward those whose lack of character is reflected in “conduct unbecoming” to a licensed professional. They’re well aware that too many incidents of unethical conduct—alleged or proven—tend to paint the entire profession in a negative light.
While violent crime may have more of a shock effect, think of what’s at play when licensed professionals cross the line. These people fostered trust that led to having access to personal data such as financial information and medical records—and then they abused that trust in some way. Think Bernie Madoff.
It’s because white collar crimes aren’t “stranger crimes” that the punishment for them may be more severe than you might think; nothing random has occurred when someone’s trust has been broken. And licensing agencies may move forward more quickly than prosecutors can—and their burden of proof is lower.
Prosecutors must prove there was specific intent to conduct a fraudulent act and they may decide not to pursue cases under a certain monetary threshold. Agencies (and clients themselves) can cast a wider net and they may have causes of action available to them that the government doesn’t have.
The bottom line: any type of fraudulent behavior has the potential to negatively affect your status as a professional licensee. Even if an allegation is made but never proven, many people do believe that “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” and it can be difficult and even impossible to repair a damaged reputation.