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KNOXVILLE — A University of Tennessee sociologist will explore the causes of telemarketing fraud in a study of white-collar criminals jailed for the crime.

Dr. Neal Shover has received a $92,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice that will allow him to interview federal prisoners convicted of defrauding the public via telephone.

“The nature of criminal opportunity is changing as we approach a cashless economy,” Shover said. “Most transactions are paper or electronic. People no longer keep large sums of money.

“Almost nothing is known about the criminal careers and perspectives of white-collar criminals who are replacing the burglars and robbers of another generation.”

Shover and UT doctoral student Glenn Coffey will interview 45 convicted offenders about their perceptions of the risks and rewards of the criminal activity that has jailed them. The researchers will look specifically at the felons’ awareness of law enforcement strategies, the conditions that awaken their fears of arrest and the organizational methods they use to commit telemarketing fraud.

Shover used a similar approach to write his 1996 book on career criminals, “Great Pretenders: Pursuits and Careers of Persistent Thieves.” He said a goal of such studies is finding what psychological, social and situational factors influence a potential criminal to go ahead with the crime or to abandon the effort.

“We hope the study will help authorities design better programs to
prevent telemarketing fraud,” Shover said.