U.S. Justice Department statistics show that white collar criminal convictions are down more than 6 percent from one year ago and nearly 30 percent from five years ago. Never the less, fraud, embezzlement and other white collar crimes are in the headlines frequently.

What leads people to commit these crimes? Financial difficulties lead some to take desperate actions. However, there is frequently more behind these criminal acts than simple financial struggles, says Roomy Khan, a former financial analyst who pled guilty to securities fraud more than a decade ago. Khan cooperated with federal prosecutors in what is still the largest insider trading investigation in U.S. history.

Writing for Forbes online, Khan states that “work environments can elicit good or bad behavior out of individuals.” She lists some of the environmental cues that can elicit bad behavior:

Poorly designed job incentives – When significant rewards are given for short-term superlative profits, it’s not surprising that people will bend the rules and commit unethical acts to gain those rewards.

Management nonchalance toward ethics – Role modeling starts at the top. If management displays a “win at any cost” approach, subordinates will follow.

Aggressive goals without goalposts – It’s one thing to set aggressive goals, it’s quite another to do so without setting clear boundaries and defining what is not allowed.

Disagreement with the law – Some executives who disagree with existing securities laws validate their unethical actions by stating if there is no victim, there is no crime. That mind set won’t help in court.

Stealing from large private or public entities – Some who commit fraud or embezzlement feel they are taking from such a large pot of money that it will not even be felt. Military contracts are rife with kickbacks; Medicare and Medicaid services are a common target for fraud. There may be no one person who is “hurt,” but that doesn’t diminish the damage of a white collar criminal act.

That said, prosecutorial overreach exists in white collar criminal investigations. Any individual who is the subject of a white collar criminal investigation should work with a knowledgeable criminal defense law firm that is able to go toe-to-toe with federal prosecutors.