I am a white collar criminal who stole $10 million from a Russian oligarch and was convicted of one count of transporting stolen money. I can't speak to the thoughts of all white collar criminals, only my own thoughts and feelings at the time.
In my experience, the thought process is convoluted and confused. There has been some research on the topic and one precursor in most white collar crimes is opportunity. When I first learned of the stash I ultimately stole, it seemed so easy. I convinced myself that I would be stupid to pass up the opportunity. It felt like finding a honey pot while wandering in the forest. Would you dip your finger into it? To my eternal regret, I did.
People assume that white collar criminals are motivated by greed. In my case, at least, I was not. If anything else, I was motivated by resentment. I was so disgusted by the behavior of my oligarch employer and the corrupt way in which he accumulated his wealth and ran his empire that I rationalized my behavior as stealing from a thief. Of course, when one thief steals from another it just means that there are now two thieves where before there was only one. But at the time I justified my action by demonizing the victim.
Many white collar criminals are frustrated in some respect - with their position, their career, their lives, their marriage - and view their crime as the means to escape. I had lived overseas for many years and felt stuck. I longed to return to the U.S. and the theft was the means to an end. I felt as if this was my chance to win the lottery, to achieve certain stymied goals.
Crime inevitably involves risk. Like all criminals, white collar criminals have a complicated relationship with risk. Obviously, most criminals convince themselves that they are different - that they won't get caught. In part - and this is what I did - I fixated on the reward and underestimated the risk as well as the consequences of getting caught.
Not all criminals are addicts or otherwise deranged. Most white collar criminals, if you were to meet them, would seem completely normal. In my case, I became addicted to a cold medicine containing codeine that radically altered my thoughts and actions, including my relationship to risk. I don't blame the drugs for my actions but they certainly contributed.
I'm sure there are many other factors, including individual influences particular to each criminal. But this is at least a shortlist to keep in mind.