The impact of the Covid-19 crisis has been most visible in the counterfeiting and distribution of substandard goods, cyber crime, organised property crime, and various types of fraud schemes, said Europol in its Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (EU SOCTA) 2021 report.
Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency which assists the Member States in their fight against serious international crime and terrorism, released the report on April 12.
The agency in the report stated that criminal groups have quickly adapted to profit from the new business opportunities the pandemic economy has presented, taking advantage of the increased and widespread demand for certain products.
“The supply of counterfeit and substandard medical equipment as well as sanitary and pharmaceutical products increased significantly both on the surface and dark web during Covid-19 pandemic,” the report stated.
Further the agency pointed that the pandemic has clearly highlighted the dynamic nature of cyber crime.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, an increased number of COVID-19-related domains have been created to support different cyber crime activities.
“The number of cyber-enabled and pandemic-related scams, Covid-19-themed malware, ransomware and phishing attacks notably increased during the pandemic, targeting individuals, businesses and the health sector alike,” the report stated.
With the roll out of Covid-19 vaccination campaigns, it is expected that the number of vaccine specific cyber crime activities will surge, including cyber attacks on pharmaceutical research, the report highlighted.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a crisis of an unprecedented nature.
The pandemic has proven to be more than a global public health crisis and has resulted in considerable changes in the serious and organised crime landscape in the European Union and beyond.
Criminals have quickly capitalised on these changes by shifting their market focus and adapting their illicit activities to the crisis context.
“The immediate impact of the Covid-19 crisis has been most visible in the counterfeiting and distribution of substandard goods, cybercrime, organised property crime, and various types of fraud schemes,” the report stated.
The mid- to long-term consequences of the pandemic will result in further vulnerabilities.
A prolonged pandemic will put a heavy strain on European and global economies, with indications that some countries are already entering an economic downturn.
“Learning from previous crises, it can be anticipated that a volatile economic situation with growing poverty and social inequality will serve as a breeding ground for organised and serious crime,” the report stated.
The agency stated criminals will intensify their activities to fully exploit emerging vulnerabilities, in order to compensate for lost profit during the lockdown period. “Criminals will continue to rely on the use of new technologies and further expand their technical capabilities,” the report stated.
Criminal groups have quickly adapted to profit from the new business opportunities the pandemic economy has presented, taking advantage of the increased and widespread demand for certain products.
The impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the drug markets has been relatively limited. Aside from initial and localised disruptions in the supply and distribution of drugs during the first lockdown, the trafficking of drugs has continued.
Despite fluctuations in the price and supply of drugs on the European market early in the pandemic, the drug market has largely returned to prepandemic levels.
The long-term consequences of the pandemic may manifest particularly severely in the area of financial crime.
“Businesses operating in sectors suffering particularly negative economic pressures, such as the hospitality, catering and tourism sectors, are becoming more vulnerable to criminal infiltration,” the report stated.
Money laundering poses a high risk in times of financial crises. Criminals may increasingly attempt to launder money through dormant companies, buy out financially affected cash-intensive businesses, or invest in property in the construction sector.
As a result of heightened pressures exerted on banks during an economic crisis, due diligence procedures may be weakened elevating the risk of loan fraud.
Money launderers may also increasingly misuse online financial services and virtual assets to conceal their illicit proceeds. Tradebased money-laundering activities are also expected to intensify.