Internet, mobile tech now a primary tool for organized crime
According to a Europol report issued Wednesday, the Internet and mobile technologies have become the most prevalent tools for organized crime. The report says they are used for drug and human trafficking, as well as money laundering and cybercrime.
The details were published today in Europol’s 2011 "Organized Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA)," a bi-annual report that assesses trends related to organized crime in the European Union.
According to the report
(opens in PDF), a new criminal landscape is emerging, with "highly mobile and flexible groups operating in multiple jurisdictions and criminal sectors."
"Organized crime is a multi–billion euro business in Europe and it is growing in scale," Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol, said in a news release
. "The further expansion of Internet and mobile technologies, the proliferation of illicit trafficking routes and methods as well as opportunities offered by the global economic crisis, have all contributed to the development of a more potent threat from organized crime."
Europol says credit card fraud, payment card fraud and commodity counterfeiting are increasingly more prevalent due to lower levels of perceived risk.
For example, the 38-page OCTA report estimates organized crime groups received more than €1.5 billion ($2.37 billion USD) from payment card fraud in the EU alone. A lot of this fraud happens in spite of better and more secure chips in credit cards because other regions of the world do not use the chip technology yet. The OCTA report says half of fraudulent withdrawals are done with copied payment cards made outside of the EU.
In addition to increased activity, the report says organized crime groups are cooperating more than ever before. Cooperation happens between groups, regardless of their national, ethnic or business differences, Europol says. With more collaboration, crime syndicates are also now bartering and exchanging illicit commodities rather than buying them with cash, making it more difficult for authorities to track.
"Internet technology has now emerged as a key facilitator for the vast majority of offline organized crime activity," the report reads. "In addition to the high-tech crimes of cybercrime, payment card fraud, the distribution of child abuse material, and audio visual piracy, extensive use of the internet now underpins illicit drug synthesis, extraction and distribution, the recruitment and marketing of victims of trafficking in human beings, the facilitation of illegal immigration, the supply of counterfeit commodities, trafficking in endangered species, and many other criminal activities. It is also widely used as a secure communication and money laundering tool by criminal groups."
Europol says organized crime activity is happening in several key areas:
• In the North West, drug distribution is most prolific due to geographical proximity to profitable destination markets.
• In the North East, illicit commodities are sent in and out of the former Soviet Union, and criminal groups are increasingly more violent. The study notes a rise in Lithuanian organized crime groups, specifically.
• In the South West, cocaine and cannabis resin trafficking is more prominent, along with trafficking of victims of sexual exploitation.
• In the South, "criminal entrepreneurship" is the leading threat, with counterfeit currency and commodities moving out of the hub often. Illegal immigrants and some of the best-resourced criminal groups reside in this area, the report says.
• The OCTA report says the South East hub has grown the most in recent years, "as a result of increased trafficking via the Black Sea, proliferation of numerous Balkan routes for illicit commodities to and from the EU, and a significant increase in illegal immigration via Greece."
As a result of growth in the South East, a "Balkan axis" has formed for trafficking in the EU and new transit hubs are being developed in countries such as Hungary.
"Albanian speaking, Turkish and Former Soviet Union criminal groups are seeking to expand their interests in the EU, and may exploit opportunities in the possible accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen Zone, and recent and prospective EU visa exemptions for Western Balkan states, the Ukraine and Moldova," the report says.
Europol says the OCTA report is used widely by police forces and political groups in the EU to set crime-fighting priorities.