When we think of organized crime, it’s hard not to conjure up old-fashioned images: a group of thugs in pin-stripe suits and brass knuckles meeting surreptitiously in an old warehouse, making secret phone calls and having assignations in dark city alleys. While it’s fanciful (and makes for good television), it’s no longer reality.
The number one tool of organized crime groups today is the Internet, according to European policing agency Europol. Today’s criminals use the Internet for its schemes of choice: namely, drugs, human trafficking and money laundering as well as cybercrime, said the head of Europol.
There has been a marked increase over the last two years in criminal groups turning to the Web to commit crimes regarded as “more traditional” rather than purely computer-based crime, Europol director Rob Wainwright told AFP news.
“Using the Internet has become much more mainstream,” said Wainwright at the release of the European policing body’s biannual organized crime threat assessment (OCTA). “It has now become the principle facilitator for organized crime,” he said.
The OCTA report said, “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 also underpins illicit drug synthesis, extraction and distribution.”
The Internet is also extensively used to recruit human trafficking victims, facilitate illegal immigration, supply counterfeit commodities and traffick in endangered species, the report said.
“It was also widely used as a secure communication and money laundering tool by criminals,” it added.
Organized crime groups derived more than 1.5 billion euros from payment card fraud in the EU, the report estimated.
Europol’s 37-page report looked at the development of organized crime over the last 24 months.
The financial crisis and the financial constraints it caused had made people “more likely to be recruited by criminal groups for example drug couriers or ‘money mules’.”
Criminal activity was located around five key hubs, the report added.
The Netherlands and Belgium were the main co-ordination centers for drug distribution in Europe. The Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia – and Kaliningrad in Russia – were the main points for the transit of illicit goods from Russia and home to violent groups with international reach.
Spain and Portugal remained a transit point for cocaine and cannabis resin and for human trafficking.
Bulgaria, Romania and Greece had seen the greatest expansion as a result of increased trafficking via the Black Sea. Southern Italy remains a center for counterfeit currency and commodities as well as for human trafficking.
The report, which will go to justice and home affairs ministries around the EU, will help governments set crime-fighting priorities for the next two years, said Wainwright.
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