May 4, 2011

European Organized Crime Rampant On The Internet

With the advancement of technology, the Internet has become a major tool for European organized crime, top officials at Europol say.

These criminals use the Internet for drugs and human trafficking as well as money laundering and cybercrime.

"Organized crime is a multi"“billion euro business in Europe and it is growing in scale. 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," says Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol.

In a press release of the policing body's bi-annual organized crime threat assessment (OCTA), he says "Using the Internet has become much more mainstream," and that "It has now become the principle facilitator for organized crime."

In the past two years, there has been an increase in criminal groups who use the Web to commit "traditional crimes" as opposed to computer-based crimes, Wainwright says.

The report shows that "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."

Additionally, it has been used to recruit human trafficking victims, facilitate illegal immigration, supply counterfeit commodities, and traffic in endangered species, the report notes.

"It was also widely used as a secure communication and money laundering tool by criminals," the report adds.

More than 1.5 billion euros from payment card fraud in the EU is estimated to come from organized crime groups, reports AFP.

These groups crossed national, ethnic and business lines now more than ever, OCTA shows.

And with an increasingly collaborative atmosphere, the practice of bartering in which illicit commodities are exchanged rather than purchased with cash, has intensified, making crimes less visible to authorities targeting criminal assets.

With the financial crisis and constraints, more people are likely to be recruited by these criminal groups as drug couriers or "money mules."

Five key hubs were reported as criminal activity locations, says the report:

  •  The Netherlands and Belgium for the coordination of drug distribution in Europe;
  •  The Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Kaliningrad in Russia for the transit of illicit goods from Russia and home to violent groups with international reach;
  •  Spain and Portugal as transit points for cocaine and cannabis resin and for human trafficking;
  •  Bulgaria, Romania and Greece has seen an increase in trafficking of illicit commodities and illegal immigration via the Black Sea; and
  •  Southern Italy, where it remains the center for counterfeit currency and commodities was well as human trafficking.

The OCTA will be distributed to justice and home affairs ministries around the EU, and will help governments set crime-fighting priorities for the next two years, says Wainwright.


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