A new report by Europol shows criminals have been quick to seize opportunities to exploit the COVID-19 crisis by adapting their modi operandi or engaging in new criminal activities. Profits from these criminal enterprises are often poured into organized crime activities or terrorist groups.
Building upon information provided by EU Member States and in-house expertise, Europol’s situational report analyzes the current developments which fall into four main crime areas:
The number of cyberattacks against organizations and individuals is significant and is expected to increase. Criminals have used the COVID-19 crisis to carry out social engineering attacks themed around the pandemic to distribute various malware packages.
Cybercriminals are also likely to seek to exploit an increasing number of attack vectors as a greater number of employers institute telework and allow connections to their organizations’ systems.
Example: The Czech Republic reported a cyberattack on Brno University Hospital which forced the hospital to shut down its entire IT network, postpone urgent surgical interventions and re-route new acute patients to a nearby hospital.
Fraudsters have been very quick to adapt well-known fraud schemes to capitalize on the anxieties and fears of victims throughout the crisis. These include various types of adapted versions of telephone fraud schemes, supply scams and decontamination scams. A large number of new or adapted fraud schemes can be expected to emerge over the coming weeks.
Example: An investigation supported by Europol focuses on the transfer of €6.6 million by a company to a company in Singapore in order to purchase alcohol gels and FFP3/2 masks. The goods were never received.
Counterfeit and substandard goods
The sale of counterfeit healthcare and sanitary products as well as personal protective equipment and counterfeit pharmaceutical products has increased manifold since the outbreak of the crisis. There is a risk that counterfeiters will use shortages in the supply of some goods to increasingly provide counterfeit alternatives both on- and offline.
Example: Between March 3-10 2020, over 34,000 counterfeit surgical masks were seized by law enforcement authorities worldwide as part of Operation PANGEA supported by Europol.
Organized property crime
Various types of schemes involving thefts have been adapted by criminals to exploit the current situation. This includes the well-known scams involving the impersonation of representatives of public authorities. Commercial premises and medical facilities are expected to be increasingly targeted for organized burglaries.
Despite the introduction of further quarantine measures throughout Europe, the crime threat remains dynamic and new or adapted types of criminal activities will continue to emerge during the crisis and in its aftermath.
Example: Multiple EU Member States have reported on a similar modus operandi for theft. The perpetrators gain access to private homes by impersonating medical staff providing information material or hygiene products or conducting a “Corona test”.
Europol also warns that migrant smuggling has been a key security and humanitarian challenge to the EU over the last five years and remains so during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. There is likely to be increased demand for services of migrant smuggling networks to enter the EU or to make secondary movements to circumvent the enhanced border control measures currently in place throughout the EU.