Organised criminal groups and illegal activities in the technological age

On 28 February 2017, EUROPOL published the eighth edition of SOCTA (Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment), a report that was published from 2004 to 2009 and that has been published every four years since then. The document is not only descriptive, as it also anticipates the main and emerging threats posed by organised crime. In this edition, the role of new technologies is stressed in the development of organised criminal groups and the capacity that these have to adapt to technological innovation. The changes in structures and characteristics of criminal markets and the efforts made by criminals to avoid police authorities and the change in legislation have led to an increase in the sale of illegal goods and services via Internet.

In this latest edition of SOCTA, EUROPOL identifies the following criminal activities as the main threats posed by organised crime:

  • Cybernetic crime
  • Production, trafficking and Distribution of illegal drugs
  • Migrant trafficking
  • Organised crime against property
  • People trafficking (for forced labour, sexual exploitation and child trafficking)

Moreover, it points out three transversal illegal practices that have an important impact on highly serious criminal activities, previously mentioned.

  • Financial crime and capital laundering
  • Faking documentation
  • Online sale of illegal goods and services

The report also explores the links between organised crime and terrorism and stresses the need for cooperation between the police forces of different Union countries, both between them and with EUROPOL.

Moreover, it presents an external analysis of the current situation of organised criminal groups regarding different aspects and describes trends. In this respect, it stresses:

  • Over 5,000 groups of organised crime that operate internationally are now being investigated by the EU.
  • These groups are formed by members of over 180 different nationalities. 60% of the suspects of being involved in or belonging to organised criminal groups are, however, nationals of one of the Union countries.
  • Most of the criminal groups work within a hierarchical system.
  • Between 30% and 40% have a flexible and decentralised structure.
  • Approximately 20% of the groups of organised crime are created with one specific objective or to complement another criminal activity and exist only for a limited period of time, after which they dissolve.
  • 76% are made up of six or more than six members, while the remaining 24% are groups of fewer than six.
  • 7 out of every 10 of the organisations are active in more than 3 countries.
  • 45% of the organised criminal groups are engaged in more than one criminal activity at the same time. In this respect, the increase in demand for illegal goods and services during the migration crisis has favoured the diversification of criminal activities carried out by the same organisation. It is not peculiar that a feature of many of the organised criminal groups is flexibility of adaptation of illegal activities in accordance with market demands.
  • The number of criminals acting individually has increased. These, however, cooperate together to develop the business and maximise profits
  • Over 75% of the organised criminal groups engage in the production, trafficking and/or distribution of drugs, making this the criminal activity that most organisations are involved in. Other activities the organisations mainly engage in are crimes against private property, migrant trafficking, people trafficking (for forced labour, sexual exploitation and child trafficking) and excise fraud.
  • To facilitate criminal activities and to obtain information, corruption via the infiltration of members of groups of organised crime both in the public and private sector is a habitual practice.

Based on the results obtained and the conclusions of SOCTA 2017, the Council of Justice and the Ministries of the Interior of the European Union traced the lines of investigation and priority actions to fight against organised crime to address the second EU Policy Cycle (2018-2021), a plan established in 2010 and applied 3 years later with the aim of guaranteeing effective cooperation between actors involved in the fight against organised crime in different countries of the European Union and a scope of action aimed at the main threats affecting the Union.

Consult the whole report:


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