Last month, Europol published a report on how COVID-19 has been affecting crime and terrorism in the EU.
While the pandemic is first and foremost a global public health crisis, it has also proven to have a significant and potentially long-lasting impact on the organised crime and terrorism landscape in Europe, as well as the ability of Member State law enforcement authorities to counter security threats.
While Europe is in the grip of a second wave of the pandemic, the impact of COVID-19 on crime has changed over time. Although some types of crime are here to stay, others come and go with the evolution of the pandemic and its measures. Greater awareness has, however, reduced the impact of some types of crime.
Europol’s report highlights some of the criminal activities to have gained prominence, such as the distribution of counterfeit personal protective equipment, and fake pharmaceutical and sanitary products. An increase in robberies of medical facilities and pharmacies has also been reported.
The area of child sexual abuse has remained a grave concern during the pandemic; with children spending more time online, the risk is potentially increased.
While the number of domestic robberies and common thefts has generally declined in the immediate aftermath of the introduced COVID-19 control measures, these crimes have been on the rise since the easing of the lockdown restrictions. There has been a notable rise in the number of reported robberies of unoccupied commercial premises, ATM attacks, copper theft and light construction vehicle theft.
Criminals have also used various types of schemes involving deception, such as the impersonation of representatives from public authorities or medical staff to gain access to private homes and businesses and steal from them.
Pandemic-themed campaigns have appeared across a wide range of cybercrime activities, including phishing campaigns, ransomware, malware and business email compromise attacks. Healthcare and health-related organisations have also been targeted and fallen victim to ransomware attacks.
The impact of the crisis on the EU drug market appears to have been limited. Some criminals had adapted their modus operandi for the distribution of drugs in order to circumvent barriers. An increase in violence and tensions between drug users has also been identified.
The impact of the pandemic on terrorism and violent extremism has been limited and primarily involved some extremists adapting narratives and propaganda materials to the COVID-19 topic.