Online scams increase by 275% in the run-up to Christmas

FRAUD ALERTWith the end-of-year 2019 Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales behind us, the company Adobe Digital Insights analyses the, yet again, record-breaking numbers of online transactions. North American consumers alone spent 7.5 billion dollars online on Black Friday. The figures for Cyber Monday are even higher, accounting for nearly 30 billion dollars of consumer spending.

Yet, amidst all the Christmas-shopping enthusiasm, some of the deals seem too good to be true. An email promotion, for example, was offering 80% discounts on designer sunglasses. An offer like that can be hard to refuse, and purchase required just a simple click on the link. But it was all just a scam. The email address, the website, the links; they were all fake. And that’s just one of many. This type of fraud is now so commonplace that experts advise against clicking on any links promoted by emails altogether.

In a new report, published on the 26th of November 2019, investigators from leading cybersecurity firm Check Point warned of the growing risk of cybercrime during the Christmas period and concluded that changes must be made to the way we shop online.

According to their research, November 2018 saw a significant increase in phishing emails. A year later, the situation is notably worse. When Check Point compiled their report in mid-November 2019, even prior to the peak shopping dates of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the amount of e-commerce related phishing websites had more than doubled, by up to 233%. A week after the Christmas holidays, that figure had increased to 275%. It should be pointed out that 2018 saw a tremendous increase in phishing emails during the Christmas period, but in 2019, there were almost three times as many.

The total 2019 Christmas shopping spending for the United States amounted to 144 billion dollars, a 14% increase on the 2018 figure. And this sizeable spend took place between the end of November and the Christmas holidays. Of this figure, some 30 billion dollars were spent on Cyber Monday. And this is why Cyber Monday presents an almost unmissable opportunity for cybercriminals.

Investigators warn of how easy it is to disguise scams in bogus emails, text messages and social media posts. In this context, adds Check Point, it’s incredibly easy to obtain credit card details or take payment through PayPal without ever sending the supposedly purchased goods. The first step is to lure consumers by creating a domain that plausibly impersonates a legitimate shopping site. Many appear to be secure HTTPS addresses, and they load a long URL with legitimate text.

Some fraudulent campaigns are sent out to thousands of potential consumers through infected computers which act like bots, sending emails from diverse global locations to evade spam filters. Investigators noted that during the last six months of 2019 alone, more than 1,700 domains which look similar to the official Amazon website were registered.

Relevant links:


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Major European operation to target e-commerce fraud

HACK-fraud-card-code-royalty-free-thumbnailA joint law enforcement operation supported by 19 countries led to the arrest of 60 fraud suspects. The main aim of the e-Commerce action (eComm 2019) was to target criminal networks suspected of online fraud through coordinated law enforcement actions within the European Union. An awareness-raising campaign followed the operation.

The process was coordinated by Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and received direct assistance from national law enforcement authorities and the private sector.

E-commerce fraud includes illegal or false transactions made on online platforms, apps, and services provided over the internet. Fraudsters simply use stolen credit card details to make purchases from webshops.

The suspects arrested during the operation, which took place at the beginning of October 2019, were responsible for almost 6,500 fraudulent transactions with compromised credit cards, with an estimated value of more than €5 million.

Europol assisted the competent national authorities during the operations in their respective countries with analytical support and information sharing. In order to protect customers from fraudulent payments and ensure a safe online environment, Europol also collaborated with banks, credit card providers, European retailers and logistics companies.

The investigative measures revealed that individual fraudsters are connected to organised crime groups and are often involved in other types of crime such as phishing, malware attacks, using stolen passports, money laundering, creating fake websites and using online social platforms for fraudulent purposes.

This year has seen an increase in the number of fraudulent purchases of online services, rather than of physical goods: the virtual dimension of this crime makes it very hard to investigate. Fraudulent purchases of entry tickets, subscriptions and rentals are all carried out online and even via apps.

Some investigations showed that fraudulently booked railway tickets (purchased with stolen credit card details) are sold on to third parties who might then use them to commit other crimes and offences.

In this instance, more than 1,000 fraudulent bookings, amounting to a financial loss of around €70,000, were identified. Another modus operandi is to buy vouchers with stolen credit cards and later have them reimbursed to another method of payment.

Websites and social network accounts are often used to create fake online shops or purchase electronic goods. The suspects’ global turnover could be billions of Euros every year. The fraudsters use stolen credit card details, obtained through the darknet, or via malware and phishing attacks, to buy products.

It’s always better to prevent a crime than to have to solve it. The operation was followed by a prevention and awareness-raising campaign entitled #BuySafePaySafe. There are a number of guidelines you can follow to protect yourself from fraud:

  • Make sure the device you use to make online purchases is correctly configured and that the internet connection is secure.
  • Using a card is a safe online payment method so long as you take the same precautions you would with other types of shopping.
  • There are simple warning signs that can help you identify scams. If you are a victim of online fraud, report it to the police. If you have brought the product with a credit or debit card, inform your bank as well.
  • Check your online banking services regularly.


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Europeans spend an estimated €30 billions on the retail drug market each year

DROGUES EUROPOLThe expenditure makes the drug market a major source of income for organised crime gangs in the European Union. This figure appears in Europol’s 2019 EU Drug Markets Report, published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol. Around two-fifths of this total, 39%, is spent on cannabis, 31% on cocaine, 25% on heroin and 5% on amphetamines and MDMA.

The report studies trends in the supply chain from production and trafficking to distribution and sales. It describes how the drug market has wide-ranging repercussions for both health and security and how a holistic approach is vital for effective drug control policies.

The latest statistics show how the overall availability of drugs in Europe continues to be extremely high and that consumers have access to a wide variety of highly pure, incredibly potent drugs at lower or unchanged prices. One of the significant cross-cutting themes of the report is the environmental impact of drug production, including deforestation and the dumping of chemical waste, which are ecologically harmful and incur security risks and elevated clean-up costs.

The report highlights the growing importance of Europe, both as a target market and as a drug-producing region, and explains how the violence and corruption which has long existed in traditional drug-producing countries, is now increasingly evident in the EU. The document analyses the many consequences of the illicit drugs market, one of which is its negative impact on society, which can be seen in gang violence, drug-related homicides and the strain it places on public institutions.

It also explores the drug industry’s links to a wide range of other types of criminal activity, such as human trafficking and terrorism, as well as the negative repercussions for the legal economy, including how the laundering of drug profits causes problems for legitimate businesses.

The report expresses concern about the increased diversification of maritime drug-trafficking methods and the misuse of general aviation, including private planes and drones, for criminal purposes. The use of post and parcel services for drug trafficking is also rapidly expanding, following the increasing trend for shopping online in Europe, and the rise in the number of parcel deliveries as a result.

The surface web and the darknet, as well as social networks, messenger services and mobile apps, are all used as platforms to sell drugs online. And while the darknet market continues to be resilient, increasing numbers of online shops and vendors catering to specific nationalities or language groups have also appeared. Illegal firearms, encrypted smartphones and fraudulent documents are some of the key tools increasingly used in drug trafficking.

The report contains an in-depth analysis of each of the most popularly used drugs in Europe:

  • Cannabis: the largest drug market in Europe, with some 25 million Europeans (15-64 years), having used the drug in the past year. The report illustrates that, while cannabis herb and resin still dominate, cannabis products in Europe are increasingly diverse.
  • Heroin and other opioids: serious health risks and heroin derivative problems. The use of opioids still accounts for the largest share of drug-related harms, including deaths, associated with drug use in the EU.
  • Cocaine: record production levels and expanding markets. The cocaine market is the second-largest illicit drug market in the EU, with an estimated minimum retail value of €9.1 billion.
  • Amphetamine, methamphetamine and MDMA – large-scale production in Europe for internal consumption and exportation: they account for around 5% of the total drug market in the EU, with an estimated retail value of at least €1 billion for amphetamine and methamphetamine, and €0.5 billion for MDMA.
  • New psychoactive substances: slow-down in the number of new detections but substances are potent and present a severe health threat. NPAs are diverse substances which are not subject to international drug controls.

With an ever more complex, adaptable and dynamic drug market, the report underlines the need for the EU’s policies and responses to be equally agile, adaptive and cohesive.


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Could we reduce most types of violence by half?


Violence has long been one of the most significant global challenges for humankind. Hundreds of millions of men, women and children have been killed or affected by armed conflicts, crimes, extremisms, sexual violence and gender-based violence.

Violence corrodes our democratic institutions and undermines fundamental human rights. An increase in some kinds of collective violence is also possible during the next decade, primarily motivated by the pressures of climate change and insecurities surrounding new technologies.

Nonetheless, although it hasn’t made the headlines, the last half century has made some progress towards preventing and reducing many types of violence.

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that this relatively recent downward trend will continue as we move further into the twenty-first century. But with targeted and financially sustainable interventions, especially in cities, levels of many types of violence may continue to decline. This, in fact, is one of the main aspirations of The world has a genuine opportunity to halve its current levels of violence by 2030. To achieve this, we have to take stock of where we’re at today and make decisions about where we want to be in the future. This is what bold initiatives such as the Pathfinders Partnership are trying to answer.

It’s important to reflect on the number of people affected by violence. Although it’s difficult to measure precisely, up to 600,000 people, including almost 100,000 women and children, die worldwide as a consequence of conflicts, crimes, extremist violence and extrajudicial circumstances. Millions more are left physically or psychologically wounded by wars, criminality, and sexual or gender-based violence. More than 40 million people are displaced by violence, including 26 million refugees. If we do not take measures to change our current course, there’s no guarantee that these trends will improve in the next decade. However, if measures are taken to reverse these trends, we could save, literally, hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in reconstruction, repairs, productivity losses and insurance claims.

The first step towards effectively reducing violence by 2030 is to develop a clear understanding of how it is distributed in time and space. Take the case of lethal violence. There is a common misconception that more people are violently killed in war zones than in countries at peace.

The second step is to determine where the violence is concentrated and who is most at risk from it. A sizeable quota of all violence (deaths, injuries and rape) is concentrated in our cities.

The third step is to recognise the risk factors that lead to different types of violence. Although violence is a multifactoral problem, some recurrent risks stand out. Social and economic inequality, for example.

Reducing violence by 50% over the next ten years will require unprecedented levels of global cooperation. But there are good reasons for optimism. For the first time, the UN and the World Bank have united behind a common framework for preventing conflicts. UN organisations like the United Nations Office on drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have committed to reducing violence. UN Women has announced a spotlight initiative to end violence against women, and UNICEF has joined forces with others to extend the reach of the INSPIRE strategies and help governments improve safety for all. Another promising initiative is the global campaign to end violence against children, which has already raised close to 38 million dollars.


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How can law enforcement provide a more effective response to crime on the dark web?

DARKNETAs we continue to live more of our day-to-day lives online, criminals continue to focus more of their activities on the virtual world. The arrival of the dark web has made it difficult for law-enforcement officers to detect, monitor and investigate criminal activities.

The dark web provides anonymity and encryption, both of which significantly complicate the processes of identifying suspects and gathering evidence. To gain a better understanding of these challenges, the RAND Corporation and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in the name of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), held a seminar which brought together a diverse group of professionals and investigators. Their task was to identify, as a matter of urgency, problems and potential solutions relating to evidence from the dark web. Attention focused on developing a research and development programme to improve the understanding and investigation of illicit activities on the dark web. The participants in the seminar identified 46 potential solutions and needs, including better training for law-enforcement agencies, information sharing between all jurisdictions and researches into the loopholes and shortcomings of current dark web legislation

Main conclusions

  • Better training for professionals and information sharing could have a significant impact.
  • There is a lack of knowledge about what the dark web is, and how criminals use it to their advantage.
  • Law-enforcement agencies often overlook physical indications of dark web usage when gathering evidence for criminal investigations. These indicators could include notes on cryptocurrency portfolios, encryption keys or dark-web addresses.
  • The anonymity and encryption provided by the dark web make it extremely difficult for investigators to prove a crime has been committed.


  • Invest in training at all levels, from entry-level professionals to the highest-ranking officers. Lower ranks should know which elements of everyday life could be relevant to an investigation and higher ranks must ensure training courses equip officers and investigators with the necessary skills and knowledge.
  • Invest in improvements to information sharing between agencies, both within the United States and internationally.
  • Consider the advantages of increased investment in cross-organisational structures to facilitate cooperation and information sharing.
  • Encourage organisations to develop new testing standards for forensic tools used to collect evidence from computers that use dark web software.
  • Research the modernisation of legislation surrounding the inspection of elements transmitted by email and similar services in the USA.
  • Investigate the increasingly interconnected nature of offences and criminals to ensure that law-enforcement agencies can focus on both the ‘tip of the iceberg’ (traditional crimes), as well as the less visible but extremely significant portion below the surface (electronic crime), which can affect the health and wellbeing of society.


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The United States downgrades El Salvador’s threat level

Traspaso de Mando de la Policía Nacional Civil.The United States has recognised security improvements in El Salvador and downgraded its travel alert for US citizens.

The level 2[1] travel alert that now applies to El Salvador is considered to be a positive step forward and recognises efforts to improve the security situation in the Central American country.

El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, emphasised that no other previous government succeeded in revoking the ‘do not travel’ alert due to the Central American country’s security problems. And, when Bukele was sworn in as president of the country on the 1st of June 2019, there was an average of 9.2 homicides per day. Yet, by August of this year, the homicide rate was already at its lowest since the peace accords of January 1992, at 4.2 violent deaths per day.

In 2018, the United States issued a level 3 alert, recommending that its citizens reconsider travel to El Salvador and take adequate precautionary measures as a result of the country’s security problems. Following the preliminary homicide-reduction results of the Territorial Control Plan, Bukele’s government had already made several requests for US officials to lower the alert level.

The Minister of Tourism, Morena Valdez, said the US’ decision was a historic moment and believes the time has come to attract more tourism by promoting and positioning the country’s attractions, as well as revitalising the economy.

Ricardo Sosa, a criminologist and expert in gang violence, underlined the significance of the American government’s decision to lower the alert after re-evaluating the country’s risk factors. Sosa believes that the rates of all high-impact crimes are falling, particularly incidences of violent homicide. And he’s optimistic that the latest positive trend in crime statistics will make it easier for El Salvador to attract foreign investment.

However, it’s worth mentioning that El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, entered into cooperation pacts with the US to reduce the flow of irregular migration from the Central American country, and, according to the estimates of the North-American authorities, has succeeded in doing so by around 60%.

Recently El Salvador has deployed 800 police officers and 300 migration officials to reinforce the country’s main borders, prevent illegal people smuggling, and fight transnational crime. An agreement was also signed with the US to facilitate the return of many asylum seekers.

For its part, the United States explained in a press conference that the travel alerts do not reflect the nature of its bilateral relationships with any country. Despite this, relations between the United States and El Salvador have significantly improved since president Bukele took office, becoming in just a few months one of North America’s closest allies in the region.

[1] The United States’ level 1 alert is “exercise normal precautions”. Level 2 is “exercise increased caution”. Level 3 is “reconsider travel”, and level 4 is “do not travel”.


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Argentina’s dark figure of unreported crimes

Policia_Metropolitana_-_Buenos_Aires_-_ArgentinaAll countries invariably endeavour to understand trends and patterns in criminal activity. Citizens’ crime reports are a country’s primary source of information on violence and crimes, and therefore form the basis for public safety policy-making. In Argentina, however, there is considerable concern about the reliability of those figures.

The concern is because only a small number of crimes are reported and registered by the authorities. And it’s well-known that, for various reasons, many crimes are not included in the national crime statistics.

The term used to describe offences that are committed but, for many different reasons, never recorded by the authorities is the dark figure of crimes. And it’s the existence of this dark figure which prevents the authorities from obtaining an accurate overall picture of criminal activity. The problem is particularly severe in less developed countries, which have the lowest reporting rates.

And while there is an individual dark figure for each type of crime and context, it’s believed that, on average, almost 70% of crimes go unreported. This number could be as high as 90% for certain types of more widespread crimes, such as minor property infringements, gender abuse, domestic abuse, and offences relating to corruption and drug trafficking.

In Argentina, 62.6% of offences go unreported. This figure has profound implications for policy-making designed to prevent and control the crime rate. It’s because of this that victimisation surveys play such a crucial role.

When the number of unreported crimes for each type of criminal activity is analysed, a clear correlation between the type of crime and the dark figure associated with it can be identified. While the dark figure for vehicle theft is lower than 20%, other crimes have a dark figure of more than 50%.

The motivation to report a crime is related to the reporter’s expectation that the perpetrator will be punished, damage repaired, or stolen possessions recovered.

The main reasons behind people choosing not to report a crime are: a lack of confidence in the authorities’ ability to solve the problem (34.6%); because they would rather try to solve the problem themselves (24.6%); a downplaying of the significance of the offence (20.5%); a lack of evidence (14.7%); and the fear of reprisals or shame (5.5%). 6.4% of people consulted said they chose not to report the crime because it was too complicated, or they were unsure how to do it.

Taking these reasons into account, we can understand why victims of the theft of an expensive item, such as a vehicle, are more predisposed towards taking official action to restore or retrieve it. Moreover, if the item is insured, a police report is a formal requirement for recuperating the value of the stolen good.

Victims of crimes considered to be less serious or with less probability of damage compensation, such as personal theft, or crimes such as threats, bribery, sexual offences, etc., that for various motives tend not to be reported to the authorities, are less likely to report them.

Less than half (46.6%) of people who report a crime to the authorities are satisfied or very satisfied with how the relevant authority handled that report.


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An innovative strategy for reducing violence in Chicago

Grounds-or-PeaceChicago’s Grounds for Peace initiative is the direct result of an innovative push to reduce violence, fight gun crime, and manage the public areas that contribute to some of the problems. The city’s leaders have increased spending on the management of streets, vacant properties, and public transport, placing Chicago at the forefront of an emerging movement which takes advantage of neighbourhood beautification initiatives to combat the violence which has plagued day-to-day life in the city. This year alone, Chicago has spent 7.4 million dollars on workforce development programmes. The programmes place high-risk individuals in jobs tending green zones and neighbourhoods with high crime rates.

Chicago’s new programme intends to turn 50 vacant lots in the south and west of the city into gardens this year.

The programme is backed up by academic studies which suggest that violence and criminality often go hand-in-hand. The scientists believe that one of the reasons why residents no longer make use of open-air spaces is because those spaces have been neglected and abandoned. The result is that, given the fact they believe no one is likely to intervene, criminals then regard those spaces as favourable locations for conducting illicit activities. The more these areas fall into the hands of criminals, the more residents stay away. The more residents keep their distance, the more the criminals become empowered, and the crime rate goes up.

Similar movements for improvement have emerged in hundreds of towns and cities across the country, contributing to what an expert described as “the most important vacant-lot strategy” to come out of the last decade. Meanwhile, local governments have been failing to find a positive use for properties that were abandoned in the Great Recession or closed down during the financial crisis. Typically, these programmes have been justified as a means of boosting economic growth, improving quality of life for residents, and addressing general public-safety issues.

In an experiment carried out in Philadelphia, vacant lots in the most deprived areas were cleaned, organised, or in some way dealt with by public-private collaboration. Researchers demonstrated that a year and a half later, gun violence in those areas had fallen by 29%. The authors of the study concluded that if the same treatment could be applied to empty lots all over the city, Philadelphia could expect to record 350 fewer gunshots each year.

This data concurs with that of another study published in August, in which scientists found that efforts to demolish empty, abandoned buildings in Detroit was related to an 11% reduction in armed assaults.

Can parks help cities to fight crime?
It’s important to point out that neither of the studies found evidence that the violence moved to other neighbourhoods.

Allan Mallach, a member of the Centre for Community Progress who has written extensively on the rise of vacant properties in the United States, stated that the beautification of the lots should be accompanied by social services and community programmes to increase community commitment and raise the socio-economic level of residents.

According to experts, residents who feel their communities have been neglected by local government sometimes view improvement programmes with suspicion. As a result, they can be reluctant to get involved. This problem was recently encountered in Detroit when the city instigated a citywide mass tree-planting scheme. However, some residents pushed back against it because they had not been consulted at the initial planning stage.


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Colombia’s first survey on citizen coexistence and security

ColombiaThe Survey on Citizen Coexistence and Security in Colombia provides information on people aged 15 years or over, who have been personally affected by criminal activities such as theft, fights, or extortion. The survey also explores people’s perceptions of their safety.

For the first time, Colombia has conducted a nationwide victimisation survey that also covers victimisation in rural areas during the 2018 reference period.

The National Administrative Department for Statistics, DANE, published the results of the Survey on Citizen Coexistence and Security (ECSC), which compiles information from a representative sample of 128,998 people aged 15 or over, from 39,712 households

According to the results of the Survey on Citizen Coexistence and Security, in 2018, 15.6% of Colombians aged 15 or over were victims of at least one crime.

In the year 2018, victimisation prevalence in Colombia was higher for men aged 15 or over (16.9%) than for women aged 15 years or over (14.3%).

Of particular significance is the fact that in Colombia, during 2018, 71.3% of people aged 15 or over who were victims of a crime did not report it to the relevant authorities.

Of the 3% of Colombian households to report a robbery at their residence in 2018, 68.4% of them lived in a house, while 29.8% lived in a flat.

It should also be noted that 7.3% of people aged 15 or over were victims of theft, and 41.8% of those were between 15 and 29 years old. In relation to gender, 7.6% of the total number of men aged 15 or over said they had been a victim of theft in 2018; the corresponding figure for women was 7%.

34.5% of burglaries occurred between 12 midday and 6 p.m., and the most stolen personal item was the mobile phone at 75.9%.

22.9% of Colombians aged 15 or over said they owned at least one vehicle –car, motorcycle, bicycle, or agricultural vehicle– and of these, 8.7% said that either the entire vehicle, a part of it, or an accessory was stolen. 62.5% of victims said that a part or an accessory was stolen, and 37.5% declared that the entire vehicle was taken. In 38.4% of cases, the theft of the vehicle occurred between 12 midday and 6 p.m.

1.5% of people aged 15 years or over reported that they had been involved in a fight involving physical violence, and of these, 54.4% were young people between 15 and 29 years of age. By gender, 2% of all the men surveyed had been involved in a fight, while the corresponding statistic was 1.1% for women.

2.2% of people aged 15 and over said they had been the victim of extortion or attempted extortion in Colombia during 2018. In the case of 92.2% of those victims, the extortionist contacted the victim by telephone, and in 43.4% of those cases, the victim was threatened with their own safety.

For the whole of Colombia, the question about whether people aged 15 or over feel safe in different public spaces revealed that 48% of people felt most unsafe on the streets, followed by 42.9% of people who felt most unsafe on public transport.

With regard to the different cities and the perception of safety in those cities (whether people generally felt safe in their city), Bogotá and Cartagena were the cities whose residents felt most unsafe, with their percentages at 84% and 73.9% of respectively.


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