How criminals exploit the COVID-19 crisis

352.- baixaA few weeks ago, Europol published a report on the types of criminal activities being used to exploit the COVID-19 crisis.

The current crisis, unprecedented in the history of the European Union, has seen the Member States enacting various lockdown measures, including travel restrictions and limitations to public life, to combat the spread of the virus. These measures are designed to support public health systems, safeguard the economy and to ensure public order and safety.

The EU has identified several factors which, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to changes in crime and terrorism, and impacted on the internal security of the EU. They are as follows:

  • High demand for certain goods, protective gear and pharmaceutical products.
  • Decreased mobility and flow of people across and into the EU.
  • Limitations to public life will make some criminal activities less visible and displace them to home or online settings.
  • Citizens remain at home and are increasingly teleworking, relying on digital solutions.
  • Increased anxiety and fear that may create vulnerability to exploitation.
  • Decreased supply of certain illicit goods in the EU.

The global pandemic of COVID-19 is not only a serious health issue but also a serious cybersecurity risk. Criminals swiftly took advantage of the virus proliferation and are abusing the demand people have for information and supplies.

Criminals have used the COVID-19 crisis to carry out social engineering attacks, namely phishing emails through spam campaigns and more targeted attempts such as business email compromise (BEC).

There is a long list of cyber-attacks against organisations and individuals, including phishing campaigns that distribute malware via malicious links and attachments, and execute malware and ransomware attacks that aim to profit from the global health concern.

Information received from law enforcement partners strongly indicates increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material. Mostly because offenders expect children to be more vulnerable due to isolation, with less supervision and more online exposure.

During the coming months, it’s expected that the potential for financial damage to citizens, businesses and public organisations will increase. Criminals have also adapted investment scams to elicit speculative investments in stocks related to COVID-19 with promises of substantial profits.

And it’s highly likely that criminals will adapt fraud schemes in order to exploit the post-pandemic situation. Once again, the elderly are more likely to be vulnerable to scams. Fraudsters will seek to approach victims at home by pretending to be law enforcement or social/healthcare officials offering testing for COVID-19 in an attempt to enter homes and steal valuables.


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The cybercrime virus

351. green-hoodie-thumbnailCybercriminals have been the most adept at trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic for the various scams and attacks they carry out. With a record number of potential victims staying at home and using online services across the European Union (EU) during the pandemic, the ways in which cybercriminals can exploit emerging opportunities and vulnerabilities have multiplied.

The document Catching the virus cybercrime, written by Europol in April 2020, summarises the following major threats posed by cybercrime:

  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cybercrime has been the most visible and striking compared to other criminal activities.
  • Criminals active in cybercrime have been able to adapt quickly and capitalise on the anxieties and fears of their victims.
  • Phishing and ransomware campaigns are being launched to exploit the current crisis and are expected to continue to increase in scope and scale.
  • Activity around the distribution of child sexual exploitation material online appears to be on the increase, based on a number of indicators. The dark web continues to host various platforms such as marketplaces and vendor shops to distribute illicit goods and services.
  • After an initial fluctuation in sales via the dark web at the beginning of the crisis in Europe, the situation stabilised throughout March 2020.
  • Vendors attempt to innovate by offering COVID-19 related products.
  • Demand and supply dynamics for some goods are likely to be affected.
  • Product scarcity occurs via distributors on the surface web.
  • Criminal organisations seek to exploit the public health crisis to make a profit or advance geopolitical interests.
  • Increased disinformation and misinformation around COVID-19 continues to proliferate around the world, with potentially harmful consequences for public health and effective crisis communication.

Ransomware has been the most dominant cybercrime threat over the last several years. The current crisis is unlikely to change that dynamic. The pandemic may multiply the damaging impact of a successful attack against certain institutions, which reinforces the necessity for effective cyber resilience.

The number of phishing attempts exploiting the crisis is expected to continue to increase. However, we also expect a greater number of inexperienced cybercriminals to deploy ransomware-as-a-service. Not all of these campaigns will result in successful attacks due to the lack of experience and technical skills of the criminals.

Offenders are likely to attempt to take advantage of emotionally vulnerable, isolated children through grooming and sexual coercion and extortion.

Children allowed greater unsupervised internet access will be increasingly vulnerable to exposure to offenders through online activity such as online gaming, the use of chat groups in apps, phishing attempts via email, unsolicited contact in social media and other means.


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Victims of cybercrime in the United States lost $3.5 billion in 2019

337.- cybercrime

The Federal Bureau of Investigations Internet Crime Complaint Centre (IC3) has published a report on internet crime in the US during 2019. The report reveals that last year’s 467,361 reported incidences of cybercrime were responsible for losses of around $3.5 billion.

The IC3 says it has received 4,883,231 complaints since its inception in May 2000, with an average of around 340,000 claims per year and more than 1,200 complaints per day over the last five years.

They calculate that in the five years between 2015 and 2019, victims of cybercrime reported $10.5 billion of stolen funds.

The report concludes that phishing, extortion and similar non-payment or non-delivery scams were the most frequent causes of complaints.

The most costly crimes included business email compromise, romantic fraud and spoofing (propagating or imitating the account of a person or seller known to the victim to collect personal or financial information).

The IC3 also reported that the Recovery Asset Team (RAT), established in February 2018, has been able to assist in the recovery of funds for victims of various internet crimes.

The RAT, an independent task force set up in 2018, ended its first operational year in 2019 having recovered more than 300 million dollars worth of funds stolen by online fraud, accounting for a 79% return of all reported losses that year.

According to the report, these scams often involve a crime committed by imitating a legitimate email address. For example, an individual receives a message appearing to come from one of their company executives or from a company that has had previous dealings with that individual.

The email requests a seemingly legitimate payment by bank transfer or card purchase, but the transaction actually delivers the money directly to the offender.

In 2019, the IC3 observed an increase in the number of BEC (Business Email Compromise) complaints related to the diversion of payroll funds. In this type of scheme, fraudsters pose as employees and send an email requesting to update their direct deposit information to a company’s HR or payroll department.

In 2019, the IC3 received 13,633 complaints related to Tech Support Fraud from victims in 48 countries. The losses amounted to over $54 million, which represents a 40 per cent increase in losses from 2018.

According to the IC3, the vast majority of victims reporting Tech Support Fraud were over 60 years of age.

In 2019, the IC3 also received 2,047 complaints relating to ransomware, with adjusted losses of over $8.9 million.


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The number of deaths from terrorism continues to fall, but the threat posed by far-right terrorism and the Taliban increases

335.- Alpini_ISAFThe Institute for Economics & Peace has published the Global Terrorism Index (with data to the end of 2018). It confirms a 52% decrease in terror-related deaths since the number peaked in 2014. In 2018, the total number of deaths fell by 15.2% to 15,952. Between 1970 and 2017, close to 170,000 people have fallen victim to terrorist attacks. By contrast, the number of countries to have recorded at least one fatality has slightly increased, to 71 (two more than the previous year).

The overall decline in deaths primarily corresponds to military defeats inflicted on the Islamic State (ISIL), which in 2018 had only 18,000 fighters left in Iraq and Syria, down from 70,000 in 2014. Military successes against the group have resulted in a 63% reduction in their attacks and a subsequent 69% decrease in fatalities. United States-led airstrikes targeting Al-Shabaab in Somalia, have also contributed. However, despite successes in the fight against Nigeria’s Boko-Haram, the country still ranks third in the world for terrorist incidents, with a total of 8,567 during 2018, and an increase of more than one hundred terror-related deaths compared to the previous year. The activities of extremist Fulanis are thought to be responsible for the increase.

The South Asia region recorded the highest number of deaths, with Afghanistan’s 9,603 attacks and 7,379 deaths in 2018 (a 59% increase), pushing it into first place. Most of those deaths can be attributed to the increasing activity of Taliban groups, far outweighing the decline in deaths caused by ISIL. The notable decrease in fatalities brought about by ISIL’s retreat has seen Iraq move down into second place.

In Europe, the number of deaths from terrorism fell for the second successive year, from over two hundred in 2017 to 62 in 2018. The total number of terrorist incidents also fell by 40%, to 245 in 2018, the lowest figure since 2014.

Another relevant trend revealed by the report is the confirmed surge in far-right political terrorism since 2014. Although the absolute number of far-right attacks remains low when compared to other forms of terrorism, in North America, Western Europe, and Oceania, far-right attacks have increased by 320% over the past five years. In 2018, the number of people killed by far-right attacks rose to 26 (compared to 11 the previous year). This trend continued into 2019, with 77 deaths recorded as of September that year. The upward trend is significant and extremely worrying. This type of attack is more likely to be carried out by individuals unaffiliated with a specific terrorist group (60%).


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Facebook-related crimes increase by 19% in the UK

333.- Facebook UKThe British government plans to police social media by issuing a new code of conduct.

Social media companies will be legally obliged to protect children by preventing them from viewing any content deemed to be detrimental to their wellbeing or mental health.

Failure to comply with the government-backed code could result in fines and penalties that could potentially cost an offending company millions of pounds. The current code of conduct was created in 2017 and updated in April 2019.

News of the stricter code comes as statistics obtained from the British police reveal an alarming increase in the number of reported crimes linked to Facebook.

Data obtained from 20 different UK police forces under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request indicates that in the financial year 2019–20, the number of Facebook-related crimes reported to the police was 32,451. When compared to the same period in 2017–18, this total shows an increase in crime of 19%.

Official figures from the police list the total number of crimes with a connection to Facebook as 55,643. Data shared under the FOI request revealed that Leicestershire Police received the highest number of reports of Facebook-linked crimes. In total, the English Midlands force said it had recorded 10,405 such incidents, of which 408 involved victims categorised as “vulnerable”.

Lancashire Constabulary reported the second-highest number of crimes linked to the social media giant. The North West England force said it had recorded 8,829 Facebook-connected crimes, of which 718 were harassment, 179 were sexual offences, 1,007 involved offensive messages, and 1,497 were classified as malicious communication.

Greater Manchester Police reported 8,230 Facebook-linked crimes, some of which involved “engaging in sexual activity with a child”.

The FOI request was sent out by a Parliament think tank. Figures obtained by the think tank via an FOI request for offences that mentioned Instagram or Facebook in the crime notes found that Instagram had been used by paedophiles, stalkers, burglars, and drug dealers to commit 15,143 crimes since 2017. The total number of cases associated with both sites since 2017 is 70,786.


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2019 was the most violent year on record in Mexico

331.- MEXICimagesAccording to a government statistics report from the country’s National System for Public Safety published in January 2020, Mexico recorded more than 330,000 crimes in 2019. The crimes include 52,000 homicides, of which 34,852 were intentional.

Mexico, a country with a population of 127 million, recorded 27 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants in 2019.

The homicide statistics are the highest since recording began. Mexico began gathering official data on the topic in 1997. It reveals that the country’s homicide figures have increased by 2.7% in comparison to 2018. The months of June, July and August, with more than 3,000 murders per month, was the most violent period of the year and also when the government took the controversial decision to deploy the National Guard.

However, the report did give some cause for optimism; during the last four months of the year, no month recorded more than 3,000 homicides. Considering there were 9,182 homicides between June and September, this can be taken as a positive.

The rise in violence coincides with an increase in femicides; 1,006 women were killed in 2019. This figure is an increase on the 912 femicides recorded in 2018.

By state and number of assassinations, Guanajuato, the scene of many confrontations between cartels, was top of the list with 3,540 killings. It was followed by Baja California and the State of Mexico, home to the country’s capital city. The most violent state by crime rate is the small Pacific state of Colima, which has less than one million inhabitants. Its 760 homicides resulted in 107 assassinations for every 100,000 inhabitants, putting it at the top of the tragic leader board and surpassing El Salvador’s rate of 62 per 100,000.

The statistical study presented by the Ministry of Public Security also shows an increase in the number of victims for the five priority crimes, which are murder, femicide, kidnapping (which rose from 1,559 incidences in 2018 to 1,614 incidences in 2019), extortion (a 29% increase to 8,523 victims) and finally people trafficking, which rose by 12.6% to 644 victims in 2019.

Furthermore, the report draws attention to widespread violence throughout the country, contradicting the argument of those who defend the logic of regional or focused dynamics. The state of Sonora saw its homicide figures increase by 57%, Hidalgo by 49% and Aguascalientes by 32%. Other states, like Coahuila, Chihuahua, Campeche, Nuevo León, Oaxaca and Jalisco also saw notable increases in their homicides rates.


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There is growing concern about the increase in armed violence in Sweden

330.- turning-torso-4009540_960_720In 2019, 320 armed confrontations led to 41 deaths and more than 100 injuries in Sweden. Gang conflicts, mainly relating to drug trafficking, are thought to be responsible for the escalation in violence.

In mid-November 2019, Denmark took the unprecedented decision to temporarily suspend the Schengen agreement and tighten controls along its border with Sweden. It justified the closure of its border to the free movement of people and goods by arguing that it was necessary to stop the violence spreading from Sweden and prevent criminal gangs, responsible for 129 fatalities in the last three years, from entering the country.

Despite this, the Danish police force suspects that Swedish gang warfare was behind the explosion which destroyed the Copenhagen headquarters of the Tax Agency in summer 2019, and a double murder that took place in the city’s suburbs.

Although the numbers of confrontations, deaths and injuries have levelled out since 2017, the headlines surrounding this type of violence are increasingly concerning. On the last day of 2019, for example, a 20-year-old man was murdered in a Stockholm suburb. The victim was wearing a bullet-proof vest but was shot in the head.

The Swedish police force and criminologists believe that many of the murders are revenge killings or honour disputes, sometimes between members of the same gang. The groups are rooted in city suburbs and tend not to have rigid internal structures.

In Stockholm, they have identified 1,500 active gang members belonging to around 50 gangs, with high mobility among the groups. The members are very young and extremely violent. So much so that the growing number of explosions are now more alarming than the exchanges of gunfire. Between January and February 2019, there were more than 230 recorded explosions, an increase of 50% compared to 2018.

The fundamental purpose of the explosions is to threaten and intimidate. Typically, they are triggered at night time in non-operational commercial or business premises with the doors closed. Occasionally, the explosions claim victims who have nothing to do with the criminal activities of the gangs.

Until recently, the gun battles and explosions had been primarily restricted to large Swedish cities like Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg. Lately, however, the attacks have decreased in the major cities and increased in previously unaffected locations. Northern Sweden is a prime example, reporting 3 shootings in 2017 and 28 in 2019.

In Malmö, the city that has suffered the most violent episodes to date, law enforcement, the city council, the prison services and civilians were involved in a joint operation to try and rescue young people from the spiral of gang-related violence. Unfortunately, it was mostly unsuccessful. In Malmö alone, 80 minors between the ages of eight and fourteen years old have been identified by the police as gang members.


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32 Colombian mayors voice their concerns about the safety of their citizens

329.- 29658304984_d35f7b617c_bThe mayors of the 32 Colombian district capitals met with the Ministry of Defence to set out and coordinate their priority requirements for public safety. The mayors, represented by the Asocapitales guild, say that public safety is now their most pressing concern.

They want the Ministry of Defence to provide a coordinated response to the problem by addressing five specific issues:

– Measures to reduce homicides

– Tools for dealing with public demonstrations

– Redesigned security models

– The treatment of drug addiction as a mental health issue

– Overcrowding in prisons

The mayor of Cali, Jorge Ivan Ospina, was chosen to represent the mayors at the Ministry of Defence. The mayors state that they are facing a crime epidemic which threatens the health, lifestyle and wealth of their citizens, and that any initiative to tackle the problem would be welcome. With this in mind, the mayor of Valle del Cauca announced that his city would be setting up a reward fund to help capture criminals, a strategy previously employed in Medellín.

The mayors argue the need for more comprehensive policies to be rolled out through education, culture and sport, and say that radical opposition to adults who use minors for criminal purposes must be forthcoming. One of their proposals is that every municipality should have a dedicated public safety task force.

Another is that the national surveillance guidelines for police precincts be redesigned. They believe that when planning and drafting policing methods, the idiosyncrasies, culture and crime phenomena of each city must be considered.

With regard to drug use, the mayors want to see the problem treated as a mental health issue, arguing that comprehensive policies on addiction are required. The objective, according to the mayors, is to see order and security on the streets and transform no-go areas into safe and secure environments for all.

Lastly, the Asocapitales guild made the Government aware of their concerns about the situation in both prisons and Immediate Reaction Units (URI), as well as raising the issue of a lack of funding for building new penitentiary facilities.


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The European drugs market is growing in scale and complexity

327 DROGUESDuring the first few days of December 2019, over 150 delegates from EU Member States, third partner countries and nine international organisations gathered at Europol’s headquarters for the 3rd international conference on drugs in Europe.

The conference focused on the worsening drug problem in Europe, which is expanding in both scale and complexity as supply increases across all types of narcotics.

Trends discussed at the conference
• Organised crime groups: There are more than 5,000 identified criminal groups operating in the EU in 2019 and new types of organised crime groups continue to emerge.
• Scale of the drugs market: The drugs market is thought to be the most significant criminal market in the EU, with more than 35% of active criminal groups dealing in the production, trafficking, distribution or selling of drugs.
• Supply and trafficking: Europol has detected a definite increase in the supply and traffic of drugs, with the EU being not only a hub for the production of synthetic drugs but also a key market for cocaine. One of the most popular methods used by smugglers to traffic cocaine into the EU is shipping containers.
• Violence: Violence arising from confrontations between criminal groups is increasing.
• Terrorism: There’s clear evidence, outside of the EU, that the revenue generated by some organised crime groups involved in drug trafficking funds terrorist activities.
• Deaths: Drug-related deaths in Europe primarily affect the younger and most vulnerable members of society.
• Asset recovery: Despite comprehensive legislation on money laundering in EU Member States, the number of assets and proceeds successfully confiscated remains extremely low. Only 1% of the billions of euros generated from illegal drug sales in Europe gets confiscated and more needs to be done to address this situation. There is, therefore, a growing number of criminal groups with significant profits, which they can use to finance other illegal activities and infiltrate legitimate business structures.

Response from law enforcement agencies
Law enforcement must address these developments and invest heavily in drug-related investigations in Europe. This response must include improved orientation towards the criminals most likely to be involved with organised crime in the EU and beyond.
Europol’s 2020+ strategy aims to make its operational services available to investigations being carried out by EU Member States, to improve the quality of information stored on its databases and ensure responsive support when required.
The EU’s strategy on organised crime
During the conference, delegates debated the need for an EU-led strategy on organised crime and recommended that it should aim to address the following:
• prioritise operational law enforcement efforts against high-risk organised crime groups in the EU by focusing on high-value targets as selected by the Member States with the support of Europol.
• improve handling of communications encryption and other new technology-related methods exploited by organised crime groups.
• increase operational cooperation with South American and other countries relevant to the EU as an essential tool for dealing with both general drug trafficking and the cocaine trade in specific cases.
• address inconsistencies in the legal framework and working processes used to investigate drug trafficking and other international issues relating to organised crime in the EU.
• place more emphasis on the confiscation of criminal assets.


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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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