Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, says the COVID-19 pandemic has had a “significant impact on the serious and organised crime landscape” in the EU.
A report by the agency, published earlier this week, says, “Criminals were quick to adapt illegal products, modi operandi and narratives in order to exploit the fear and anxieties of Europeans and to capitalise on the scarcity of some vital goods during the pandemic.”
The report says that the number of reported incidents involving “live distance” child abuse has steadily increased in recent years, adding, “This development has further intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It goes on, “As a result of the lockdown measures imposed to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, children have been spending more time online unsupervised, making them more vulnerable to exploitation.”
“While most of the cases of live distance child abuse take place in Southeast Asian countries, especially in the Philippines, cases of live distance child abuse in the EU have also recently been detected.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, the agency warns, may be followed by an economic recession, adding, “it is likely that criminals will exploit vulnerabilities in the economy to infiltrate legal businesses in order to facilitate their criminal activities.”
“Previous periods of economic stress can provide some degree of insight into how these developments might affect crime in the EU and what responses need to be formulated to counter existing and emerging threats to the EU’s internal security during this time,” adds Europol, which assists Member States in their fight against serious international crime and terrorism.
“As a result of the lockdown measures imposed to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, children have been spending more time online unsupervised, making them more vulnerable to exploitation” Europol report
The report states, “This may entail loaning funds to struggling businesses and making them dependent on criminal financiers or directly buying up companies in financial difficulties.”
Social media and instant messaging services are also used to spread disinformation, it notes, adding, “while spreading disinformation in itself often does not amount to criminal behaviour, it can encourage or facilitate criminal activities.”
“Similar disinformation campaigns have also been instigated by fraudsters and counterfeiters in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to generate sales for their products or to lure victims into fraud schemes.”
In the report, Catherine De Bolle, the agency’s executive director, says, “I am concerned by the impact of serious and organised crime on the daily lives of Europeans, the growth of our economy, and the strength and resilience of our state institutions. I am also concerned by the potential of these phenomena to undermine the rule of law.”