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bold new world Cash is always king but virus has changed underworld as drug offences and cyber scams on rise


Lockdowns have created a stong market for domestic drug use

Lockdowns have created a stong market for domestic drug use

Lockdowns have created a stong market for domestic drug use

THE last 15 months have changed our lives forever, even when it comes to the types of crime we are subjected to.

People now can legitimately be more concerned about clicking a link sent to their phone by an organised fraud gang than about a burglar breaking into their home.

The hacking attack on the HSE has certainly focused minds on just how lethal and insidious the gangs involved in cyber crime are.

Hundreds of ordinary Irish people have been victims of this new wave of crime known as smishing and phishing.

The bad news is this type of crime is not going away any time soon as it has yielded millions of euro for highly sophisticated organised crime gangs, operating on a global scale.

The good news is that the gardaí's fraud squad, now known as the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB), are considered one of the most efficient and best-run specialist units in Europe.

With a global network, detectives in the GNECB fight a battle every day against these criminal organisations.

"International police forces, Europol and Interpol are seeing what the bureau are doing and reaching out to us for advice and assistance," a senior source said.

Last year there was a marked decline in recorded crime, according to statistics released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in March.

With reported thefts down 24.5pc, robberies down 22.9pc and assaults and related offences down 13.2pc, a dramatic decline was observed in 2020 compared with the previous year.

As well as this, 354 fewer sexual offences were reported last year, representing a 10.6pc decline.

However, there was a shocking increase in domestic violence offences, with more people stuck at home in unhappy and potentially fatal arrangements.

Drug offences increased by 9.1pc as addicts and dealers "stood out like sore thumbs" when the country was in its various lockdowns.

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While not unheard of during lockdowns, gardaí say the robbery of a cash-in-transit van in the Dublin suburb of Crumlin on Thursday morning is likely to become a lot more common in the months ahead.

"There was not very much cash going around for a long time because businesses were closed and almost everyone was using cards.

"But this is going to change now that everything is opening up," a senior source said.

"Cash is still king in the criminal underworld."

John Deane-O'Keeffe, a Dublin based criminologist and lecturer in forensic psychology has been watching the changing trends in criminality.

"Theft, robbery and burglary always account for the highest crime figures whether in or out of a pandemic - that is not likely to change regardless," he told the Herald.

"Having said that, criminals behave differently depending on circumstances that are before them.

"For example, during the lockdown, there were very few people on the streets at any given time - this ensured that there simply wasn't the opportunity for street crime," he added.

Mr Deane-O'Keeffe does not believe burglary offences will increase dramatically now that the country is out of lockdown.

"Remote working is here to stay - even the Government will introduce legislation to enshrine this right later this year," he said.

"This may well have an impact on burglaries, though to what degree, remains to be seen.

Street robbery and theft from shops for example is bound to make its return."

More than €30m worth of drugs and around €5m in cash has been seized by gardaí so far this year from criminal gangs.

According to acting Justice Minister Heather Humphreys, this figure represents an increase of 392pc over the same period last year.

Mr Dean-O'Keeffe believes that the drug crime figures have been skewed by the pandemic.

"Expect a greater 'balance' on the delivery and consumption of drugs. In other words, while recreational drug use will rise back up as social life opens up, the pandemic has potentially created a new, stronger local market for domestic use."

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