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serious concerns Europol report warns of criminal gangs offering fake vaccines and bogus Covid-19 home testing kits

A significant report has raised serious concerns about the threat organised crime poses to the EU, which it says has never been greater.


Criminal gangs are offering fake Covid-19 vaccines and bogus home testing kits as they capitalise on the ongoing health pandemic across Europe.

A significant report has raised serious concerns about the threat organised crime poses to the EU, which it says has never been greater.

Europol’s Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTAS) report is a four-yearly review into the impact of high-level crime on the EU.

It warns that unprecedented quantities of cocaine are being trafficked into Europe from Latin America with gangs generating multi-billion euro profits.

The ongoing health pandemic, it said, has also given new opportunities for criminals to exploit citizens using a wide-range of methods.

This includes offering ineffective goods such as fake Covid home testing kits or fraudulent prescriptions used to treat the disease.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted a surge in the trade of illicit medical supplies such as counterfeit face masks, gloves, hand sanitiser as well as fake vaccines,” the report noted.

“Legitimate suppliers were initially unable to meet the sudden increase in demand for personal protective equipment and sanitary products, which resulted in opportunities for criminals”.

The EU’s security agency previously identified the Rathkeale Rovers, an Irish-based crime gang, as forging Covid-19 tests results and selling the false documents across Europe.

The SOCTAS report noted that while domestic burglaries have dropped due to lockdowns, gangs adapted by engaging in various types of Covid schemes to gain access to peoples homes.

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Europol also warned of a potential deep economic recession post-pandemic which may facilitate the growth of serious and organised crime in the EU.

It said that “entrepreneurial and ruthless” criminals may further exploit vulnerabilities and turn them into opportunities for criminal involvement.

The EU’s security agency also warned that the rollout of vaccination programmes may lead to a surge in cybercrime activity, including cyberattacks on pharmaceutical research.

Catherine de Bolle, executive director of Europol, said she was concerned by the impact of serious and organised crime on the daily lives of Europeans, economic growth, and the strength of state institutions.

“I am also concerned by the potential of these phenomena to undermine the rule of law,” Ms de Bolle added.

Other key aspects noted in the report were that almost 40pc of crime gangs are linked to the drugs trade, while trafficking of humans and online fraud continue to pose significant threats.

It also found that almost two thirds (60pc) of criminal networks engage in corruption at various levels, from low-level bribery to complex multi-million euro schemes.

The vast majority of organised crime groups (80pc) use legal business structures to facilitate their activity while relying on digital apps such as social media and encrypted servers to communicate.

Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, said the SOCTAS report shows that organised crime is a transnational threat to the EU.

“70% of criminal groups are active in more than three Member States. The complexity of the modern criminal business models was exposed in 2020 when French and Dutch authorities supported by Europol and Eurojust dismantled EncroChat; an encrypted phone network used by criminal networks.

“Organised crime groups are professional and highly adaptable as shown during the COVID-19 pandemic. We must support law enforcement to keep up, offline and online, to follow the digital trail of criminals,” he added.

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