how criminals exploit the
The current crisis is unprecedented in the
their capacity to exploit this crisis means we
history of the European Union (EU).
need to be constantly vigilant and prepared.
Fol owing the outbreak of the COVID-19
Member States’ main focus is now on fighting
pandemic, Member States have imposed
the crisis from a health perspective – it is
extensive quarantine measures, including
important that we support their efforts. Crime
travel restrictions, limitations to public life
is a seriously disrupting factor and a diversion
from national and EU efforts to ensure the
health and safety of citizens. That is why it is
However, law enforcement agencies are
relevant to reinforce the fight against crime.
requested to perform their duties under
any circumstances. In many cases, their
We at Europol are in constant contact with our
responsibilities have even been extended
law enforcement partners across the EU and
to maintain public order and safety and to
beyond. During this crisis, more than ever, we
support health authorities in their work. I
must continue to support law enforcement
would like to thank our frontline health, police officers in the fight against organised crime
and other critical staff for their tireless and
and terrorism to enhance the security of
Needless to say, this situation also has
The report published today provides an
implications on the internal security of
overview of how criminals adapt their
the EU. Criminals have quickly seized the
misdeeds to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is
opportunities to exploit the crisis by adapting based on information Europol receives from
their modes of operation or developing new
the EU Member States on a 24/7 basis and
criminal activities. Organised crime groups
intends to support Member States’ law
are notoriously flexible and adaptable and
enforcement authorities in their work.
CATHERINE DE BOLLE
Executive Director, Europol
WHICH FACTORS HAVE AN IMPACT ON CRIME?
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced national governments and the EU to enact various
measures to limit the spread of the outbreak, to support public health systems, to
safeguard the economy and to ensure public order and safety.
A number of these measures have a significant impact on the serious and organised
crime landscape as well as the threat from violent extremists. To understand the
impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the internal security of the EU, it is crucial to
identify the factors that prompt changes in crime and terrorism. These factors include:
for certain goods,
mobility and flow
protective gear and
of people across
and into the EU
at home and
public life will make
visible and displace
them to home or
and fear that may
of certain illicit
goods in the EU
The global pandemic of COVID-19 is not only a serious health issue but also a
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. This is
consistent with postings in dedicated forums and boards by offenders
welcoming opportunities to engage with children whom they expect to be
more vulnerable due to isolation, less supervision and greater online exposure.
The pandemic has an impact on Darkweb operations. Certain il icit goods wil
become more expensive, as source materials become unavailable. Vendors on
the Darkweb offer special corona goods (scam material) at discounts.
The number of cyber-attacks is significant and expected to increase further.
Cybercriminals will continue to innovate in the deployment of various malware
and ransomware packages themed around the COVID-19 pandemic. They may
expand their activities to include other types of online attacks.
Cybercriminals are likely to seek to exploit an increasing number of attack
vectors as a greater number of employers adopt telework and al ow
connections to their organisations’ systems.
Attack on critical health infrastructure
Cybercriminals carried out a cyber-attack on Brno
University Hospital Brno, Czechia amid the COVID-19
outbreak in Europe. Since a state of emergency was
declared in Czechia on 12 March 2020, the attack was
considered an attack on a critical infrastructure.
The incident prompted the hospital to postpone urgent
surgeries and reroute new acute patients to a nearby
The hospital was forced to shut down its entire IT
network during the incident and two of the hospital’s
other branches, the Children’s Hospital and the Maternity
Hospital, were also affected.1
These types of attack during a public health crisis such as
the COVID-19 pandemic are particularly threatening and
carry very real risks to human lives.
1 ZDNet 2020, Czech hospital hit by cyberattack while in the midst of a COVID-19
outbreak, accessible at https://www.zdnet.com/article/czech-hospital-hit-by-cy-
Fraudsters have been very quick to adapt wel -known fraud schemes to target
individual citizens, businesses and public organisations.
These include various types of adapted versions of telephone fraud schemes,
supply scams and decontamination scams.
The activities of fraudsters will continue to target an increasing number of
victims across the EU to exploit anxieties as the crisis persists.
Fraud linked to the current pandemic is likely highly profitable for the criminals
involved and they will attempt to capitalise on the anxieties and fears of victims
throughout this crisis period. A large number of new or adapted fraud and scam
schemes can be expected to emerge over the coming weeks and months with
the potential for substantial financial damage to citizens, businesses and public
Criminals have also adapted investment scams to elicit speculative
investments in stocks related to COVID-19 with promises of substantial profits.
The emergence of new fraud schemes and a further increase in the number of
victims targeted can be expected. Even when the current crisis ends, criminals
are likely to adapt fraud schemes in order to exploit the post-pandemic
Businesses seeking to purchase supplies such as
protective masks and other equipment are being targeted
A Member State’s investigation focused on the transfer
of €6.6 mil ion from a company to another company in
Singapore to purchase alcohol gels and FFP2 and FFP3
masks. The goods were never received.1
In another case reported by a Member State, a company
attempted to purchase 3.85 mil ion masks and lost €300
000. Similar supply scams of sought-after products have
been reported by other Member States.2
1, 2 EUROPOL information.
The distribution of counterfeit and/or sub-standard goods has been a key area
of criminal activity in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sale of counterfeit healthcare and sanitary products as well as personal
protective equipment (PPE) and counterfeit pharmaceutical products has
increased manifold since the outbreak of the crisis. The advertisement and sale
of these items take place both on and offline.
Some developments, such as the distribution of fake corona home testing
kits, are particularly worrying from a public health perspective.
The sale of counterfeit and/or sub-standard goods on and offline is booming
in the pandemic economy. There is particularly high demand for certain
types of healthcare and sanitary products (masks, gloves, cleaning products,
pharmaceutical products), which has created a substantial market for product
counterfeiters, fraudsters and profiteers.
The number of offers of counterfeit and sub-standard good will continue to
increase, particularly online. There is a risk that counterfeiters will use shortages
in the supply of some goods to increasingly provide counterfeit alternatives both
on and offline. This may entail sub-standard or counterfeit foods, hygiene items
and other everyday goods.
Criminals take advantage of the high demand in hygiene
products driven by the COVID-19 outbreak1
Europol supported a global operation to target The operation in numbers
trafficking counterfeit medicines. Operation
Pangea, coordinated by INTERPOL and
• 121 arrests;
involved 90 countries worldwide, took place
• €13 mil ion in potential y dangerous
between 3 and 10 March 2020.
The pandemic has opened up a business
• 326 00 packages inspected;
opportunity for predatory criminals.
Authorities around the world seized nearly
• 48 000 packages seized;
34 000 counterfeit surgical masks, the most
commonly sold medical product online. Law
• 4.4 mil ion units of il icit
enforcement officers identified more than 2
pharmaceuticals seized worldwide;
000 links to products related to COVID-19.
• 37 000 unauthorised and counterfeit
The results of the operation reveal a worrying medical devices seized (mostly surgical
increase in unauthorised antiviral medications masks and self-testing kits for HIV and
and the antimalarial chloroquine. Vitamin C,
known for its immune-boosting properties,
and other food supplements have been seized • 2 500 links taken down (websites,
around the world. Painkil ers and antibiotics
social media, online marketplaces,
also represented a significant portion of the
• 37 organised crime groups dismantled.
d t v
atio f t
n bhe h
il h d
rm n h
ange and providing
cal s ri
ort. y the COVID-19 outbreak1
1 Europol 2020, Criminals take advantage of the high demand in hygiene products driven by the COVID-19 outbreak,
accessible at https://www.europol.europa.eu/newsroom/news/rise-of-fake-%E2%80%98corona-cures%E2%80%99-re-
Various types of schemes involving thefts associated with organised property
crime have been adapted by criminals to exploit the current situation. This
includes the wel -known ‘nephew’ or ‘grandchild’ trick and scams involving the
impersonation of representatives of public authorities.
Commercial premises and medical facilities are expected to be increasingly
targeted for organised burglaries.
The level of activity of criminals involved in organised property crime is
expected to further increase during the crisis.
The same types of thefts using deception encountered during the COVID-19
crisis have existed before, but criminals have adapted their modi operandi
to the current situation. The number of attempts involving these types of
thefts and scams is likely to increase across the EU.
While all EU citizens are at risk of being victimised, it appears certain fraud
schemes are particularly targeting vulnerable members of society, such as
the elderly. Fraudsters also approach victims at home by pretending to be law
enforcement or healthcare officials offering testing for COVID-19 and other
pretences to enter homes and steal valuables.
Faking and entering
Multiple Member States have reported a similar modus
operandi for theft. The perpetrators gain access to
private homes by impersonating medical staff providing
information material or hygiene products or conducting a
A Member State reported a case where the perpetrators
cal ed the victim to inform them that a relative is infected
and in hospital. They claimed that doctors would have
to come and take an immediate ‘corona test’. These fake
doctors came to the victim’s home in protective clothing
and masks in the middle of the night. The suspects then
took an apparent swab sample from the victim’s mouth
and wiped his forearms with apparent strips of paper to
test it. He was then told that the evaluation of the test
would take about five hours.
It is difficult to assess the short-term impact of the current pandemic crisis
on drug markets, but it is likely to shift supply-demand dynamics and
may disrupt il egal supply channels. Some reporting indicates stockpiling
of certain drugs by consumers and supply shortages in (pre-)precursors
and essential chemicals used in drug production in the EU, which wil
likely impact on production output and prices. This area requires careful
monitoring as supply shortages have the potential to translate into an
increase in the number of incidents of drug-related violence between rival
suppliers and distributors.
Migrant smuggling has been a key security and humanitarian chal enge to
the EU over the last five years and remains so during the COVID-19 pandemic
crisis. There is likely to be increased demand for services of migrant
smuggling networks to enter the EU or to make secondary movements
to circumvent the enhanced border control measures currently in place
throughout the EU.
There are some concerns that the closure of establishments offering legal
sex work may increase the number of incidents of sexual exploitation.
EUROPOL PROVIDES SUPPORT OPERATIONAL ACTIVITIES
TO LAW ENFORCEMENT
PARTNERS DURING THE CRISIS EU Law Enforcement Emergency Response
Protocol for Large-Scale Cyber-Attacks
Europol is ready to support Member State law
The possibility of a large-scale cyber-
enforcement authorities and other partners
attack with serious repercussions in the
throughout this unprecedented crisis.
physical world and crippling an entire
Europol continues to offer ongoing support in
sector or society is no longer unthinkable.
coordinating investigations between different
To prepare for major cross-border cyber-
Member States and providing a sophisticated
attacks, a European Union Law Enforcement
platform for the vital exchange of information.
Emergency Response Protocol (EU LE ERP)
was adopted by the Council of the European
Crime and terrorism will find ways to continue to
Union in December 2018. The Protocol
operate across borders even in times of border
gives a central role to Europol’s European
closures and Europol urges our partners to share Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and is part of the
any pertinent investigations and intel igence to
EU Blueprint for Coordinated Response to
al ow us to identify cross-border links.
Large-Scale Cross-Border Cybersecurity
Europol continues to be the information hub for
Incidents and Crises.
the exchange of intel igence between Member
States and with partner law enforcement
The EU LE ERP serves as a tool to support
authorities. In times of social distancing and
EU law enforcement authorities in providing
remote working, the ability to quickly and
immediate response to major cross-border
effortlessly share information is particularly
cyber-attacks through rapid assessment,
crucial in carrying on with investigations relying
the secure and timely sharing of critical
on analytical output.
information and effective coordination of the
international aspects of their investigations.
Europol serves as a platform to exchange
intel igence and provides Member States and
other partners with solutions such as the
EC3 has regular coordination cal s on the
European Platform for Experts (EPE). These
cyber impact of COVID-19 with the EU’s
solutions are highly compatible with remote
cybersecurity agency ENISA and CERT-EU,
working and are ideal col aboration tools.
a col ection of security experts from EU
Providing the Member States’ law
enforcement authorities and our partners
with an up-to-date situational picture is a
Europol continues to inform the general
key priority for Europol during this crisis. To
public of these scams during the
do this, Europol is committing resources to
pandemic through preventive social media
continuous monitoring of the situation and
campaigns. Europol invites countries to
to provide immediate support to Member
work with us on shaping and disseminating
States if needed.
PANDEMIC PROFITEERING: HOW CRIMINALS EXPLOIT THE COVID-19 CRISIS
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