On June 5, Europol announced the launch of the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC), designed to reinforce and strengthen support for European Union States in the struggle to combat economic crime.
“The centre we are launching today will help step up financial investigations across the EU,” said Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. “Financial and economic crime harms us all and doesn’t stop at national borders. And it’s often a key activity of organised crime groups that we can uncover if we follow the money. With our new centre, we’ll be better equipped to fight economic crime together.”
The center will be staffed 65 65 international experts and analysts providing operational assistance against criminal activities that have crippled EU’s economy in past years. Economic crime has soared, costing EU nations over €100 billion a year, Europol reports. Millions of EU citizens and thousands of business fall victim to organized crime groups each year, and only 1.1% of criminal profits are confiscated by authorities, according to estimates.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has given criminals new opportunities to exploit vulnerable citizens, and to target businesses attempting to fight through economic distress.
“The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has weakened our economy and created new vulnerabilities from which crime can emerge,” said Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director of Europol. “Economic and financial crime, such as various types of fraud, money laundering, intellectual property crime, and currency counterfeiting, is particularly threatening during times of economic crisis.”
“Unfortunately, this is also when they become most prevalent,” she said. “The European Economic and Financial Crime Centre (EFECC) at Europol will strengthen Europol’s ability to support Member States’ and partner countries’ law enforcement authorities in fighting the criminals seeking to profit from economic hardship. EFECC will serve as a platform and toolbox for financial investigators across Europe. We look forward to making lasting partnerships with them and fighting economic and financial crime together.”
To complement the inauguration of the EFECC, Europol also published a strategic report outlining Europe’s fight against financial and economic crime. Money laundering, various types of fraud and intellectual property crime were the fastest-growing criminal threats in Europe.
Many of these fraud schemes remain undetected, and international cooperation has become indispensable in hampering illegal activity. Criminals feed off the anonymity provided by the dark web, and use the platform to orchestrate sophisticated attacks against EU institutions and businesses. Exploiting the economic stimulus in the wake of the COVID-19 has often been on the agenda of cyber criminals seeking to defraud public funding.
Moreover, spikes in counterfeit goods have riddled the digital world. Platforms selling fake Coronavirus-related merchandised have sprung up overnight, promoting unconfirmed pharmaceuticals and home test kits. Frightened and unsuspecting consumers flocked to these bogus online shops, emptying their pockets and creating a prejudice for additional fraudulent schemes and even health risks.