Organized Crime in the Time of Corona
by Michael Gorman

Many areas of organized crime took a serious beating since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. With the sealed borders that prevent the smuggling of contrabands and the closed streets where drug dealers used to sell their products, many of the criminals’ activities have been brought to an indefinite halt.

However, it would be rushed to think that the earth’s mobsters failed to find their ways to criminal activities. In fact, it seems like they’ve truly outdone themselves during this global crisis. From the criminal underbelly of the Internet that yielded more frequent cyber-attacks than ever, to innovative and unexpected ways to infiltrate the health systems, criminals seem to adjust to the change rather fast and effectively.

Sergio Nazzaro, a spokesperson for the Anti-mafia parliamentary commission’s president of Italy, has stated the following: ‘’The mafia is like the coronavirus – it will get you wherever you are.’’

How Has the Pandemic Affected the World of Crime?

In China, the place that’s known as the world’s capital of counterfeiting, criminal enterprises are left without their main sources of supply due to the lockdown of Chinese factories. In Bosnia, thieves find it harder than ever to steal vehicles, and we all know how big of a problem this country had with such crime. It seems to be harder to steal cars when the streets are devoid of people and quieter than ever, says the GI-TOC.

One of the areas where organized crime is hurt most badly is the area of sports. The cessation of collegiate and professional sports such as the NCAA has impacted the regular money supply for criminal organizations such as La Casa Nostra and their gambling operations.

It’s not news that the criminal world has also suffered great losses, but they seem to be coping and dealing better than everyone else. Frederick Yang, a former professor of criminology and current writer at academized believes that ‘the criminals are as strong as ever, and their strength only grows while we focus hard on beating the pandemics. Most of the time, their big actions even go unnoticed, and we’ll realize it too late.’’

Organized Crime across the Globe during the Coronavirus Pandemic

The strength of the mafia is highly evident in places like Rio de Janeiro where criminals are strengthening their relationship with the state by helping them enforce the lockdown at night. Several painted notices have been found across this location, telling people that if they leave their homes, organized crime will do the right thing and punish them. There even was a video where the loudspeaker shared a terrifying message: ‘Anyone found messing or walking around outside will be punished.’’

It seems that, thanks to this pandemic, mobsters have found new opportunities for crime, some of which could be long-term. The increased partnership with the state is certainly one such perk. Bethany Terrence, a remote criminology writer who performs dissertations services at a content writing company stated that: ‘’the criminal world has made such strong progress, it will last for decades to come.’’

In Switzerland, one of the safest places in the world, there has been an increase of criminals who loot properties. They present themselves as representatives from official state agencies, requesting access to different establishments and properties in order to ‘disinfect them of coronavirus’. To be more, Europol has issued a report that vacated establishments are at high risk of criminal activities, especially since people choose to depart to their secondary residences and leave their city residences empty.

To make matters worse, there have been many reports around the world regarding frauds called the ‘grandma trick’. Criminals seem to present themselves as doctors, asking to be introduced into a person’s home to test the people for the coronavirus. Once they’re granted access, they burglarize the place.

The areas that are most affected by crime at this point are the healthcare and the Internet. In the countries where organized crime has already infiltrated the health systems, the value of stolen healthcare spending has increased significantly in the past month. The United States has issued a report in 2012 estimating that around 10% of the healthcare spent value is being stolen on a yearly basis. With the pandemic and the increase in spending, these numbers are becoming significantly higher.

Six in every 10 products used in the healthcare industry are expired, falsified, or stolen in Mexico. According to GI-TOC, the Jalisco New Generation cartel promotes pirated drugs’ production and demands that pharmacies sell them to people.

The strength with which the criminals work is evident by the number of raids that Interpol coordinated in a single month. They’ve made 121 arrests of a worldwide level and dismantled 37 organized crime groups. In the process, Interpol seized items like hand sanitizers, counterfeit masks, coronavirus packages and sprays, as well as numerous antiviral medications that are unauthorized.

In Italy, the police is frequently seizing counterfeit masks while in Ukraine, there have been attempt to smuggle the most essential stocks of hand sanitizers and medical face masks.

The Mafia is sure gaining a lot of local support in the Italian territory by distributing food to the poor families put in quarantine. Apparently, the criminal organizations have found their ways to connect with the people and make them join their circles. Nicola Gratteri, the head of the prosecutor’s office of Catanzaro and an antimafia investigator told the Guardian the following:

‘’Millions of people work in the grey economy, which means that they haven’t received any income in more than a month and have no idea when they might return to work. […]If the state doesn’t step in soon to help these families, the mafia will provide its services, imposing their control over people’s lives.”

As we mentioned, cyber crime is one of the most frequent occurrences these days, especially now when people use technology more than ever. More and more people decide or are asked to work from home, leaving criminals with endless opportunities to perform cyber crime.

As a result of the increased use of technology, there have been a series of new phishing scams that emerged since the coronavirus outbreak. Cybercriminals seem to be impersonating the WHO to steal personal information and spread malware.

Some of the cyber attacks go beyond just scamming individuals. They are more coordinated and aimed toward infrastructures like the hospital in Brno. After the attack, the Czech hospital had to completely shut down its system and reroute all patients to the facilities nearby.

Rich Jacobs, the ASAC of the cybercrime branch at the FBI New York office, believes that there are two categories of scams in the criminal world related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first is more generic and includes the investment in companies that produce medical equipment and the solicitation of funds for cures, vaccines, and test kits. The latter is cyber attacks in the form of fake websites and phishing emails designed to get people’s personal information and IDs.

The bottom line

The criminal world has also suffered some losses, but they’ve definitely risen to the occasion. Since most law enforcement agencies across the world are understaffed and cannot focus on criminal activities in the midst of the quarantine and the crisis, the criminals have found their haven during this epidemic.

Sources:

https://www.newsbreak.com/news/0OZNwjRO/organized-crime-in-the-time-of-corona

https://globalinitiative.net/crime-contagion-impact-covid-crime/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/25/brazil-rio-gangs-coronavirus

https://www.cybernewsgroup.co.uk/europol-chiefs-warn-that-criminals-are-exploiting-coronavirus-outbreak-outline-various-scams-in-use/

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-healthcare-fraud/special-report-taking-on-the-real-miami-vice-healthcare-fraud-idUSTRE73C2HX20110413

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/29/italy-sets-aside-400m-for-food-vouchers-as-social-unrest-mounts

https://www.zdnet.com/article/czech-hospital-hit-by-cyber-attack-while-in-the-midst-of-a-covid-19-outbreak/

Matthew Farrell is the internationally-bestselling author of WHAT HAVE YOU DONE and I KNOW EVERYTHING.  His books have been sold in 16 countries and have been #1 bestsellers in the US and UK, having landed on the Washington Post and Amazon Charts best sellers lists.  He currently resides in Northern Westchester County with his wife and two daughters. Get caught up on the progress of his next thriller along with his general musings by following him on Twitter @mfarrellwriter or liking his page on Facebook: www.facebook.com/mfarrellwriter2 or Instagram @mfarrellwriterbooks.