Upsurge in criminal gangs operating in Europe

Almost 5,000 criminal gangs are operating within EU borders

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File picture of armed gardaí. Picture by: Niall Carson / PA Wire/Press Association Images

The number of criminal gangs operating in Europe has increased to at least 5,000, according to the EU's law enforcement agency Europol. 

There has also been an alarming increase in human smuggling activity and digital attacks on businesses known as "ransomware."

The EU’s law enforcement agency said it has identified another 17,500 individuals suspected of involvement in smuggling people across borders. 

Europol’s director, Rob Wainwright. said "We can see obvious evidence of an expanding community in migrant smuggling, as criminals have sensed a fresh opportunity to make a quick buck."

Europol’s latest serious organised crime threat assessment (Socta) highlights the change in the way crime gangs work, with nearly half now operating as “poly criminals” across different criminal subcultures. Overall, the number of groups in operation in Europe has reached almost 5,000.

Image: Europol

The new report from Europol shows the impact of cyber crime as it has become the "primary facilitator" for lawbreaking, with entrepreneurial criminal startup’s mushrooming on the darknet.

This distributed anonymous network, accessible via software such as The Onion Router (TOR), I2P and Freenet, is now the main supplier of raw materials for forged documents.

Many drug dealers use it to run semi-professional online businesses from their bedrooms. Wainright said "Some of these online markets operate in an Amazon-style way with customer feedback, 24-hour guaranteed deliveries, and help and support desks."

Image: Europol

Wainright said that gangs are becoming more powerful "The technological capacity of organised criminal gangs is advancing all the time and will very soon be powerful enough to get through the defenses of larger corporations like banks.

"The largest corporations will have to decide, as smaller businesses do today: Do you pay the ransom or not? It is a tough call and there are many aspects of that issue that have to be taken into account."

Europol believes that the rise of the darknet raises questions for lawmakers about how law enforcement authorities can identify criminals if they are hiding in the shadows.