Europol has launched a European Financial and Economic Crime Centre on to crack down on fraudsters taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new division will work with law enforcement in the European Union (EU) to fight criminals seeking to profit from the economic hardship caused by the health crisis, reports Efe news.
Catherine De Bolle, executive director of Europol, said in a statement on Friday: “The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has weakened our economy and created new vulnerabilities from which crime can emerge.
“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.”
The new centre will have a team of 65 experts and analysts working to seize money obtained from fraud.
It will work with different agencies including police, border authorities, prosecutors, financial intelligence units, asset recovery offices, De Bolle said.
She added that carrying out searches and arrests and confiscating illegal drugs is not enough and said law enforcement also need to pursue the money behind these criminal enterprises.
Almost 99 per cent of the estimated profits of organized crime are not confiscated, according to Europol data.
De Bolle said these funds need to be seized to interrupt criminal activities and dissuade further offenses.
Economic and financial crimes affect millions of people and thousands of companies in the EU every year at a cost of around 110 billion euros, according to Europol.
De Bolle said these funds “could be used for infrastructure, hospitals, schools and supporting European economies, especially after the COVID-19 crisis”.
Around 1.2 billion euros of criminal assets are confiscated each year in the EU “but we need to do more and better”, she added.
The pandemic has shown that criminals adapt quickly to changing conditions to exploit fears and vulnerability in financial systems and many criminal groups will take advantage of the situation to defraud public funds, such as budgets to stimulate national economies, Europol warned.