More than 60 Europol staff now working to combat thriving organized crime market

Europol has launched the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre

Europol has launched the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC), a new division aimed at cracking down on an organized financial crime market that costs the EU an estimated €110 billion ($124 billion) a year.

With more than 60 staff, the center will provide operational support to EU member states in the investigation of money laundering activities, fraud, and corruption, along with intellectual property theft and counterfeiting.

According to Europol, the launch of the center comes as the coronavirus pandemic has provided “ample evidence” that criminals have been quick to adapt their schemes to changing conditions to exploit fears and vulnerabilities.

“Economic stimuli such as those proposed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic will be targeted by criminals seeking to defraud public funding,” the agency said.

“To effectively disrupt and deter criminals involved in serious and organised crime, law enforcement authorities need to follow the money trail as a regular part of their criminal investigations with the objective of seizing criminal profits.”

‘Significant threat’

In a live-streamed press briefing earlier today (June 5), Catherine De Bolle, executive director of Europol, said that economic and financial crimes are a “highly complex and significant threat” affecting millions of EU citizens and thousands of organizations every year.

“When I joined Europol as executive director, I saw a strong need for the creation of a financial and economic crime center,” De Bolle said. “Now the time is right to create such a center.”

De Bolle added: “The complexity of these crimes and the sophisticated expertise necessary to carry them out have always made them difficult to detect and investigate.

“What’s worse is technical innovation and the digitalization of financial transactions have presented additional challenges for law enforcement authorities.”

Cybercrime challenges

Given the growing scourge of computer-enabled fraud, digital money laundering, and other forms of cybercrime, Europol said the new unit will be working closely with its counterparts at the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3).

“The EFECC is going to work hand-in-hand with our experts within our European Cybercrime Centre,” a Europol spokesperson told The Daily Swig.

“What we typically do when we have an investigation is create an internal taskforce where we bring expertise from our various centres/teams to decide on the best investigative strategy.”

Changing behavior

Today’s launch of the EFECC was accompanied by the publication of a report that offers a breakdown of financial and economic crime in the EU.

The report underscores the way in which technology is driving a change in behavior for not only consumers, but also criminals.

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“Altogether, 58% of customers banking in the EU now regularly use digital online solutions such as websites or applications to carry out transactions,” the report states.

“While this has represented a leap in usability and accessibility of financial services for customers and financial service providers alike, this development also entails some risks.

“Customers are not necessarily proficient users of these services and a lack of technical knowledge and experience may make them vulnerable to attacks by cybercriminals deploying phishing techniques and malware solutions in order to gain access to online accounts.”

READ MORE Inside J-CAT – Europol’s Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce