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SCARS™ Special Report: How Criminals Are Profiting From The Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic

Europol Decries The Latest Developments Of COVID-19 On The Criminal Landscape In The EU & The World

During this unprecedented crisis, governments across the globe are intensifying their efforts to combat the global spread of the coronavirus by enacting various measures to support public health systems, safeguard the economy and to ensure public order and safety.

A number of these measures have a significant impact on the serious and organized crime landscape.

Criminals have been quick to seize opportunities to exploit the crisis by adapting their modi operandi or engaging in new criminal activities. Factors that prompt changes in crime and terrorism include:

  • High Demand for certain goods, protective gear and pharmaceutical products;
  • Decreased Mobility and flow of people across and into the EU;
  • Citizens Remain At Home and are increasingly teleworking, relying on digital solutions;
  • Limitations To Public Life will make some criminal activities less visible and displace them to home or online settings;
  • Increased Anxiety And Fear that may create vulnerability to exploitation;
  • Decreased Supply of certain illicit goods in the EU.

The current crisis is unprecedented in the history of the European Union (EU) and the World.

NOTE: SCARS is a cybercrime affiliate of both Europol & the Council of Europe.

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Member States have imposed extensive quarantine measures, including travel restrictions, limitations to public life and lockdowns.

According to Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director, Europol

“Law enforcement agencies are requested to perform their duties under any circumstances. In many cases, their responsibilities have even been extended to maintain public order and safety and to support health authorities in their work. I would like to thank our frontline health, police and other critical staff for their tireless and relentless work.”

“Needless to say, this situation also has implications on the internal security of the EU. Criminals have quickly seized the opportunities to exploit the crisis by adapting their modes of operation or developing new criminal activities. Organized crime groups are notoriously flexible and adaptable and their capacity to exploit this crisis means we need to be constantly vigilant and prepared.”

“Member States’ main focus is now on fighting the crisis from a health perspective – it is important that we support their efforts. Crime is a seriously disrupting factor and a diversion from national and EU efforts to ensure the health and safety of citizens. That is why it is relevant to reinforce the fight against crime.”

“We at Europol are in constant contact with our law enforcement partners across the EU and beyond. During this crisis, more than ever, we must continue to support law enforcement officers in the fight against organised crime and terrorism to enhance the security of European citizens.”

“The report published today provides an overview of how criminals adapt their misdeeds to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is based on information Europol receives from the EU Member States on a 24/7 basis and intends to support Member States’ law enforcement authorities in their work.”

The United States Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Homeland Security are addressing these issues in similar ways.

In May SCARS will be addressing 2,000 entities and agencies through an even sponsored by eh U.S. Department of Homeland Security.



The number of cyberattacks against organizations and individuals is significant and is expected to increase. Criminals have used the COVID-19 crisis to carry out social engineering attacks themed around the pandemic to distribute various malware packages.

Cybercriminals are also likely to seek to exploit an increasing number of attack vectors as a greater number of employers institute telework, working from home, and allow connections to their organizations’ (employer’s) systems.

Critical Example: The Czech Republic reported a cyberattack on Brno University Hospital which forced the hospital to shut down its entire IT network, postpone urgent surgical interventions and re-route new acute patients to a nearby hospital.


Fraudsters have been very quick to adapt well-known fraud schemes to capitalize on the anxieties and fears of victims throughout the crisis. These include various types of adapted versions of telephone fraud schemes, supply scams, medical supplies scams, and decontamination scams. A large number of new or adapted fraud schemes can be expected to emerge over the coming weeks are fraudsters will attempt to capitalize further on the anxieties of people across Europe and around the world.

Critical Example: An investigation supported by Europol focuses on the transfer of €6.6 million by a company to a company in Singapore in order to purchase alcohol gels and FFP3/2 masks. The goods were never received.


The sale of counterfeit healthcare and sanitary products as well as personal protective equipment and counterfeit pharmaceutical products has increased manifold since the outbreak of the crisis. There is a risk that counterfeiters will use shortages in the supply of some goods to increasingly provide counterfeit alternatives both on- and offline.

Critical Example: Between 3-10 March 2020, over 34 000 counterfeit surgical masks were seized by law enforcement authorities worldwide as part of Operation PANGEA supported by Europol.


Various types of schemes involving thefts have been adapted by criminals to exploit the current situation. This includes the well-known scams involving the impersonation of representatives of public authorities and government. Commercial premises and medical facilities are expected to be increasingly targeted for organized burglaries.

Despite the introduction of further quarantine measures throughout Europe, the crime threat remains dynamic and new or adapted types of criminal activities will continue to emerge during the crisis and in its aftermath.

Critical Example: Multiple countries have reported on a similar modus operandi for theft. The perpetrators gain access to private homes by impersonating medical staff providing information material or hygiene products or conducting a “Coronavirus test”.

Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said: “While many people are committed to fighting this crisis and helping victims, there are also criminals  who have been quick to seize the opportunities to expl