Two new reports by EU law enforcement agency, Europol, highlight resurgent criminals posing new and increased threats in the ‘new normal’ of a post-coronavirus world.

Two new reports by EU law enforcement agency, Europol, will give supply chain resilience professionals plenty to think about with resurgent criminals posing new and increased threats in the ‘new normal’ of a post-coronavirus world...


Covid-19 has severely disrupted the global supply chain landscape, such as the closure of manufacturing bases in China, reductions in transportation capacity, and sudden changes in consumer demand. Government-imposed lockdowns have also forced a high percentage of the global population to work from home with the assistance of digital solutions to maintain colleague and customer connectivity.

Typically, criminals have seized upon opportunities these changes have created by adapting their modus operandi or engaging in new criminal activities in digital forms, as highlighted in the latest Europol report on the current criminal landscape in Europe.

Cybercrime increases as firms rely on digital technologies

A recent cyberattack on Brno University Hospital in the Czech Republic forced the hospital to shut down its entire IT network and halt operations, a reminder of the risks facing all businesses and institutions. As firms embrace remote working and allow wider connections to their data systems, criminals have been quick to find vulnerabilities and loopholes in these newly-adopted technologies. There have been widespread reports of Covid-19 themed social engineering attacks that exploit the demand people have for information and equipment supplies, such as phishing emails and malware distribution through malicious links and attachments.

Hackers have also targeted the information layer of supply chains to access confidential logistics information, including shipment schedules and security surveillance of warehouses, ports and terminals, helping them to identify the most lucrative shipments to steal, when to carry out thefts, and how to conduct the operation. After a cargo theft, tech-savvy criminals can cover their tracks by deleting or altering digital data and records.

TAPA members managing cyber supply chain risks can look at using protective systems, updating security programmes regularly and transmitting data with encryption as part of their resilience solutions.

Themed frauds and scams capitalize on virus fears

Capitalising on anxieties and fears during this crisis, some fraudsters have developed schemes around Covid-19 to facilitate crimes. These include various types of adapted telephone scams, decontamination scams and supply scams. This is perhaps best illustrated by one European company which did not subsequently receive its US$7 million order of alcohol gels and face masks sourced from what turned out to be a bogus supplier.  

Clearly, vigilance is the key to maintaining security. Verification of personnel identity and awareness of the latest governing regulations should be included at each transition checkpoint.

Counterfeit and substandard goods infiltrate the market

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, demand for and sales of healthcare products, sanitary products, personal protective equipment and pharmaceuticals have increased exponentially and news of the supply shortages has been broadcast across the globe.  

Coupled with cyber data theft of key business information, like blueprints of genuine products and serial numbers, criminals have quickly taken advantage of such shortages to infiltrate the market with counterfeit products. In the first week in March 2020 alone, over 34,000 counterfeit surgical masks were seized by law enforcement authorities worldwide as part of Operation PANGEA supported by Europol.

Organized property crime remains dynamic

Organized crime that involves impersonation of representatives of public authorities at commercial premises, facilities and transport routes are expected to increase. Multiple firms in the EU have reported crimes with this type of modus operandi, whereby perpetrators gain access by impersonating medical staff providing information material or hygiene products, or conducting a ‘Corona-test’.

Security at facilities and trucking operations should be reviewed with global Standards such as TAPA’s Facility Security Requirement (FSR) and Trucking Security Requirement (TSR) likely to see an even higher level of adoption as Manufacturers and Logistics Service Providers step up their efforts to prevent organized property- and product-related crimes.

The threat of cybercrime for the logistics and transportation industry will continue to emerge from the pandemic and continue to pose a significant risk in post-pandemic times as criminals look to leverage the lasting legacy of Covid-19. It is now increasingly important for firms to focus on supply chain cyber security as a core component of the overall supply chain resilience strategies.


The decisions of countries around the world to close their external borders in a bid to control and isolate the outbreak of COVID-19 may have disrupted the activities of people traffickers and irregular migration in Europe … but with lockdowns now being relaxed, a ‘new wave’ of activity is expected to bring further pressure to bear on border authorities and law enforcement agencies as well as businesses which are most often the unsuspecting victims of criminal gangs who make their money from transporting vulnerable and economic migrants across international borders.

Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) predicts irregular migration to Europe will surge again once Covid-19 related travel restrictions are lifted, and also highlights some of the new ways criminals are finding ways to maintain their revenue streams by helping migrants to enter or travel across Europe.       

The EMSC report also looks back at operations in 2019 and intelligence gathered to help consider the possible evolution of these crimes in the upcoming months and to prepare a more effective response to these life-threatening activities.

It states: ‘Enhanced border control measures and travel restrictions put in place throughout the EU have led to a shift in the smuggling activities from air to land and sea routes. Small boats are increasingly being used to cross river borders. Migrants are also smuggled hidden in concealments in freight vehicles and cargo trains which still move across borders. The travel restrictions may also complicate the employment of seasonal labour in the agricultural sector and increase the demand for trafficked third-country migrants already present in the areas.’

A Joint Liaison Task Force focussing on migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings was set up at Europol to speed up cooperation in major investigations, such as the widely-publicised incident in Essex in the United Kingdom last year when 39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in a refrigerated lorry. ‘A focus on high-value targets and operational task forces have and will further streamline major investigations as Europol is committed to providing increased support to national authorities to protect lives by combating human trafficking and migrant smuggling,’ the report adds.

EMSC uses the update to share information on some of its notable successes in the last year. This included the targeting of a gang involved in the dangerous transportation of migrants in refrigerator lorries. The report states: ‘The French Border Guard, together with the French National Police and the Dutch Royal Marechaussee, supported by Europol and Eurojust, dismantled a large criminal network involved in the transportation of around 10,000 Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi-Kurdish and Syrian migrants from the French areas of Le Mans and Poitiers to the UK.

‘The irregular migrants were transported in life-threatening conditions, concealed in refrigerated - often overcrowded – lorries with up to 20 persons per transport. The irregular migrants paid up to €7,000 for the dangerous journey. The payments were collected via an undercover banking system run by a suspect in the Netherlands. In total, the criminal gang is suspected to have gained around €70 million in profit from their illegal activities.’

It continues: ‘Tragic incidents like the Essex case or the death by suffocation of 71 irregular migrants in an abandoned refrigerated lorry in Austria in August 2015 highlight the risks that smugglers are willing to take when trying to hide the highest possible number of irregular migrants inside a compartment to maximise their profits.’ It also recorded explicitly violent behaviour such as stabbings among criminal groups, robberies of migrants and shootings at rest areas where migrants were put onto trucks en route to the UK, which led to additional injuries and fatalities.

‘Irregular migrants are frequently put into locked, dark and airtight cargo compartments in crowded, inhumane conditions, unsuitable for passenger transport. The types of compartments include cargo bays of lorries, trailers and transporter vans; hidden, purpose-built compartments in cars, vans or lorries; and boots and even engine compartments. The irregular migrants are usually transported for several hours without stopping to avoid apprehension. Migrant smugglers also frequently employ the general method of hiding irregular migrants in cargo compartments by misusing cargo trains for the transportation across the Western Balkans and neighbouring countries. In the first quarter of 2020, smuggling in compartments remained the most widely used modus operandi in secondary movements from Greece, across the region towards northern EU countries, as well as across the EU and towards the UK.’

Sadly, such incidents are expected to escalate.

To read the full report, click here