Europol’s inaugural report on financial and economic crime highlights the alarming extent to which money laundering techniques employed by ransomware groups and cryptocurrency scammers are now cleaning the cash of nearly 70% of the world’s organized crime networks.
Despite concerted efforts by international law enforcement agencies to combat cybercrime, progress has been sluggish, resulting in European criminals reaping profits of up to €188 billion.
The report underscores how advancements in fintech are exacerbating financial malfeasance. The widespread adoption of online banking and digital-only ‘neo banks’ has led to disproportionately high rates of financial fraud and money laundering. Innovations like virtual international bank account numbers (IBAN) and ‘buy now pay later’ financing have further fueled online fraud.
Europol also points out that encrypted messaging apps, dark web marketplaces, cryptocurrencies, and other privacy-enhancing technologies shield criminals’ identities, presenting significant challenges for law enforcement agencies. Criminals can now easily access illicit digital products and technical services, even without advanced technological skills, thanks to a burgeoning “crime-as-a-service” model.
The report highlights how money laundering has become increasingly streamlined with the emergence of new types of digital assets. Professional money launderers have established a parallel underground financial system that processes transactions away from the watchful eye of legal financial mechanisms.
High-level money brokers play a pivotal role in this criminal ecosystem, providing a range of unregulated global banking and escrow services to numerous criminal organizations. This facilitates the laundering of billions of euros worth of illicit profits annually through the EU, rendering money laundering a significant criminal threat.
Europol underscores that most countries lack the requisite experience and specialized expertise needed for tracing cash, analyzing blockchain data, establishing actual ownership, managing seized assets, and facilitating recovery. Digital assets held outside of financial institutions pose an even greater challenge in terms of tracing, seizure, and confiscation.
“Organised crime has built a parallel global criminal economy around money laundering, illicit financial transfers and corruption,” explained Europol’s executive director, Catherine De Bolle. “With modern technology, they have diversified their modi operandi to evade detection.”