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Europol's latest organized crime report has identified 5,000 active groups in Europe - it attributed a major increase to the emergence of new groups relying almost entirely on high-tech methods.
Europe's police agency director Rob Wainwright said that "improved intelligence" and the emergence of smaller groups operating solely online have raised Europol's count of organized crime groups.
In 2013, when Europol last released a large-scale report, it had documented 3,600 internationally operational high-tech crime groups across the 28-nation bloc.
Drug drones, rather than mules
High-tech crimes - such as document fraud, money laundering and online trading in illegal goods - were at the root of the increase in Europe, the police agency said in its latest assessment.
"These cross-cutting criminal threats enable and facilitate most, if not all, other types of serious and organized crime, such as drugs and people trafficking," it said.
That meant "new challenges" for law enforcement authorities, said Wainwright.
One misused innovation was the drug trade's use of drones, Europol said. Drones have become a popular, lower-risk delivery method for drug dealers - particularly when trying to deliver to closed or guarded environments with high demand like prisons.
Drug trafficking was the largest criminal market in the European Union, generating 24 billion euros ($25 billion) in profits each year, according to the Europol report.
Dealing in desperation
People smuggling had also become a lucrative criminal trade in recent years, Europol said, as record numbers of people tried to escape wars and unrest in the Middle East and Africa to reach Europe.
"Nearly all of the irregular migrants arriving in the EU along these routes use the services offered by criminal networks at some point during their journey," Europol said.
Its report also documents currency counterfeiting, arms trafficking and cybercrime, including "ransomware," intrusive software which blocks a person or company's computer until a fee is paid to unlock it.
ipj/msh (Reuters, dpa)