The European Union (EU) has established a new unit to wage war against financial crime amid an economy struck by the coronavirus pandemic.
Europol, EU’s police department, has given the green light for a 65-person investigative division to fight fraud and money laundering, DW.com reported. These crimes are expected to rise in the wake of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has weakened our economy and created new vulnerabilities from which crime can emerge,” Europol head Catherine de Bolle told the news site.
Dubbed the “European Financial and Economic Crime Center” (EFFEC), they are tasked with collaborating with Europol.
Echoing words used in the Watergate investigation of the 1970s, Europol wrote on Twitter “We need to follow the money.”
In a statement, Europol said, “The ultimate purpose of criminals is financial profit. To effectively fight organized crime we need to follow the money to its ultimate destination and take it away from criminals. That’s why today #Europol is launching the EFFEC.”
Among the sectors Europol said are at-risk by criminals during the expected economic downturn include construction, hospitality, travel and tourism, DW reported.
The new team is expected to work with authorities in the EU’s 27 member countries.
The EU estimates that 99 percent of criminal profits in Europe are never recovered. The nations say they are concerned about bailout payments made to taxpayers and business owners that governments have offered to ease the effects of the pandemic. There’s no doubt these subsidies will be targeted by criminals seeking to defraud the public, Europol warned.
Last month, PYMNTS reported the rise in financial crime during the pandemic swelled by 667 percent between the end of February and the end of March.
The report noted the thefts during the COVID-19 pandemic stem from the volume of customers digitally accessing their banks; phishing attacks; and cybercriminals who impersonate banks and government agencies and send emails prompting recipients to enter passwords or other authorization details into fraudulent websites.
PYMNTS revealed some phishers claim to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or World Health Organization, exploiting victims’ trust in these organizations to gain access to their bank accounts.