Organized crime groups in Canada are increasingly turning to technology to commit financial fraud, including using advanced malware and popular online social networking sites, according to a new report.
Sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube, and bulletin boards like Craigslist and Kijiji are being used by fraudsters to issue fake press releases, trade lists of victims, and recruit accomplices, says the report, released by Criminal Intelligence Services Canada (CISC).
Criminal networks are using technology to communicate securely, conceal their activities, target victims, and locate valuable goods, such as large caches of stolen personal and commercial data.
“Criminal groups are constantly adapting to exploit new opportunities for illicit profit and take advantage of communication and transportation technologies that increase the scope and range of their unlawful activities,” said RCMP Commissioner William Elliott in a press statement.
Presented last Friday in Edmonton by Elliott and officials from agencies that belong to the CISC, the report provides a general overview of the evolution of organized crime in Canada to mark the 25th anniversary of the CISC “Report on Organized Crime.”
It also examines various global trends and gives an overview of the current direction of criminal markets in Canada, which include Ponzi schemes, distribution of illegal drugs and pharmaceuticals, mortgage fraud, dealing in counterfeit goods, vehicle and heavy equipment theft, and securities fraud, among others.
In the past five years, the number of crime groups in Canada has fluctuated between 600 and well over 900, the report says.
Most operate out of major criminal hubs, such as B.C.’s Lower Mainland, the Greater Toronto Area, and the greater Montreal region. These influence criminal activities in other regions.
Besides the traditional areas of prostitution, illicit drugs, illegal gambling, and the smuggling of contraband goods that have existed for centuries, crime groups are constantly looking to exploit new markets that can emerge from changes to regulations or with new policies
One example is Interpol’s warning that the United Nations-backed effort to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) will provide opportunities to criminal groups involved in fraud.
REDD aims to offer billions of dollars to developing countries to conserve and restore their forests by allowing them to earn carbon credits that can be sold to developed countries that need the credits to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Fraudulent schemes could claim carbon credits for non-existent forests.
As for technology, organized crime groups are using it for a wide range of illegal activities.
Some criminal networks are exclusively virtual with illicit activities and communications occurring entirely online. Members rarely meet in person and individuals may be known by their online alias or nickname.
As these “e-criminals” become more sophisticated, the use of advanced malware and botnets (networks of compromised Internet-connected computers) will allow them to steal more private data and effectively conceal their activity.
Flaws that can be used to intercept data illicitly or compromise systems will be exploited by criminal groups to facilitate cyber-attacks for profit.
Elliott said public awareness is vital to helping people avoid becoming victims of organized crime, and the report is intended to provide an up-to-date understanding of the various types of threats involved.
“Too many Canadians are subjected to the damaging effects of criminal activity, ranging from the thousands of investors in Canada who have lost their retirement savings, to communities across Canada who struggle with the threat and harm posed by street gangs,” he said.