People smuggling gangs are increasingly using social media platforms such as Facebook and Telegram to advertise their services, according to a new report.
Published to mark the one-year anniversary of the opening of Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC), the report reveals that 1,150 suspect social media accounts were reported in 2016, a massive increase on the 148 identified the previous year.
Human trafficking gangs are using social media accounts to offer a range of smuggling services for people looking to enter Europe illegally, including sea and air travel, sham marriages and fake work and study permits.
Europol said the growing number of services smugglers are offering online indicates they are now bribing crooked officials from European embassies in countries located mostly outside the EU.
Most of the accounts advertising smugglers’ services appear to be operated from non-EU nations, with the majority apparently based in Turkey, according to the report. However, the EMSC last year recorded an uptick in the number of accounts based inside Europe, many of which offer high-quality fake travel documents and smuggling into the Europe by land.
The EMSC sent 16 intelligence alerts to member states in relation to social media accounts promoting smuggling services last year, resulting in a number of investigations being launched in multiple countries. One of these probes culminated in the detection of 12 migrants on a cargo ship arriving in Slovenia.
According to the report, social media will likely consolidate its position as a major platform for smugglers looking to promote their services in 2017. The EMSC said it would continue to work with service providers to tackle the growing number of social media accounts being used by traffickers.
Europol boss Rob Wainwright said: “Over 90% of all migrants that reach the EU have used the facilitation services of a migrant smuggling network.
“These organised crime networks are taking mass profits from mass migration, and making migrant smuggling the fastest growing criminal sector. To tackle this, we have brought together some of the best investigators in Europe in the EMSC.”
Since opening last year, the EMSC has identified 17,400 new suspected migrant smugglers and assisted in more than 2,000 new international investigations. Approaching a quarter of these were related to identity/travel document fraud, with investigators detecting 2,589 identity documents that had been forged, counterfeit or reported lost or stolen.
In April last year, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed that smuggling gangs offering entry to Britain were promoting their services via more than 200 websites, including social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
Tom Dowdall, Deputy Director of the NCA’s Border Policing Command, said: “In addressing social media recruitment, the taskforce has analysed over 200 social media sites to help secure evidence for potential prosecutions or to disrupt criminal activity.”