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The Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown on Crime and Security – Rita de Cássia Fransosi Farina

By December 5, 2020August 28th, 2021No Comments

Today the world finds itself in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. It is an event that no one was able to foresee and that is causing countless changes in different sectors around the world. It’s not possible yet to calculate the consequences that this pandemic, caused by the new coronavirus, will bring to humanity. 

It is safe to say that with quarantine and lockdown, thousands of people changed their social behaviors and spent months inside their homes and this brought significant changes in the dynamics of crime, that is, criminals had to reinvent themselves and create new opportunities to commit crimes.

To support these ideas, the methodology used in this work was based on statistical data and reports presented by international organizations such as Interpol and UN Women. An attempt was made to compare such data between countries such as France, the United States, Spain and others. 

In this elaboration, the topics were divided into subcategories and a quantitative work was done to try to show how the coronavirus situation affected crimes such as cybercrime, fraud and domestic violence. Said that, the methodology used was of a comparative nature to raise reflections and questions about the changes that the world is experiencing and how it has been affecting crime and security. 

It is intended to conduct a brief explanation of the latest events as well as to explain where the world is in terms of safety. Therefore, the focus of this work was to analyze and point out the changes that are already being presented in the study of criminology and levels of security around the World due to coronavirus and how this may affect the future, either in a positive or negative way. 

According to WHO reports, coronavirus is spreading out extremely fast through the World and because of that, the situation is becoming overly complicated. It is correct to say that according to the last update (World Health Organization, situation report 207, p. 1-5), done on August 14, 2020, there are 20,730,456 confirmed cases and 751,154 deaths on a global level. 

To understand how coronavirus has an impact in crime and security is necessary to point out some of the measures that many countries are implementing to prevent further spread of the coronavirus such as curfews, quarantines, and similar restrictions. This affected 161 countries, 98.6 percent of the world’s student population, that is, by the first week of April 3.9 billion people worldwide were under some form of lockdown, more than half of the world’s population.  

It’s safe to say that COVID-19 pandemic has affected crime, especially organized crime, terrorism, street crime, cyber crime, illegal markets such as illegal drug market, robberies and domestic violence. Some of these impacts have a negative effect but others have a positive outcome. According to a statement made by Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) in March 2020 (Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, 2020, p. 1-3) the pandemic has caused a decrease in some organized-criminal activities, meanwhile it has provided new opportunities in other areas.

In this statement mentioned above, GI-TOC explained how the pandemic will have implications for organized crime and associated illicit market activity and it was pointed out 4 important changes: some organized-crime activities have been constrained by social distancing and travel restrictions; some criminal groups have created an opportunity to scale up their activities since the attention of police forces and policymakers is diverted elsewhere; organized-crime groups, in the health sector, have already identified opportunities to exploit the sector; cybercrime has emerged quickly as a risk area that could cause long-term implications once people are spending more time online (Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, 2020, p. 4-9). 

Another crime that needs to be studied is fraud. As presented by Europol, many criminals are reinventing themselves and finding a way to profit from COVID-19, for example in the beginning of March 2020, over 34,000 counterfeit surgical masks were seized by law enforcement authorities worldwide, supported by Interpol and Europol.

An operation was conducted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration, the US Postal Inspection Service, the US Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, among others and it was found shipments of “mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized, or prohibited” COVID-19-related items.

Additionally, it’s known already that many people were working from home and that led to an increase in cyber crimes since more and more data is being accessed from homes that do not always have the same security as an office. Thus, many more people were shopping online, using their credit cards and creating, without even knowing, more opportunity for criminals to commit cyber crimes. 

Another cyber fraud in America resulted in money that was meant for the unemployed being redirected to fraudulent accounts and the same happened in Brazil. While many actors and singers were doing live shows and collecting funds to donate to help those in need, criminals were copying their QR Code and transferring all the money to their own accounts or, again, to fraudulent accounts.  

According to a study conducted by Interpol (Interpol, Global landscape on Covid-19, 2020, p. 1-2) due to the shift of focus to the health crisis, global organizations, individuals and businesses are being attacked by cybercriminals. For example, people are often using the words “coronavirus”, “corona-virus”, “covid19” and “covid-19” online, which created an opportunity for cybercriminals to elaborate new sites every day to carry out spam campaigns, phishing or to spread malware.

Passing to the analysis of domestic violence, emerging data (UN Women, COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls, 2020, p. 3-4) shows that since the outbreak of COVID-19, it was possible to see an increase in reports of violence against women and domestic violence. In Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil and the United States, government authorities, women’s rights activists and civil society partners have flagged increasing reports of domestic violence during the crisis, and heightened demand for emergency shelter. 

According to research done by UN Women (UN Women, COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls, 2020, p. 1-3), many countries are suffering from the intensification of domestic violence. For example, in France, reports of domestic violence have intensified by 30% since March 17, 2020. In Cyprus and Singapore, the numbers of calls for help have increased, respectively, by 30% and 33%.  

Foremost, increased cases and demand for emergency help have also been reported in countries like Argentina, Canada, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany and the United States. Another factor that is interesting to present is the fact that many people, especially women victims of this type of crime, found a new way to ask for help, especially trough guide videos, new applications on smartphones and reports made entirely online. 

As it was pointed out by UNFPA, if violence increases by 20 per cent during periods of lockdown, there would be an additional 15 million cases of intimate partner violence in 2020 for an average lockdown duration of 3 months, 31 million cases for 6 months of lockdown, 45 million for 9 months, and 61 million if the average lockdown period were to be as long as one year.

In conclusion, it is relevant to say that there are many approaches to be taken in relation to the main topic, for example another crime that could be considered is hate crimes and the fact that many means of transportation were interrupted, mainly airports, and this had a major impact on crimes such as human trafficking. Additionally, it would be important to study the impacts on the economy and the extent to which crimes such as fraud helped to worsen the global economic situation. Finally, with this work it was possible to observe some of the innumerable changes that are happening and to serve as a basis for more meticulous studies of some of the aspects presented. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that governments will have many challenges ahead, in the area of ​​health and the economy, but it will be equally important to face the challenges from security issues.

Rita graduated in Social Political Sciences and International Relations at the University of Bologna. She is a member of the Conflict, Security and Crime SRC and she is currently in law school, planning to have a career in an international level and to study more about international crimes and conflicts.

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