Northern Ireland gangs tap in to cyber crime
Cyber rackets on the rise, as is rural-based villainy and drug running
Criminal gangs across Northern Ireland are increasingly turning to their keyboards and rural areas to make millions of pounds.
The gangs, many of which are strongly linked to republican and loyalist paramilitaries, have switched their attention to lower-risk but highly lucrative crimes, according to an annual report.
Justice Minister David Ford, who chairs the Organised Crime Task Force which compiled the findings, said criminals also involved in drugs, human trafficking and fuel fraud were "killing, abusing and preying on society".
Reports of cyber and rural crime, as well as the illicit drugs market, increased in the past year.
There were 429 crimes in a seven-month period between October and the end of April deemed to be cyber-enabled.
Of those, 113 involved fraud with seven cases of blackmail and three other thefts.
During the same time, there were 176 cases of harassment.
"Pure cyber crime incidents remain somewhat unusual in Northern Ireland. However, reports are increasing and this is likely to be an area of growth over the coming years," the report said.
"There is an increase in extortion incidents being perpetrated online, as well as 'bad on bad' extortions where the individual targeted is involved in some form of criminality themselves, posing particular challenges to traditional enforcement."
The task force said dissident republican groups still depended heavily on organised crime.
Some members of the UVF and UDA are involved in extortion, loan sharking, robbery, drugs, burglary, thefts and money-laundering, according to the report.
It also highlighted concern over a spate of rural thefts.
"There is an increasing threat from organised crime groups specialising in organised crime in rural locations, eg ATM thefts, fuel laundering, food fraud, waste crime and plant theft," it said.
A number of illegal abattoirs were discovered in border areas over the past 18 months.
In the past year more than 38 illegal fuel plants were shut down, up from 22 during the previous 12 months.
There was also an increase in drug seizures with £10m of illegal substances recovered and more than £1.5m worth of criminal assets had been seized.
Human trafficking was highlighted as being a priority for the next 12 months.
* 4,825 drug seizures
* 38 fuel launder plants shut
* £1.53m recovered through criminal confiscation orders
* Bill tackling unduly lenient sentencing for excise evasion
* A contract awarded for a new marker for rebated diesel
* Public sector fraud – excise and tax
* Immigration crime including human trafficking
* Intellectual property crime
* Cyber crime
* Money laundering
Last August police arrested three men in the Newtownabbey area when they were found to be moving quantities of drugs from a lorry and placing them into another vehicle.
Four boxes containing some 31kg of herbal cannabis worth some £600,000 were seized. All three men were charged with possession of a Class B drug and with intent to supply.
A National Crime Agency probe identified a drugs enterprise run by a Newry man from his laptop.
The operation revealed the man was receiving drugs from Dutch suppliers with whom he had established an online relationship. He used multiple online aliases to market his drugs.
In January he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail.
Two fuel laundering plants were uncovered during a search in south Armagh.
A third plant was detected in an agricultural shed nearby.
Between them, the plants had the potential to produce 26 million litres of illicit ruel per year, evading £18m in revenue.
More than 50 tonnes of toxic waste was also removed from the site.