Online human trafficking, child pornography and fraud increase in Mexico during quarantine

“MX” for Borderland Beat

Cyber-crimes have increase in Mexico during the pandemic

As if it were an “essential business” in Mexico, online criminal activities have not stop during the COVID-19 quarantine. Cyber-criminals adapted to this new reality and increased their activities from a distance. Crime is now working from home. Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) confirmed that child pornography, human trafficking through the web, bank fraud and identity theft increased to an all-time high during quarantine.

There were several notable cases that garnered authorities’ attention. In the first three months of the pandemic, the UIF detected a network of extortionists in Chiapas who created several fake cards from the Ministry of Welfare and asked people to deposit a fee in convenience stores to activate them and generate a savings fund. Deposits ranged from MXN$300 to $1,000. The scheme was a scam and the money was deposited directly in the criminals’ accounts.

Other cyber-criminals stole the identity of several Ministry of Welfare legislators to make their scam more credible. UIF head Santiago Nieto declined to disclose which legislators they were to avoid hindering the investigations. In both cases, the accounts were blocked and authorities began to formally investigate the cyber-criminals involved.
Last month, investigators stated that child pornography increased 73% since the start of the pandemic. Most of the cases were done in social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Facebook. 80% of the reported cases occurred in Facebook.

In Quintana Roo, the UIF identified the online sale of products that promised to cure COVID-19 and help people become immune to it. No such product exists but several people paid money to have them delivered to their homes.

Money laundering activities
The economic crisis from COVID-19 also opened additional ways to launder money by pawnbroking and usury.

A pawnbroker is a person who lends money to someone in exchange for objects that he or she can sell if the person leaving the objects does not pay an agreed amount of money in an agreed time. Usury is defined as the practice of making unethical or immoral monetary loans that end up enriching the lender.

Mexico has governing laws that limit the maximum rate allowed on a loan. The UIF said that organized crime groups were trying to launder their assets through these two methods.

Investigators detected that between March and May 2019, the UIF received 69,967 pawnbroking, loans and credit requests. In the same period this year (during the COVID-19 pandemic), these requests shot up to 110,938. Nieto indicated that money launders may be shifting to the informal sector to hide their illegal activities.