Around 600 billion illegal cigarettes are sold around the world in a year and this is only part of a major and growing problem worldwide as illicit trade is a major source of funding for organized crime and terrorist groups.

Illicit trade is the production, import, export, purchase, sale or possession of goods which fail to comply with the legislation of a country.

Medicines, cosmetics, toys, electronics and cigarettes can be widely found on the black market. In fact, anything in high demand is attractive to counterfeiters and smugglers.

Counterfeit car and mechanical parts can cause accidents. Counterfeit building materials are known to be used in the construction of power plants, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Illicit food products and drinks can contain toxic ingredients, as can cosmetics and body care products, while electrical goods can cause fires or explosions.

As for illicit medicines, they often contain the wrong amount of active ingredient (too little, too much, or none at all).

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Governments are losing billions of dollars in tax revenue, the proceeds of legitimate businesses are being undermined and consumers are being exposed to poorly made and unregulated products.

In Australia, serious and organized crime cost $36 billion in 2013-14 with a cost of $1.5billion in the sale of illicit commodities.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), transnational organized crime is a US$870 billion a year business.

  • Drug trafficking is the most lucrative form of business for criminals with an estimated value of US$320 billion a year.
  • Counterfeiting is also a very high earner for organized criminal groups at US$250 billion a year.
  • Human trafficking brings in about US$32 billion annually, while some estimates place the global value of smuggling of migrants at US$7 billion per year.
  • The environment is also exploited: trafficking in timber generates revenues of US$3.5 billion a year in South-East Asia alone, while elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts from Africa and Asia produce US$75 million annually in criminal turnover.
  • Counterfeit medicines account for over 1 million deaths annually worldwide,

With technological advancements and the international nature of trade in the world today, these values are expected to continue to rise. But technology can also be harnessed in the fight against illicit trade and you can make a difference by reporting anything suspicious to Crime Stoppers.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately criminals are exploiting the crisis and profiting from it.  This extract from Europol’s March 2020 report shows how criminals are adapting their activities relating to counterfeit & sub-standard goods during the COVID-19 pandemic.