Countless films have been made about organized crime, but real crime syndicates are far less glamorous. They range from highly structured criminal enterprises down to motorcycle and street gangs. These groups run gambling, prostitution, pornography activities, and numerous financial scams such as fraud, money laundering, and protection rackets. They are tight-knit and secretive, and law enforcement has traditionally had difficulty infiltrating them.
Groups like the Italian mafia, the Russian mob, and Asian enterprises have established operations in other countries as well. They perpetrate financial scams, identity theft, health care fraud, and are active in human trafficking. Profits are laundered through shell companies, on prepaid credit cards, and even through banking systems to offshore accounts. These criminals are traditionally violent and will harm anyone who interferes with them.
Organized crime involvement in pornography tends to be ownership-related rather than actual production. Infiltrating the industry and controlling distribution allows criminals to rake in profits from payoffs. Since there will always be a demand for some kind of pornography, the syndicate in control will be assured of continuing income. Prostitution, while illegal, offers the same kind of guaranteed income because people will pursue it even if they risk arrest and prosecution.
The Italian mafia is perhaps the most famous organized crime group. Drug smuggling, loan sharking, and money laundering make huge profits, although kidnapping, extortion, sports bribery, and weapons trafficking are not unheard of. La Cosa Nostra, which means "our thing" in Italian, has long been involved in labor racketeering. The pension and health funds of labor unions provide them with a rich source of embezzlement income.
Street gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs are other widespread organized crime operations. They have thousands of members and cultivate ties with international crime syndicates. These gangs operate on local, regional, and national levels, and are primarily involved in drug and weapons trafficking. In some areas, criminal gangs are responsible for 80% of crime. The retail-level drug trade is almost entirely run by these gangs.
Law enforcement response should be comprehensive, with multiple agencies exchanging critical information used to infiltrate organized crime groups. International cooperation is also important to counteract Internet crime taking place offshore. Skilled investigators and experienced prosecutors expert in cybercrimes, forensic accounting, and other specialties can develop strong cases that will facilitate incarceration of criminals. Lawmakers can often tighten banking, commerce, and securities to prevent syndicates from making a profit in the first place.