Criminal Contagion

How Mafias, Gangsters and Scammers Profit from a Pandemic

April 2021 9781787384460 320pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


Covid-19 is reshaping and challenging governments, societies and economies in previously unimaginable ways—but gangsters and profiteers have adapted. They have found new routes for illegal commodities, from narcotics to people.

Shortages, lockdowns and public attitudes have brought the underworld and upperworld closer together, as criminals strive to meet needs, maximise opportunities and fill governance vacuums. Unscrupulous fraudsters are touting fake remedies to desperate people: counterfeit drugs, and trafficked wildlife used in traditional medicine. Social distancing and restrictions have seen online transactions and cyber-ops replacing or supplementing physical shipments, opening opportunities for scammers and hackers. Heavy-handed state responses have created new illicit markets by prohibiting the sale of particular goods and services, while some elites have capitalised on the pandemic for personal or political gain.

Covid has cast a long shadow over the rule of law. Criminal Contagion uncovers its extraordinary impacts on the global illicit economy, and their long-term implications.


‘[Criminal Contagion] provides a chilling revelation as to the ways in which the coronavirus pandemic has enabled the international underworld to thrive.’ — Geographical Magazine

‘Among works documenting the impacts of the pandemic, Criminal Contagion offers a sophisticated analysis of the causes and consequences for an underappreciated area that, without proper action, will continue to have impact on societies for years to come.’ — H-net

‘Once again, Reitano and Shaw are ahead of the pack. While criminals were initially wrong-footed by Covid-19, within weeks they readjusted their strategies to profit from the unprecedented government funds entering the economy. Criminal Contagion explains what has been happening in the world of organized crime, what we must do about it and what will happen if we don’t. Clear, pithy and satisfyingly comprehensive, it should be read by everyone concerned about the consequential threats we will face post-pandemic. A gem of a book.’ — Misha Glenny, author of McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime

‘Not all have suffered from Covid-19. This well-illustrated analysis explains that criminals, by exploiting human vulnerability, have been major beneficiaries of the pandemic. Critical reading for those seeking to understand and address the diverse and costly human consequences of Covid-19.’ — Louise Shelley, University Professor, George Mason University, and Director, Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center

‘While the world has reeled under the impact of Covid-19, organized criminals have thrived. This meticulously researched book shows clearly and convincingly how and why criminality boomed. A call for concerted and serious action against a contagion just as serious as coronavirus.’ — Oliver Bullough, author of Moneyland: Why Thieves and Crooks Now Rule the World and How to Take It Back

‘A timely book that rigorously assesses how criminals are taking advantage of the pandemic to boost illicit businesses. A must-read and an indispensable reference for policy-makers, analysts and academics.’ — Moisés Naím, Distinguished Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and author of Illicit and The End of Power

‘A brilliant tour d’horizon of how local and global criminal organizations have responded, and in many cases thrived, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, refactoring deviant supply chains and backfilling services where governments have failed. Reitano and Shaw’s reporting is riveting.’ — Nils Gilman, Vice President of Programs, Berggruen Institute, and author of Deviant Globalization: Black Market Economy in the 21st Century

‘It’s a truism that of all entrepreneurs, criminals are the fastest to spot new opportunities. This timely, readable and thoroughly shocking book demonstrates how even a global pandemic can be good for (criminal) business.’ — Mark Galeotti, author of The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia

Criminal Contagion is a tour de force, combining meticulous research with a global perspective, and highlighting how the pandemic created novel opportunities for expanding illicit markets and enriching criminal organizations. Congratulations to the authors on this timely and important book.’ — Phil Williams, Professor of International Security, University of Pittsburgh

‘An engaging analysis of organized crime, corruption, and the political economy in the face of the global pandemic. The multiple impacts and lessons moving forward make this a compelling read.’ — Jay Albanese, Professor in the Wilder School of Government & Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University, and author of Organized Crime: From the Mob to Transnational Organized Crime

‘Covid-19 has transformed not only the world, but also the underworld. Reitano and Shaw are the perfect guides for this vivid and eye-opening journey through a global criminal landscape reshaped by pandemic and response. A tour de force.’ — James Cockayne, author of Hidden Power: The Strategic Logic of Organised Crime

‘This timely book shows how criminals have exploited the disruption of the pandemic. While packed with up-to-date facts, it is also accessible and engaging. The lessons drawn here go beyond just Covid-19, with broader implications for understanding the dynamics of criminal networks.’ — Richard Wortley, Professor of Crime Science, University College London









Tuesday Reitano is the Deputy Director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. She previously worked in UN System on development and organised crime.

Mark Shaw is the Director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. He was previously a professor of justice and security at the University of Cape Town, and a senior official in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

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