Globalised organised crime is pushing hard into Australia and New Zealand, stretching the ability of law agencies to keep pace with syndicates now also threatening national security.
The latest report on organised crime by the Australian Crime Commission says that in the past two years the threat has become "more pervasive, more powerful and more complex".
Its reach is such that syndicates can manipulate legitimate markets.
Worldwide, organised crime rakes in more than A$870 billion ($987 billion) a year. In Australia the annual cost is estimated at A$15 billion. "That's bigger than the gross domestic product of Indonesia," Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said yesterday. "If organised crime was a country it would be in the G20."
Major international syndicates all appear on the top 20 criminal target lists of Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Britain and Canada. "The results were telling," Clare said. "We are all targeting the same people."
The report says the internet and new technologies have allowed syndicates to embrace globalisation.
"The internet enables global virtual networking and social interaction between criminals, and has enabled the establishment of 'virtual marketplaces' for illegal and illicit goods such as drugs, firearms, identification documents and child exploitation material," the report says.
While maintaining traditional staples such as violence and drugs, the syndicates' operations have mushroomed into far more sophisticated forms of fraud, corruption and marketing. The narcotics trade has moved into the 21st century, expanding from drugs such as speed, cannabis, cocaine and heroin to a rapidly expanding range of new products.
In Europe a record 73 new substances were uncovered last year, joining a list of more than 250 monitored by the European Union's narcotics early warning system.
The internet has cut out the middleman, instead using "virtual intermediaries" to enable users to order drugs over the internet. Individual online entrepreneurs have joined traditional crime groups as major players.
The report says organised crime is now an unprecedented part of Australia's everyday life.
More Australians are being defrauded in investment scams, credit card and bank account data are being stolen through online attacks or at ATM or point-of-sale machines, and drugs are being produced in suburban laboratories. Organised crime has also diversified into legitimate businesses to launder money, cloaked by complex business structures.
Internationally, powerful organised crime groups have strategically bought businesses to gain sufficient market share to enable them to manipulate the prices of goods and services.
Using massive drug profits, they turned the global financial crisis to advantage by providing sufficient liquid capital to save banks from collapse and lent cash to struggling businesses at extortionate rates.
They bought or took over failing companies for well below market value - gaining interests in crucial economic sectors - and amassed substantial real estate at bargain prices. "The financial crisis has given transnational organised crime groups the opportunity to use their existing illicit funds to buy power and influence," the report says.
Because of the relative strength of its economy Australia is likely to attract laundered money through investments in local businesses, the stock market, and real estate. Further expansion is likely through the evolution of digital currencies such as Bitcoin, which is traded anonymously online and falls below the horizon of anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism agencies.
Organised crime is also moving into cyberspace through "darknets" - protected hidden networks of webpages, forums and auction sites, which often harbour trading in illicit commodities, including child pornography, illicit drugs and firearms, stolen credit card and identity data, and hacking techniques.
Syndicates are further using malware to tap new illicit profits from crimes such as identity theft. The commission also expects them to increase efforts to corrupt officials to gain access to secure information and documents. Other expanding fields for organised crime include theft of intellectual property and trade secrets, and investment, securities, sharemarket, superannuation and tax frauds.
* A$870bn-a year-market globally.
* A$15bn in Australia annually.
* Crime groups are using internet darknets - protected hidden networks - for trading illicit products and information.
* Fraudulent investment schemes attract victims based on promises of high returns.
* Australian economy is attracting international crime groups.
* Crime groups are exploiting Australia's tax system, mainly through fraudulent refund activity.
* Businesses that are fronts for money laundering sell products at cut prices, hurting legitimate businesses.
* Australia's illegal tobacco market is considered low risk and lucrative by crime groups.
* Violence among bikie gangs is erupting in public more often.