13 Biggest Illegal Businesses Around the World

It’s not a secret that illegal business is one of the most profitable ventures across the globe. The most unpopular of them, the drug trafficking covers a major part of the revenue of all illegal criminal activities. According to the United Nations Corporation on Drug and Crime, the illegal drug trade alone attracts more than $600 billion in profit annually.

These activities are always a big challenge for the government and also pose a big threat to the nation’s economy and environment. Most countries have strict laws against these kinds of illegal things, despite this, illegal businesses are expanding at an alarming rate. We have gathered some of the most unethical and illegal businesses across the globe that have left a large negative impact on many nations’ economy.

13. Bootlegging/ Rum Running

BootleggingA police raid at Elk Lake, Canada in 1925

Bootlegging or rum running is a term given to an illegal business which includes illicit transportation of alcohol. One of the earliest known instances of alcohol smuggling was recorded during the American civil war, when ships illegally started transporting cheap Caribbean rum to the United States through Florida.

Though old, alcohol smuggling is still practiced in many countries by organized criminals. They illegally trade alcohol to avoid tax and minimum purchase price. The United Kingdom’s government fails to collect an estimated tax of $2 billion due to illegal alcohol smuggling activities. Moreover, bootlegged alcohol causes thousands of deaths annually because of low quality and standard.

12 Trafficking of Cultural Property

Nefertiti BustNefertiti Bust

Any cultural property is a physical entity that is an integral part of our cultural heritage. It may include monuments of any size, from historic buildings to small artifacts and paintings. Cultural property theft is a rising concern for historians and the United Nations as it threatens the existence of our cultural identity.

The significant increment in the number of thefts over the last few couples of years has gathered more systematic attention from museums, non-profit and law enforcement agencies, many of which have now published websites to inform people about stolen, missing and recovered artwork.

11. Human Organs Trafficking

Human Organs TraffickingGlobal Kidney Donation Pattern

Human organ trading involves illegal buying or selling of human organs for transplantation. Commercial trading of organs is prohibited throughout the world except for Iran. According to a news report, each year about 2000 Indians sell their kidneys illegally for as low as $5000, and those were later sold as much as $200,000 per transplant. Another report by Global Financial Integrity estimates that illegal organ trades make a profit between $600 million and $1.2 billion a year.

10. Illegal Weapon Trafficking

Illegal weapon traffickers deal from explosives, small guns, light weapons to heavy machine guns. The illegal weapon trading is directly responsible for the increase of terrorist activities around the world. As per reports, every year an estimated 63 million guns have been trafficked to India and Pakistan.

It is very difficult to guess the total size of the illegal arms trade market. The United States and Africa are considered as the countries with the most illicit weapons. An estimated value of illegal arms trafficking is around $60 billion a year, which is about 20% of the total global arms trade.

9. Illicit Crude Oil Trade

oil tradeOil Shipment

Illegal oil trading is a major problem in some countries, including those in Africa and Asia. It is estimated that more than 100,000 oil barrels are smuggled out each day from various parts of the world. In Mexico, oil companies lose $700 million annually when thieves tap into their oil pipelines. Every year, a large part of the oil is attacked by the Somalia pirates on the coast of Somalia. It is estimated that illegal oil makes more than $15 billion every year.

8. Wildlife Trafficking

Wildlife traffickingImage Courtesy: Wikimedia

The illegal wildlife trade includes everything from exotic pets, meat, and skins of wild animals, freshwater tortoise and turtles to monitor lizards and shark’s fin. Between 2007 and 2012, the poaching of rhinos is increased to 5000%. Some major examples of illegal wildlife trade are elephants for its teeth and lion and tigers for their skins. In 2015, the profit generated in this business was around $32 billion.

8. Money Laundering and Shell Companies

For the sake of simplicity, money laundering is a process of transforming the profits from other illegal business to a “legitimate” asset. One of the many ways of doing that is to create shell companies. A shell company, though not illegal, are without any sort of active business operation and physical assets. Most of the times they are used to cover up illegal revenues from law enforcement.

7. IUU Fishing

iuu fishingImage Courtesy: Noaa

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing takes place when fishing vessels operate by violating laws (defined by the local and central government) for the fishery. As per the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), illegal fishing causes loss of about $23 billion per year, with about 30 percent of illegal fishing across the world happening in Indonesia alone. 

6. Illegal Mining

Illegal mining

All mining activities that happen without state permission, mining license, mineral transportation limit, and in the absence of land rights, come under illegal mining. Illegal natural resource extraction becomes pressing when global mineral prices are soaring.

It can belong to a massive-organized crime led by small criminals and mining syndicates, or it can be a subsistence activity, as is the case with artisanal mining.

5. Human Trafficking

human trafficking

Human trafficking is the trade of humans for the aim of forced labor and illegal trades of organs, surrogacy or forced marriages. It is one of the fastest growing illegal activities around the world. In 2010, human trafficking has an estimated international trade of over $30 billion. In case of child trafficking, more than 30% of trafficked people were less than 18-year-old.

4. Illegal Logging

Illegal logging is the term given to the process where wood or timber is harvested, sold and bought without the consent of the national or local government and in the clear violation of national laws.

Illegality could also take place during transport, for example, illegal processing and export, avoidance of taxes, a fraudulent declaration to customs, and fraudulent certification.

3. Drug Trafficking

drug traffickingThe U.S Coast Guards offloading seized drugs in Miami Beach, 2014

Drug trafficking is one of the biggest and most dangerous illegal businesses in the world. According to a UN report, in 2003, the global illegal drug trade generated an estimated revenue of about $320 billion and in 2016, the number jumped to an estimated $500 billion.

Even though drug trafficking is a worldwide phenomenon, developed countries like the United States and Mexico are badly affected by drug-related crime. Based on FBI reports, during the 1990s, around 5% of the total US citizens died annually because of illegal drugs. Small to medium scale online drug trades have also risen in recent years.

Read: 15 Most Famous Mexican Drug Lords

2. Counterfeiting

CounterfeitA counterfeit replica of an authentic flash memory IC 

Any produced replica of any product that is unauthorized is a part of counterfeiting. They are the dummy or copied versions of the real products. A Counterfeit product includes clothes, shoes, electronic products, art and pirate software, and movies. It also includes fake company logos and brands.

According to the 2007 OECD report, the market of counterfeit goods crossed more than $250 billion worldwide. The counterfeiting of goods is completely banned in numerous places still Counterfeit money is the most popular and major problem in many countries.

Counterfeit money

Money counterfeiting is a worldwide concern, which is experienced by various developed and developing nations from time to time. If you are thinking that currency counterfeiting is more of a recent phenomenon, then you couldn’t be more wrong. Historians believe that the origin of currency counterfeiting is probably of the same age as the currency itself.

Read: 14 Biggest Lawsuit Settlements in History

In simple terms, counterfeit money is an imitation of an actual currency without the legal nod from the national government of the concerned nation. If went unnoticed, currency counterfeit can drain any nation’s economy by causing unparallel inflation and various economic problems.

1. Unethical Hacking/ Cyber Attack

There was a time when computer ‘masterminds’ use to break into other systems to achieve their personal agenda just for fun and some social work. But all changed in the wake of the 21st century. Now hacking has become more like a business, where a team of ‘professional’ hackers raid systems of big companies and make them hostage (figuratively speaking) and demand for ransom.

Read: 15 Notable Hacker Groups and their Famous Hacks of All Time

According to a report, global cyber attacks in 2016 cost several companies over $450 billion, excluded millions of stolen documents and records.

Written by
Varun Kumar

I am a professional technology and business research analyst with more than a decade of experience in the field. My main areas of expertise include software technologies, business strategies, competitive analysis, and staying up-to-date with market trends.

I hold a Master's degree in computer science from GGSIPU University. If you'd like to learn more about my latest projects and insights, please don't hesitate to reach out to me via email at [email protected].

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  • I need a lot of money in few months so i choose the illegal business ideas

    • red mercury is a illegal one how we sell them. u knw?

    • SREEDHARAN says:

      Is there any vacancy for me sir??