Organized crime is crime carried out systematically by formal criminal organizations. The Organized Crime Control Act (US - 1970) defines organized crime as: "The unlawful activities of...a highly organized, disciplined association...". Some criminal organizations, such as terrorist organizationss, are politically motivated. Mafias are criminal organizations whose primary motivation is profit. Gangs sometimes become "disciplined" enough to be considered "organized".
Criminal organizations keep their illicit actions secret, and members communicate by word of mouth. Many organized crime operations have substantial legitimate businesses, such as gambling, trash hauling or dockloading which operate in parallel with and provide "cover" for drug trafficking, money laundering, prostitution, protection and extortion.
In order for a criminal organization to prosper, some degree of support is required from the society in which it lives. Thus, it is often necessary to corrupt some of its respected members, which is most commonly achieved through bribery, blackmail, and the establishment of symbiotic relationships with legitimate businesses. People in the judiciary, police forces, and legislature are especially targeted for control by organized via bribes, threats, or a combination. Financing is made easier by the development of a customer base inside or outside the local population, as occurs for instance in the case of drug trafficking.
In addition, criminal organizations also benefit if there is social distrust of the government or the police. As a consequence, criminal organizations sometimes arise in closely-knit immigrant groups who do not trust the local police. Conversely, as an immigrant group begins to integrate into the wider society, this generally causes the organized crime group to weaken.
Lacking much of the paperwork that is common to legitimate organizations, criminal organizations can usually evolve and reorganize much more quickly when the need arises. They are quick to capitalize on newly-opened markets, and quick to rebuild themselves under another guise when caught by authorities.
Globalization occurs in crime as much as it does in business. Criminal organizations easily cross boundaries between countries. This is especially true of organized crime groups that engage in human trafficking.