Why are “dark web” drug dealers not afraid of the police?
A few weeks ago, anyone visiting the Torrez platform seemed to be opening a generic shopping site containing a categorized catalog of thousands of products, seller ratings by stars, and shipping information.
The only and fundamental difference is the items sold on this dark web trading platform: fake banknotes, electroshock weapons, Peruvian fish scale cocaine, pink champagne ecstasy, blue punisher ecstasy ……
These are not products you can find on major shopping sites like Amazon and eBay.
To find out how selling drugs on the dark web works, British BBC journalists Joe Tidy and Alison Benjamin bought ecstasy and cocaine through the Torrez platform and another website.
Soon, the journalists became one of Torrez's last customers: the popular dark web sales platform announced its decision to shut down in December, a "voluntary exit" common in the dark web marketplace.
Products not as effective as promised
There is a perception that buying drugs on the dark web is as easy as ordering a pizza, but in reality it takes hours to make a purchase using cryptocurrency and chatting with the seller in encrypted form.
A few days later, the "super-strength" pills arrived by post.
The three small ecstasy pills came in an oversized box - an example of stealth packaging (similar to "discreet packaging"), which is used to disguise the contents.
A packet of cocaine ordered from another website came with a fake invoice from an herbal health product company.
The BBC analyzed the drugs in a laboratory and then destroyed them. They are nowhere near as effective as we believe.
The evolving virtual (and illicit) marketplace
The United Nations (UN) estimates that the dark web market represents only a small fraction of the total global drug trade, probably less than 1%, although this percentage is growing.
But in a survey of tens of thousands of drug users worldwide last year, the Global Drug Survey painted a different picture. in 2021, nearly a quarter of respondents in North America said they had purchased drugs on the dark web. In Oceania and Europe, the proportion was one in six.
In Russia, it is 86 percent; in Finland and Sweden, more than 40 percent; and in England, Scotland and Poland, more than 30 percent.
The world of selling drugs on the dark web is chaotic and ever-changing.
Sometimes sites shut down and operators disappear due to customer or vendor funding in what is known as an "exit scam. These dark web marketplaces can also be hacked or cracked down on by police.
But there is a new trend in this marketplace, where selling platforms are systematically slowing down their operations, known as "sunsetting" or "voluntary exits.
One big dark web marketplace, the White House Marketplace, did so in October 2021; then another, Cannazon, followed suit.
Then there's Torrez, which posted a letter on its homepage last month announcing its closure and saying it was "happy to work with most vendors and users.
Torrez site administrator mrblonde thanked customers and promised that the platform would remain open "for at least two to three weeks until all orders are completed.
"Thanks for such a graceful exit," replied one customer. Another added: "Thank you for the professional and honest manner in which you handled this matter."
According to David Décary-Hétu, a criminologist and professor at the University of Montreal, such voluntary exits are a trend.
"This seems to be happening more and more. The trading market will go out gently and say 'we made enough money to retire before we get caught.'" Décary-Hétu explains.
The criminologist says operators of large dark web marketplaces like Torrez can earn more than $100,000 a day in commissions.
For police officers hoping to make criminals face justice, such a high turnout brings mixed feelings.
Alex Hudson, head of the UK National Crime Agency's (NCA) dark web intelligence unit, said, "I'm always grateful when anyone who perhaps realizes they are in a criminal profession decides not to delve any further."
"If there's any regret, it's that we need to hold them accountable for this. And these people need to understand that they will still be held accountable."
While sunsets are currently the order of the day, an analysis of BBC data suggests that dark web markets are still more likely to shut down after exiting a scam.
Police crackdowns are even rarer, although there have been notable successful operations.
American Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to two life sentences without parole for 40 years for running SilkRoad, the first major dark web marketplace, from 2011 to 2013.
In October, 150 suspects were arrested in what the NCA described as the largest operation of its kind, stemming from a January 2021 ban on the DarkMarket site.
Several countries were involved in the operation, with arrests made in the U.S., Germany, the U.K. and elsewhere.
But even if the illegal marketplace is shut down, it may have little impact on sellers, who may simply migrate to another site.
Data analyzed by the BBC shows that at least 450 dealers operating on the Internet today - a conservative estimate - have survived previous police crackdowns.
One of them is a dealer called "Next Generation," which appeared on 21 different sales platforms over a six-year period.
It is estimated that this criminal element or ring made at least 140,000 sales during that time, offering products such as marijuana, cocaine and ketamine.
"In an encrypted email, Next Generation said police were faced with "an impossible task.
"Often, the reason for a bust comes down to a simple user error. It's not as simple as police and investigators waking up one day, 'cracking a code' and arresting people."
The Pygmalion Syndicate, a self-described "hippie collective" of British and German drug traffickers, also told the BBC that they don't worry about getting caught because it is very careful - acting as "covert agents in enemy territory."
"The legal-based crackdown hasn't affected our business much and we're sure most other suppliers don't mind either." The group said.
The NCA's Alex Hudson acknowledged that police have been a step behind the criminals, but said new technology will make a difference.
"Even compared to where we were a few years ago, we are able to extract information and identify criminals much quicker." Hudson told the BBC.
"I think we're really seeing a game changer."
From：On DarkNet – Dark Web News and Analysis
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