Despite last year’s high-profile takedowns of hidden illicit marketplaces Hansa and AlphaBay, the dark web drug trade continues to thrive. Almost as soon as one site is knocked offline, vendors are quickly able to migrate to surviving rivals or new challengers that have managed to stay one step ahead of global law enforcement authorities. Much as they have for decades now with the traditional illicit drug market, police forces around the world are fighting a losing battle to stem the availability of illegal substances online, as more drug users get wise to the added safety, convenience and heightened guarantee of quality that dark web vendors are perceived to offer. Clearly conscious of the fact they are on the back foot when it comes to blocking the new sales channels technology has opened up for drug dealers, western courts now appear bent on handing down draconian sentences to those caught running hidden illicit marketplaces or the vendors who use them as platforms from which to sell drugs.
In the absence of a regulated market, proponents of the dark web drug trade argue that buying illegal substances online has made drug consumption much less risky. Buying drugs online means users no longer have to purchase their substance of choice from criminals on street corners, reducing the chances they will be robbed or exposed to violence. Although they are open to abuse, eBay-style feedback systems run by dark web marketplaces offer buyers an opportunity to read the thoughts of dealers’ past customers. While increased competition among vendors has led to worries over the increasing strength of some substances being offered online, dark web drug dealers’ focus on reputation is generally accepted to have led to a rise in the quality of narcotics available on the internet. Dark web drug marketplaces also offer users the opportunity to discuss their substance consumption in forums, allowing them to exchange advice on how to take their drug of choice in as safe a manner as possible. But regardless of all this, those convicted of offences linked to the sale of drugs on hidden illicit marketplaces are in some cases being handed jail terms that most right-mined people would accept are wholly disproportionate to the nature of the crime they have committed, if only in relation to other types of offences at a similar level.
Last month, the leader of a UK dark web drug dealing gang was jailed for 15 years and three months after being convicted of selling illegal substances worth £800,000 ($1.14 million) on the now-closed Silk Road website. Associates of Basil Assaf, 26, were imprisoned for between seven and 12 years. Days earlier, three members of an Albanian drugs gang were sentenced to a total of 16 years between them by a London court after being convicted of trafficking cocaine estimated to be worth more than £4 million. Also in March, a paedophile Jehovah’s Witness was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for sexually abusing three young girls. In the US, Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht is serving a life jail term with no chance of parole, having been handed a sentence that the judge in his trial said was intended to serve as a deterrent to would-be online drug peddlers tempted to follow in his footsteps. Far from having the intended chilling effect on aspiring dark web narcotics barons the judge intended, a study published by the British Journal of Criminology last summer revealed that Ulbricht’s sentence appeared to have had no downward impact on dark web drug sales at all, and that the sale of narcotics on hidden illicit marketplaces had in fact more than doubled in the two years since his jailing.
Few would argue that dark web drug dealers should face no punishment at all if and when they are caught, but it seems unjust to condemn them to wildly disproportionate jail terms simply because law enforcement authorities are unable to get a grip on the manner in which they are revolutionising the drug trade. While it might be something of a stretch to suggest that those convicted of crimes linked to the sale of drugs online should receive some leniency for their part in making the trade in narcotics safer for users, it should certainly be the case that they face a punishment no more severe than offenders who have been found guilty of comparable or more serious charges. Even the most hard-headed of anti-drug campaigners must surely submit that a person offering a service that users avail themselves of freely should not be treated by our justice systems in a similar fashion to those who sexually exploit children, murder or commit acts of terrorism. The fact that dark web drug dealers are being treated so harshly is yet another sign of how spectacularly the war on drugs has failed.
Crooked vendors exploiting flaw in eBay’s feedback system to con buyers into purchasing bogus and dangerous items
Buyers on eBay are being duped into purchasing substandard and counterfeit products due to a flaw in the online auction platform’s seller feedback system, according to an investigation conducted by UK consumer group Which?
The watchdog found that dishonest vendors can take advantage of these flaws by linking positive reviews of genuine products manufactured by companies such as Apple and Samsung to fake and low-quality items.
Which? found that crooked sellers are able to link thousands of positive reviews to eBay listings they have nothing to do with.
The organisation discovered that real reviews can be associated with fake products that are potentially dangerous, such as counterfeit mobile phone chargers that can pose a fire risk.
Sellers are able to do this by using “product IDs” associated with genuine items when adding their products to eBay, subsequently benefitting from the positive reviews those items have attracted.
The system is intended to make the process of listing products on eBay quicker and easier by allowing sellers to pull information from similar items that have a linked product ID.
As part of its investigation, Which? purchased 20 bogus Apple and Samsung accessories such as chargers and USB cables that were supposed to be official and shared the same reviews as products manufactured by the two technology firms
Calling for online ecommerce platforms to be held accountable for flaws in their seller feedback systems that allow dishonest vendors to pull the wool over buyers’ eyes, Head of Home Products and Services at Which? Natalie Hitchins said: “Our investigation has uncovered yet another example of online reviews being manipulated to mislead people.
“eBay’s product review system is confusing for consumers and could even direct them towards counterfeit or dangerous products sold by unscrupulous sellers.
“Online reviews influence billions of pounds of consumer spending each year.
“The [UK Competition and Markets Authority] must now investigate how fake and misleading reviews are duping online shoppers, taking the strongest possible action against sites that fail to tackle the problem.”
Responding to the findings of Which?’s investigation eBay said in a statement: “The research does not fully consider that there are distinctions between product reviews (which provide buyers with a holistic review of the same product), and seller feedback (which can be used to see specific reviews of a seller’s performance and may reflect the item’s condition).”
Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that US politicians had called on lawmakers to hold ecommerce companies such as eBay and Amazon to account if they fail to prevent third-party vendors selling counterfeit or substandard products on their platforms.
Major ‘lover boy’ prostitution gang broken up by coalition of European law enforcement agencies
A Romanian human trafficking and prostitution network that used the “lover boy” method to entrap young women before forcing them into sex work has been broken up a coalition of European law enforcement agencies.
The lover boy method, also known as the “Romeo pimp” method, involves young men seducing victims with the objective of coercing them into prostitution.
Lover boy traffickers groom their victims to believe they have entered into a serious romantic relationship before using emotional, psychological and sometimes physical abuse to intimidate them into working in the sex services industry.
Investigators from Spain, Romania, the Czech Republic and several other European nations were involved in the operation that resulted in the dismantling of the gang, which is said to have groomed and exploited at least 10 young women by forcing them to work as prostitutes.
The operation resulted in the arrest of 14 people in Romania and Spain, the safeguarding of 10 trafficking victims, and the confiscation of a number of items, including a quantity of cash, jewellery, expensive vehicles and several electronic devices.
In total, the agencies taking part in the effort raided 16 properties in the Czech Republic, Romania and Spain.
Having groomed their victims, Romanian members of the network would develop manipulative dependent relationships with the young women they targeted before forcing them into sex work.
Once under the traffickers’ control, victims would be abused and drugged before being sold onto other members of the network for as much as €6,000 ($6,632) each.
The women would then be moved between locations and countries on a regular basis as part of the gang’s efforts to avoid the attention of police.
Profits made by the network were laundered through the purchase of property, expensive jewellery and high-value cars.
Ongoing investigations into the network’s activities are focussed on the theory that it was working in cooperation with another gang.
Enquires have already resulted in the identification of more than 40 additional women who fell victim to the two criminal organisations.
In a statement, Europol said: “Europol facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries, provided coordination support and analysed operational information against Europol’s databases to give leads to investigators.
“Europol conducted a financial analysis based on the information provided which highlighted the extension of the criminal activity of the group and the presence and flow of illicit profits to other jurisdictions.”
Taking cocaine will not cure people struck down with the coronavirus, French government warns public
Authorities in France have been forced to inform the public that taking cocaine will not cure people infected with the coronavirus.
Taking to Twitter on Sunday, the French Ministry for Solidarity and Health told its followers that cocaine is not only ineffective when it comes to fighting the coronavirus, but is also a highly addictive drug that can cause serious harm to users’ health.
The government department was seeking to counter fake news circulating on social media that taking the drug could cure or prevent the virus, including doctored news stories that appeared to confirm the drug’s effectiveness at fighting the disease.
The ministry’s Twitter post included a link to a government information page that provided further guidance on disinformation circulating about the coronavirus outbreak.
As well as encouraging those worried about the coronavirus to start taking cocaine, online trolls have also suggested that bleach can also help fight the disease.
In a post on Twitter that has attracted many thousands of engagements, @Jordan_Sather_ told his followers: “Would you look at that. Not only is chlorine dioxide (aka ‘MMS’) an effective cancer cell killer, it can wipe out coronavirus too.
“No wonder YouTube has been censoring basically every single video where I discuss it over the last year.”
In August of 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about that dangers of consuming bleach, noting: “Drinking any… chlorine dioxide products can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and symptoms of severe dehydration.”
As well as warning about cocaine’s inability to fight the coronavirus, the French government has also told members of the public that spraying bleach or alcohol on their bodies will not neutralise viruses they have already been infected with.
Elsewhere, US Vodka maker Tito’s Homemade was last week forced to urge people not to make DIY hand sanitiser out of its products.
Responding to one of its customers who said they had done just that, the company said on Twitter: “Per the CDC [Centres for Disease Control and Prevention], hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC. Please see attached for more information.”
For its part, the World Health Organisation, which today officially categorised the coronavirus as a pandemic, has published a webpage dispelling misinformation about the disease, noting that the virus cannot be killed of avoided by taking a hot bath or using hand dryers.
- Crooked vendors exploiting flaw in eBay’s feedback system to con buyers into purchasing bogus and dangerous items
- Major ‘lover boy’ prostitution gang broken up by coalition of European law enforcement agencies
- Taking cocaine will not cure people struck down with the coronavirus, French government warns public
- US politicians call for state action against Pornhub over allegations it hosted rape and child abuse videos
- Californian border officers catch Mexican man with enough fentanyl to kill 1.2 million people