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How paedophiles, sex traffickers and blackmailers freely use the surface web to exploit victims

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paedophiles, sex traffickers and blackmailers

Drug dealers who once felt safe to operate on the dark web have found to their cost over recent years that hidden online marketplaces may not offer the anonymity and protection they once thought they might. The closure of the likes of Hansa and AlphaBay and the arrest of illicit marketplace admins and moderators such as bearded hipster Gal Vallerius and AlphaBay boss Alexandre Cazes have prompted many dealers to abandon the dark web in favour of surface web platforms and applications that ironically seem to offer more protection from the prying eyes of police and other law enforcement authorities.

Paedophiles and child porn distributors have also had their fingers burned on the dark web following the infiltration by police of the world’s largest child porn hidden website, prompting them and other sex offenders to focus on ways of using surface web tools to facilitate their crimes. As has proven to be the case with drugs, weapons and human trafficking, big technology firms have done little to rid their networks of criminals who carry out a range social media-enabled sex offences, whether they involve children or adults. A failure to crack down on this type of activity is resulting in misery for victims across the globe, some of whom end up taking their own lives as a result of being targeted by online predators.

Live child sex abuse streaming

The spread of cheap, fast and reliable internet access in countries in Southeast Asia and South America has resulted in the rise of livestreamed child sex abuse shows, during which paedophiles from across the globe can send instructions to vulnerable young victims who are forced to carry out the degrading acts they request in front of webcams. Taking advantage of child exploitation laws that are much laxer than those that typically apply in most western countries, Southeast Asian and South American sex trafficking gangs lure young people with the promise of well-paid legitimate work, only to compel them to perform for foreign child abusers in squalid cybersex dens. These gangs are able to use surface web encrypted messaging apps such as Skype and WhatsApp to broadcast their livestreams, safe in the knowledge that the content they produce will be inaccessible to global law enforcement agencies. Even if the paedophiles who pay to watch the material they make are caught, sex trafficking gangs in these regions know the likelihood of them facing justice is slim.

Sextortion

Over the past few years, sextortion blackmailers have increasingly targeted social media users looking to meet potential partners and engage in sexual activity online. Often working from organised call centre-style environments, sextortion scammers contact potential victims on social media platforms such as Skype and Facebook, typically pretending to be an attractive young woman. After building a rapport, the fraudsters convince their victims to send them compromising images of themselves, either of in a state of undress or committing a sex act. As soon as they come into possession of the material they are looking for, sextortion scammers immediately turn nasty, demanding payment in exchange for not distributing the incriminating material to victims’ friends and family members. A number of UK victims are known to have taken their lives after being blackmailed by sextortion scammers. In a separate form of sextortion, paedophiles target mostly young women and girls to convince them to send naked pictures, and then blackmail them into performing degrading sex acts in front of a webcam for their own gratification. Both the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in the US and Britain’s National Crime Agency have recorded marked increases in reported cases of sextortion in recent years.

Online grooming

Paedophiles have long used the internet to both distribute indecent images of children and target victims to physically abuse, but the growing proliferation of social media platforms, smartphone apps and connected devices is offering them a much wider surface over which to operate – an opportunity they are taking full advantage of. As well as the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, online predators exploit messaging apps including Kik, musical.ly and Ask.fm to target potential victims, typically pretending to be young people themselves. In March, the UK’s National Crime Agency warned that paedophiles were targeting children on the hugely popular Fortnite game via the app’s text chat feature. Earlier this week, a British mother revealed how her son had been sexually abused after being groomed by a paedophile via his games console.

While big technology firms occasionally pay lip service to the protection of children and vulnerable people online, they spend a very small portion of their vast profits on making their platforms a less welcoming environment for paedophiles, sex traffickers and sextortion blackmailers. All the while they refuse to take any real action, it will fall to law enforcement authorities to do what they can to diminish the advantage online surface web tools have handed to these types of offenders. With this being an all but impossible task, the surface web is likely to remain a much more fruitful hunting ground for sexual predators than the dark web until governments force big tech companies to get their house in order and stop profiting from the suffering of the victims of online sexual exploitation.

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A quarter of all CDs ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in US are counterfeit, RIAA warns

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CDs ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in the US are counterfeit

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has claimed that 25% of all CDs “fulfilled by Amazon” in the US are counterfeit.

A recent sample purchase programme conducted by the RIAA, which represents major labels that are responsible for the creation, manufacture, distribution or sale of 85% of all legitimately recorded music produced in the US, also found that 100% of new “high-quality box sets offered for sale through eBay or AliExpress in the US were counterfeit”.

The exercise revealed that 11% of new CDs offered for sale on Amazon were fake, and 16% of new CDs sold on eBay were bogus.

Publishing the findings of its sample purchase programme, the RIAA said it had also observed the sale of fake “best of” or “greatest hits” CDs or vinyl that purport to be from major record label artists on these platforms, even when the labels in question had never released such albums.

The association said it continues to see a high number of incidents in which its members branding has been used without permission on multiple ecommerce platforms, including Amazon, eBay, Redbubble and Bonanza.

“These infringements not only undermine revenues from legitimate sources to music creators and owners, they also harm the reputation and goodwill associated with the artists, brands or logos at issue,” the RIAA said.

“This harm is exacerbated by limited and inconsistent enforcement by online third-party marketplaces and other intermediaries to address counterfeit listings and sellers of counterfeit products.”

Responding to the RIAA’s findings in a statement given to Digital Music News, Amazon said: “Our customers expect that when they make a purchase through Amazon’s store—either directly from Amazon or from one of its millions of third-party sellers—they will receive authentic products.

“Amazon strictly prohibits the sale of counterfeit products and we invest heavily in both funds and company energy to ensure our policy is followed.”

Last month, research conducted by anti-piracy and counterfeit protection firm Red Points revealed that the number of items buyers believe to be fake sold on Amazon rises by a third during the company’s annual Prime Day event.

Earlier in July, Amazon announced the expansion of its flagship anti-counterfeiting Transparency programme to France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, India and Canada.

First launched in the US back in March 2017, the initiative allows companies to apply unique T-shaped QR-style codes to their products, which can be used by customers, brands, Amazon and other participants in the supply chain to authenticate items being offered for sale.

 

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Canadian police target young drivers recruited by gangs to deliver drugs

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young drivers recruited by gangs to deliver drugs

Police in the Canadian province of British Columbia have arrested three teenagers in a crackdown on street-level gang activity and drug dealing.

Officers from the Abbotsford Police Gang Crime Unit (GCU) and the Abbotsford Police Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) last week detained two 18-year-olds and one 19-year-old on suspicion of drug offences after police searches resulted in the discovery pre-packaged deals of synthetic opioid fentanyl and crack cocaine along with CA$1,500 ($1,122) in cash and a number of mobile phones.

Detectives taking part in the operation also impounded a 2016 Jeep Wrangler that is said to have been used by the suspects to deliver the drugs they are alleged to have been selling.

Police said the arrests were carried out with the assistance of a patrol division, an emergency response team and sniffer dogs.

The operation was launched after police in the region discovered that local gang members were increasingly attempting to recruit young people who had recently learned to drive.

Sergeant Maitland Smith, of Abbotsford Police’s GCU, said in a statement: “We are currently seeing a trend in Abbotsford evolving around the recruitment of youth into gangs, and more specifically ‘new’ drivers.

“More established street-level drug dealers are aware that the police are seizing vehicles and assets upon being arrested; so they are recruiting younger drivers to chauffeur them as they conduct their drug trafficking business.

“In most cases, these young, new drivers are using vehicles registered to their parents to drive the dealers around with the promise that they will get a share of the profit at the end of the day.”

Smith went on to explain that acting as a driver for drug dealers is a serious offence that could result in arrest and prosecution, regardless of whether young car owners have handled illicit substances or not.

He also warned that any vehicle that police believe has been used to facilitate the sale of illegal drugs could be seized, even if the car is officially registered to a young person’s parents.

Abbotsford Police warned young people they could be putting themselves, their friends and their relatives at risk if they become involved in drug dealing or other forms of organised crime, noting that dozens of young adults have been shot dead across the region over recent years.

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LAX border officials seize fake luxury goods worth $3.5 million smuggled into US from Hong Kong

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LAX border officials seize fake luxury goods

Customs officers working at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have confiscated thousands of luxury items that would have had an estimated retail value of nearly $3.5 million had they been genuine.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) investigators working at the airport found the haul among air cargo that had been brought into the country from Hong Kong, which is a major source of counterfeit and pirated products globally.

The massive shipment of fake items included nearly 1,250 counterfeit Gucci belts, 678 pairs of counterfeit Nike shoes, more than 530 counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbags, 500 counterfeit Samsung adaptors, over 500 counterfeit Gucci waist pack belts, 230 counterfeit Hermes handbags, 192 counterfeit Casio Shock watches, 144 counterfeit Ferragamo belts, 100 counterfeit Versace belts, and 119 counterfeit Fendi shorts.

Carlos Martel, CBP Director of Field Operations in Los Angeles, commented: “CBP protects businesses and consumers every day through an aggressive intellectual property rights enforcement programme.

“These seizures demonstrate the high level of skill and vigilance of our officers and import specialists.”

In a statement, CBP said the sheer size of the illicit shipment indicated the huge amount of profit that can be made by importing counterfeit goods into the US, and went on to warn consumers that fake items such as these are often sold through illegitimate websites and underground retail outlets.

Donald Kusser, CBP Port Director at LAX, said: “The American public should be aware that buying a counterfeit product is a lose-lose proposition, because the money they paid often funds criminal enterprises.

“In addition, buyers get a substandard low-quality product, containing unknown chemicals and likely produced under inhumane conditions.”

In a report published back in March, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the EU’s Intellectual Property Office revealed that pirated and counterfeit goods had grown to account for 3.3% of all global trade, noting that the majority of the fake goods seized across the globe throughout 2016 were said to have originated from Hong Kong and mainland China.

Hong Kong has also come under fire for the role it plays in the global illicit trade in smuggled wildlife products, with a coalition of local NGOs warning in January that the region plays a wildly disproportionate role in wildlife crime thanks largely to its close proximity to mainland China.

Amanda Witfort, a professor at Hong Kong University’s Faculty of Law and one of the study’s authors, said at the time: “Wildlife crime in Hong Kong remains under-policed and under-investigated. Wildlife smuggling is not regarded as organised and serious crime, under Hong Kong law.”

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