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.
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.
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.
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