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.
PayPal agrees to flag suspicious transactions to US anti-trafficking NGO Polaris
PayPal has agreed to share financial data with US anti-human trafficking organisation Polaris in a new initiative intended to help authorities identify and prosecute perpetrators of the crime.
The online payments giant has said it will flag suspicious transactions that could be linked to trafficking activity to Polaris’ new Financial Intelligence Unit, which will leverage information obtained by the organisation’s National Human Trafficking Hotline to identify traffickers’ cash flows and bring prosecutions for both financial crimes as well as exploitation.
Highlighting how financial institutions have long played a pivotal role in helping law enforcement agencies identify and disrupt human trafficking activity, Polaris said the new initiative will provide investigators with invaluable information that can be used to track new money laundering techniques used by traffickers, and track down perpetrators.
Polaris came up with the concept for the new unit after examining the roles of major private and public-sector systems and industries on the sex and labour trafficking ecosystems.
After reviewing the findings of its On-Ramps, Intersections, and Exit Routes report, the NGO determined that companies in the financial services industry, and firms in the fintech space in particular, were best placed to help those fighting human trafficking identify trafficker cash flows.
In a statement, Aaron Karczmer, Chief Risk Officer at PayPal, commented: “PayPal and Polaris coming together is a great example of private and non-profit entities joining forces to achieve a positive social impact that neither party could fully realize on their own.
“We look forward to advancing new, innovative approaches to combating human trafficking with partners like Polaris, who, like PayPal, strive to create meaningful change on this important issue.”
Applauding the announcement, Luis deBaca, who served as Director of the US Department of Justice’s Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking, said: “Working with financial institutions to understand how traffickers use their services has the potential to dramatically shift the trafficking equation, making exploitation more risky and therefore less profitable.”
A few months later in September, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported that dozens of banks had signed up to a similar programme backed by the UN intended to help survivors whose financial identities had been hijacked by traffickers.
US border guards arrest 14-year-old boy with three packages of methamphetamine taped to his stomach
Customs officers in the US state of California have arrested a 14-year-old boy after discovering he had three bags of methamphetamine taped to his midriff under his clothing.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said the boy was stopped at the State Route 94 checkpoint in a vehicle with three companions on Monday night.
After pulling over the car in which the four suspects were traveling, CBP officers searched the vehicle with the help of a sniffer dog, which gave its handlers a positive response, indicating there were drugs present.
Customs investigators then sent the vehicle and its four occupants for further inspection.
Agents conducting pat-downs on the four found three bags of suspected methamphetamine wrapped round the 14-year-old’s stomach before taking all of them inside the checkpoint.
In total, the packages taped to the boy’s torso were found to contain just over 1.5kgs of methamphetamine.
A more detailed search of the vehicle the four suspects were travelling in resulted in the discovery of three backpacks containing 49 plastic-wrapped packages in the back of the car that contained more than 23kgs of methamphetamine.
The drugs seized from the suspects and their vehicle had an estimated street value of some $102,000.
The driver of the car, who investigators identified as a 34-year-old male US citizen, was taken into custody with three juvenile males, including a 16-year-old US citizen and two Mexican nationals aged 14 and 16.
CBP said that its San Diego Sector has seized approximately 500kgs of methamphetamine since 1 October last year, which had a total estimated street value of $2,088,100.
In a statement, CBP said: “To prevent the illicit smuggling of humans, drugs, and other contraband, the US Border Patrol maintains a high level of vigilance on corridors of egress away from our nation’s borders.”
In a separate seizure last Friday, Californian customs workers took a man into custody after finding more than 90 packages of methamphetamine stashed in various parts of his car.
After flagging the man down in his Green Ford Explorer on Interstate 15 near Temecula, a border agent engaged him in conversation while a sniffer dog gave the vehicle the once over.
When the dog signalled that drugs were likely in the car, investigators conducted a detailed search, finding 96 packages containing nearly 46kgs of methamphetamine estimated to be worth some $191,900.
San Diego Chief Patrol Agent Douglas Harrison commented: “I am very proud of the dedication displayed by these agents.
“They are committed to protecting America and keeping dangerous narcotics like these from reaching our communities.”
British pharmacist jailed for selling opiate painkillers, tranquillisers and cancer drugs to organised criminals
A crooked British pharmacist has been handed a 28-month jail sentence after being convicted of supplying controlled drugs with an estimated street value of almost £280,500 ($366,557) to members of an organised crime network.
Jaspar Ojela, 56, from West Bromwich, purchased controlled opiate painkillers, tranquillisers and medications intended for the treatment of cancer from drug wholesalers in 2016 before selling them on to his underworld contacts.
Ojela pleaded guilty to supplying the drugs during a hearing at Wolverhampton Crown Court after he was caught in a successful operation conducted by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates medication and medical devices in Britain.
The agency said cancer drugs are valuable to organised crime gangs as they are taken illicitly by bodybuilders to counteract the unwanted effects of other hormone medications.
An investigation was launched into Ojela after inspectors noticed that his pharmacy was buying suspiciously large quantities of controlled drugs that are popular on the black market, such as Diazepam, Zolpidem and Zopiclone.
Investigators were able to establish that Ojela illegally sold more than 200,000 doses of these drugs to his criminal contacts between February and September 2016.
When brought in by police for questioning, Ojela admitted that he had bought the medication with the intention of selling it on to organised criminals, and that he did so while knowing that he did not hold the necessary MHRA and Home Office licences.
Ojela’s defence barrister told the court he made less than £2,000 from the conspiracy and that he was at a “low ebb” when he agreed to participate in it.
The court was told that Ojela sold his criminal associates 213,000 pills for a total of just £5,600.
As well as pursuing his prosecution and jailing, the MHRA is also seeking to recover the proceeds of Ojela’s crimes, while the General Pharmaceutical Council is pursuing disciplinary proceedings against him.
In a statement, Mark Jackson, MHRA Head of Enforcement, commented: “It is a serious criminal offence to sell controlled drugs which are also prescription only medicines without a prescription.
“We work relentlessly with regulatory and law enforcement colleagues to identify and prosecute those involved.
“Those who sell medicines illegally are exploiting vulnerable people and have no regard for their health. Prescription-only medicines are potent and should only be taken under medical supervision.”
- PayPal agrees to flag suspicious transactions to US anti-trafficking NGO Polaris
- US border guards arrest 14-year-old boy with three packages of methamphetamine taped to his stomach
- British pharmacist jailed for selling opiate painkillers, tranquillisers and cancer drugs to organised criminals
- Bungling British cyber hacker jailed for nine months after making £5 in attack on UK National Lottery
- People trafficking gang that smuggled Moroccan migrants into EU via Gibraltar smashed
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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