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.
Europol and Eurojust help EU law enforcement agencies dismantle two organised immigration crime networks
Police from Italy and Greece have smashed an organised immigration crime network that used leisure boats and pleasure craft to smuggle migrants across the Adriatic Sea.
In the culmination of an operation that was backed by EU law enforcement agencies Europol and Eurojust, investigators from both countries participated in a day of action that involved raids on 13 properties and the arrest of eight suspects of Greek, Italian and Middle Eastern nationality.
The organised immigration crime gang behind the smuggling conspiracy, which is said to have been active since 2018, was allegedly responsible for trafficking some 150 migrants from the west of Greece via the Strait of Corfu to the southern Italian coast between Otranto and Lecce.
Members of the gang were charging migrants as much as €6,000 ($6,666) per person for the 12-hour journey across the sea, which would sometimes be completed in leisure boats as small as ten metres long.
The gang reportedly smuggled migrants as young as 13.
In a statement, Vice-President of Eurojust Filippo Spiezia said: “Tackling migrant smuggling is one of the priorities for Eurojust to enable a good coordination of actions, as we have been able to do in this case.
“At a time when Greece faces a strong migratory pressure, we have to combine efforts and as EU agencies support the effort of national authorities to combat criminal organisations that exploit migrants.”
In a separate operation, Europol and Eurojust helped French and Italian authorities break up another organised immigration crime gang that trafficked migrants from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan from Italy to other EU member states.
Ten Pakistani nationals were arrested in Italy and one in France as part of a day of action carried by investigators from both countries.
This network, which is thought to have been operational for two years, used dilapidated vans to smuggle migrants from Italy to countries across western Europe.
The money will be used to help Morocco deal with organised immigration crime and irregular migration and improve the living conditions in Libyan communities and protect refugees and vulnerable migrants stranded in Libya through voluntary returns.
The European Commission said the cash would also be used to offer opportunities for labour migration and mobility in North Africa.
EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi said in a statement: “With this new package we are deepening our partnership with Morocco to further reduce irregular arrivals on the Western Mediterranean route and prevent people risking their lives.”
Major US hotel chains sued for failing to prevent sex trafficking in their rooms for decades
US lawyers are suing 12 major hotel chains on behalf of women who claim the firms have profited from allowing sex trafficking and prostitution to take place in their properties.
In total, 13 women have accused hotel brands including Best Western and Hilton of failing to prevent sex trafficking from taking place in their rooms, alleging that the companies have made money from trafficked women and children being sexually exploited.
New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg has filed litigation in a federal court in Columbus, Ohio, that brings together 13 separate lawsuits relating to hotels in a number of US cities, marking the first time the hospitality industry has faced such action.
Accusing the hotel firms of benefitting financially from the trafficking of women and children and “providing a marketplace for sex trafficking”, the suit alleges the companies have allowed sex trafficking to take place across their businesses for decades, and says it is time that they were held accountable for allowing the illicit trade to continue unchecked.
KOIN 6 News reports that one woman who claims she was forced by a pimp to sleep with as many as seven men every night is talking legal action against six hotel firms for the role they played in her abuse.
She is seeking $10 million in damages.
“Rather than taking timely and effective measures to thwart this epidemic, defendant hotels have instead chosen to ignore the open and obvious presence of sex trafficking on their properties, enjoying the profit from rooms rented for this explicit and apparent purpose,” the suit reads.
In a statement, Hilton Worldwide Holdings said: “Hilton condemns all forms of human trafficking, including for sexual exploitation. As signatories of the ECPAT [formerly End Child Prostitution and Trafficking] Code since 2011, we are fully committed, in each and every one of our markets, to protecting individuals from all forms of abuse and exploitation.”
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts said: “We condemn human trafficking in any form.”
Back in January, Marriott announced that it had provided 500,000 of its staff members with training on how to spot the signs that a guest might be a victim of human trafficking, and what they should do in the event they are faced with such a scenario.
Speaking at the time, David Rodriguez, Chief Global Human Resources Officer at Marriott International, said: “Hotels can unfortunately be unwilling venues for this unconscionable crime – and as a global hotel company that cares about human rights, we’re proud to be training hotel workers across the Marriott system to spot the signs.”
UK charities warned to look out for social engineering spear phishing emails
The UK’s Charity Commission has warned that scammers are impersonating charity workers via email and attempting to change employees’ bank details.
After receiving several reports of spear phishing campaigns targeting people who work at charitable organisations, the commission cautioned that fraudsters are using spoofed email addresses to pose as staff with authority to update employees’ banking information.
The fraudsters behind the social engineering scam typically write in their emails that they have changed their bank details or opened a new account.
Alan Bryce, head of development, counter fraud and cyber crime at the commission, said: “We know several charities have been targeted by this fraud and we want to ensure others are equipped to protect themselves.
“So, our message to charities is clear: read and understand our guidance on fraud, and check who’s sending an email whenever you receive a message about changes to staff bank details.”
In advice on how charities can protect themselves, the commission said organisations should review internal procedures regarding how employee details are amended and approved, and train staff not to click on links or open attachments in suspicious emails.
A report published by the commission to coincide with the UK’s Charity Fraud Awareness Week, which took place in October, revealed that over half of fraud carried out against charities is committed by perpetrators known to the organisation affected.
The study found that while over two-thirds of UK charities consider fraud to be a major risk, less than 9% offer fraud awareness training to their staff members.
More than half (58%) of charitable organisations surveyed for the study said they believe cyber crime poses a major threat to the sector.
In a separate report also published in October, the commission and the UK Fraud Advisory Panel revealed that one in every six major organisations that make up Britain’s £80 billion ($105.4 million). charity sector will be affected by cyber crime over the course of the next two years.
Twenty-two percent of charities said they believe that cyber crime is a greater risk to the sector than any other threat, with larger charities typically being more likely to appreciate the risk of cyber crime.
“This may be because larger charities generally have a greater capability to detect cyber crime,” the report concluded.
“Many small and medium sized charities are less aware of the cyber crime threat, yet are probably more at risk.”
- Europol and Eurojust help EU law enforcement agencies dismantle two organised immigration crime networks
- Major US hotel chains sued for failing to prevent sex trafficking in their rooms for decades
- UK charities warned to look out for social engineering spear phishing emails
- Hewlett Packard seizes counterfeit products worth $11 million in India as part of its global anti-fraud programme
- Woman carrying container of crystal meth inside her vagina arrested on US/Mexico border
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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