- BBC News World
To better understand the drug trade on the dark web, the BBC’s Joe Tidy and Alison Benjamin made two purchases: ecstasy and cocaine. They also learned how easy it is for drug dealers to keep going, even when police shut down an online marketplace where they have operated.
At first glance, Torrez looked like a normal shopping website: thousands of products listed, customer reviews with star ratings for each seller, information on delivery estimates, and payment methods.
The only difference was the products themselves.
Peruvian fish flake cocaine, MDMA champagne, ecstasy pills Blue Punisher… Nor the kind of items you would find on Amazon or eBay.
Until a few weeks ago, Torrez was a dark web marketplace where buyers could meet sellers who they sold everything from drugs and tools for rhack the internet even fake money and pistols taser.
It was one of the markets of the dark web most popular in the world and the BBC became one of its last clients.
As part of an investigation for the program File on Four from BBC Radio 4 on the dark web drug trade, we used Torrez to buy some ecstasy tablets from a UK dealer.
It was an eye-opening experience.
There is a myth that buying drugs on the dark web is as easy as ordering a pizza, but buying the drugs with cryptocurrency and communicating in an encrypted chat with the seller took hours.
The “super strong” tablets arrived as promised, within a couple of days through the mail.
The three small ecstasy tablets came in a large box, an example of “hidden packaging” which is used to disguise the content.
A package of cocaine from a dealer purchased elsewhere came with a false invoice from an herbal health company.
The BBC had the drugs tested (they were less strong than we had been led to believe) and then a lab destroyed them.
The UN estimates that darknet markets represent a small fraction of the total drug trade globally, perhaps less than 1%, even though that fraction is growing.
But a survey of tens of thousands of drug users around the world last year, the Global Drug Survey, paints a different picture.
In 2021, nearly one in four respondents in North America reported purchasing drugs on the dark web, and more than one in six in Europe and Oceania. In Russia the figure was 86%, in Finland and Sweden more than 40% and more than 30% in England, Scotland and Poland.
The number of English-language darknet drug markets fell last year, but the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) says revenue grew by 14%.
The world of drugs on the dark web is chaotic and constantly changing.
Occasionally sites go out of business and operators disappear with customers’ or vendors’ money; this is known as an exit scam. They can also be hacked or arrested by the police and taken offline.
But there is a new trend for markets to close in an orderly manner, known as “sunsetting” or “voluntary withdrawal”.
A big player in this market, White House Market, did this last fall, then another, Cannazon, did the same thing.
And then came Torrez, who posted a letter on his home page last month announcing his closure and saying it had been “a great pleasure to work with most of the providers and users.”
The site’s administrator, mrblonde, thanked customers and promised that the marketplace would remain online “for at least two to three weeks until all orders are finalized.”
“Thank you for such a graceful outing, much appreciated,” one customer posted. Another added: “Thank you for handling this professionally and honestly.”
“Right now there seems to be more happening. The markets gracefully come out and say, ‘We’ve made enough money and before we get caught, we’ll just pull out,'” says Professor David Décary-Hétu. , criminologist at the University of Montreal.
He says that the administrators who manage big markets like Torrez can earn more than US$one00.000 per day in commissions.
For the police, who would prefer criminals to face justice, this sort of outing creates mixed feelings.
“I always applaud anyone who maybe realizes they’re in a criminalized occupation and decides not to stay in it,” says Alex Hudson, head of NCA darknet intelligence.
“If we regret something, it is that we must hold them responsible for it and they must understand that they will still be responsible“, he adds.
But while these voluntary closures are currently in vogue, BBC data analysis shows that markets are more likely to close with an exit scam.
Police lockdowns are even less common, although there have been a number of notable successes.
The American Ross Ulbricht is serving two life sentences with 40 years no right to conditional freedom for running the first major dark web marketplace, Silk Road, which ran from 2011 to 2013.
Last October, 150 suspects were arrested in what the NCA called the largest operation of its kind, stemming from the January 2021 raid of a site called Dark Market.
Police from several countries were involved, with arrests made in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
But even when an illegal market is closed, this can have little effect on sellers, who may simply move on to a new one.
Data analyzed by the BBC shows that at least 450 traffickers operating today, a conservative estimate, have outlived closures previous police.
These include a distributor called Next Generation, which has appeared in 21 different markets over six years.
This criminal or team of criminals is estimated to have made at least 140,000 sales during that period, selling products such as cannabis, cocaine and ketamine.
Via encrypted email, Next Generation said police were faced with “an impossible task.”
“As usual, get caught It’s due to simple user error.. Law enforcement doesn’t wake up one day, ‘crack a code’ and arrest people,” he said.
The Pygmalion Syndicate, a self-described “hippy collective” of UK and German traffickers, also told the BBC they weren’t too worried about getting caught because they were very careful, like “secret agents in enemy territory”.
“The shutdowns by law enforcement haven’t affected our business much and I think most other vendors don’t care either. They really there is no reason why someone’s life should be affected for those events,” they said.
The NCA’s Alex Hudson admits police have often been one step behind criminals, but says new technology will make a difference.
“Even compared to the situation a few years ago, we can extract information from the data that is provided to us and then identify criminals much faster,” he told the BBC.
“I think what we’re actually seeing is something like a tidal shift,” he said.
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