Darknet marketplaces have risen in popularity in recent years, primarily because of their anonymity capabilities. They have gradually grown into havens for illegal transactions and activities, with drug trafficking as the most prominent activity.
Nonetheless, last week was a rough awakening for some common darknet market clients in the United States and the Netherlands when they got an unsuspected visit from law enforcement authorities disguised as peddlers delivering packages containing their drugs.
Federal agents and police in both the U.S. and the Netherlands paid impromptu visits to more than 100 individuals on Wednesday and Thursday.
According to the authorities, these individuals were alleged drug purchasers who relied on a now-defunct darknet marketplace by the name Hansa Market.
Before the market was ultimately shut down by Dutch authorities last summer, it was an anonymity-friendly dark web platform that was used to facilitate illicit commerce and transactions. The anonymity it offered is aided by the fact that it was not accessible through typical internet browsers.
The identities of the alleged buyers became known to the particular authorities soon after Dutch investigators were able to secretly take over Hansa Market.
The detectives acted as the administrators of the site, and this is how they were able to gather distinct information on the buyers, including their usernames and logging data.
According to a report by the Dutch authorities, they paid an impromptu visit to about 37 alleged drug purchasers last week alone. They put one man in custody during the weekend on suspicion that he used the dark web to purchase 150 ecstasy pills.
The U.S. authorities, on the other hand, went on to nab another 50 culprits in the country.
Prominence of Darknet Drug Trade in the Netherlands and U.S.
In one of the numerous reports issued on online drug sales, the Netherlands was placed as among the top nations where drug trading is prominent on darknet markets. In the report, called Internet-Facilitated Drugs Trade, the Dutch Ministry of Justice focused on identifying the scope, size and role played by the Netherlands in the global online drug trade scene.
Statistical reports, particularly the EMCDDA report, outline the Netherlands as the chief producer of herbal cannabis, ecstasy and MDMA. What’s more, it is also the key distribution center for cocaine and cannabis resin.
On the other hand, online drug sales in the U.S. are also a major concern. Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized multiple servers utilized by AlphaBay Market, one of the most popular darknet markets of its time.
The authorities also arrested its creator and admin, a 25-year-old Canadian national.
The site, which only accepted cryptocurrency as the medium of exchange, was prominent in the sale of fentanyl and heroin within the anonymous Tor network. Sales emerging from AlphaBay were heavily linked to numerous overdose deaths across the U.S.
In a statement by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, European Regional Director Kevin Scully noted that darknet marketplaces are not as safe as they are otherwise perceived.
According to him, anyone living in the U.S. who thinks it’s safe to purchase illegal drugs from a different nation is mistaken and misinformed.
He issued a statement to The Associated Press warning dark web drug purchasers of the law enforcement campaign dubbed “knock and talk.” In this statement, he warned everyone using darknet markets to purchase illegal drugs that they are not immune to the law and that they cannot escape prosecution by using the anonymous-friendly platforms for illegal operations.
In remarks made after AlphaBay was shut down last July, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that illegal drugs accounted for more than two-thirds of the 250,000 listings on the site.
Other illicit merchandise that was on sale includes malware, stolen and counterfeit identification details, and even weapons.
Public prosecutors are expected to make a decision on whether or not they should press charges for the captured buyers.
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