Police forces from around the world have arrested 150 individuals involved in the sale of illicit goods on the Dark Web as part of a coordinated international operation involving nine countries.
This operation led to the seizure of over €26.7 million (US$31 million) in cash and virtual currencies, together with 234 kg of drugs and 45 firearms. The drugs confiscated include 152 kg of amphetamines, 27 kg of opioids and over 25,000 pills of Ecstasy.
This operation, christened Dark HuntTOR, was planned with a series of separate but complementary actions in Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, with coordination efforts led by Europol and Eurojust.
The Dark HuntTOR operation arose from the closing down at the beginning of the year of DarkMarket, the world’s largest illegal market on the Dark Web. At the time the German authorities arrested the suspected operator of this market and gained control of its criminal infrastructure, which provided police investigators from around the world with a large amount of evidence. Since then Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) has been gathering information to identify key targets.
As a result, 150 vendors and purchasers who had taken part in tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods were arrested all over Europe and the United States. Some of these suspects were considered by Europol as major targets.
The arrests concerned took place in the United States (65), Germany (47), the United Kingdom (24), Italy (4), the Netherlands (4), France (3), Switzerland (2) and Bulgaria (1). Various investigations are still under way to identify more persons behind the hidden accounts of the Dark Web.
Within the scope of this operation, the Italian authorities also closed down the markets of the Dark Web markets DeepSea and Berlusconi, which together featured over 100,000 advertisements for illegal products. Four directors were arrested and cryptocurrencies worth €3.6 million were confiscated.
Europol’s EC3 agency facilitated the exchange of information within the framework of the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT) based at Europol’s central headquarters in The Hague in the Netherlands.
Europol’s Assistant Executive Director of Operations, Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, affirmed that the aim of operations such as Dark HuntTOR is to warn the criminals who operate on the Dark Web that the international police community has the means and the global networks to unmask them and to hold them to account for their illegal activities, even in this part of the Web.
Buying on the Dark Web involves various risks:
• Purchasers may find themselves with more than they had bargained for. Opioids containing fentanyl, for example, have provoked a wave of fatal overdoses. Nor is there any guarantee that purchasers will actually receive the products or services they have bought, since there are tricksters operating on every digital street-corner.
• Purchasing arrangements may be exposed to a malware attacks prepared to cause ravages in purchasers’ databases.
• There is a real risk of prosecution. Using the Dark Web for illegal activities is a criminal offence and can lead to prison sentences in various countries.
Are you thinking of buying illegal products anonymously on the Dark Web?
Think twice. The Dark Web is no longer as dark as some criminal would like it to be. Police forces have got used to working in this field and have access to a wide range of different techniques to identify the purchasers and vendors of illegal goods.
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