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Cryptocurrency, dark web marketplaces interlinked with illicit drug trade: SFU study

Online cryptomarkets are proving to be a popular place for the exchange of currency for illicit drugs, according to a new study conducted by Simon Fraser University researchers.

According to the study, a “cryptomarket” is an online marketplace in dark web spheres that can facilitate the sale of illicit goods between vendors and buyers —much like how Facebook Marketplace operates.

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SFU criminology professor Richard Frank, also the director of the International CyberCrime Research Centre, said this new-age type of transaction is an attractive alternative to traditional in-person drug dealing.

“Cryptomarkets, which are typically short-lived sites that appear and shut down regularly, can be used as an alternative method to access these products,” he said.

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“With lower prices, contactless transactions and a large variety of drug products available in varying quantities for the buyer’s perusal, it becomes an attractive alternative for the illicit trade.”

To get a better understanding of the cryptomarket drug scene, researchers analyzed eight “large and notable” cryptomarkets between June 2021 and January 2022.

“Researchers, who presented their findings at a recent international conference on system sciences, reported an estimated 16.8 tons of drug products trafficked for $234.7 million across the eight cryptomarkets, with the most popular drugs being stim­­ulants, cannabis, opioids and benzodiazepines,” SFU staff wrote in a press release.

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They also found that larger quantities and less expensive items are more likely to be shipped globally, while more expensive products were only shipped domestically — likely due to a perceived increase in risk with global delivery.

“Cryptomarkets have grown and will likely continue to do so, but some aspects of the trade may become less visible, such as if vendors choose to move to invite-only chat platforms,” said researcher Shu Liu.

“It can be difficult for law enforcement agencies to clamp down on the international cryptomarket drug trade, but developing and testing new tools and techniques will increase the chances of illicit imports being intercepted by authorities as they go through the mail.”

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SFU professor Richard Frank said the cryptomarket drug dealing ecosystem is only expected to grow in the coming years and that intercepting these packages may be the only way of slowing it down.

“Machine learning may become a solution to better search and identify drug packages during the shipping process, based on the characteristics of drug packages,” Frank said.

“With more packages being seized, vendors may avoid shipping globally because of heightened risk and potential financial loss.”

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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