Cryptomarkets are novel forms of online marketplaces, hosted on darknets, that simplify the trading of a myriad of illegal and illicit merchandize, namely drugs. Even though most relevant academic research studies focus on illegal drugs, a wide variety of other products and goods that are related to identity, or financial fraud, counterfeit goods or replicas, in addition to doping products are also sold on crypto markets.
Via the analysis of data obtained from a popular cryptomarket during the period between 2014 and 2015; Evolution, a recently published study presented a thorough analysis of the patterns of drug trafficking in terms of types of sold drugs, number and countries of origin of vendors and shipping destination countries. The study also aimed at presenting the geographical pattern associated with trafficking of products sold on crypto markets e.g. trafficking flows, vendors’ specialization, as well as assessment of their specific roles along the distribution chain. The detailed examination of the flow of goods across various countries highlights the role of specific countries along the routes of domestic and international drug trafficking, potentially reporting to law enforcement agencies LEAs suspicious domestic mails and overseas packages originating from specific countries.
The study also detected the huge number of licit, as well as illicit drug listings and their vendors on Evolution’s platform. Fraud products’ listings are the second most common listings on Evolution, coming second only to drugs listings and they included counterfeited credit cards, driving licenses, passports etc.; stolen payment processor accounts e.g. Paypal; and malware. This was followed by products’ listings that involve sharing of knowledge e.g. tutorials and finally products’ listings that involves currencies, precious metals and other forms of luxury goods.
During the studied duration, 92,890 unique product listings were identified. A total of distinct 4,171 vendors were detected. 63% of the product listings involved licit and/or illicit drugs. This category of product listings included prescription drugs (e.g. benzodiazepines, synthetic opioids…etc), performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) and paraphernalia & laboratory supplies. Product listings that included fraud related issues represented 30% of all listings and around 50% of all vendors offer products that fit this category e.g. counterfeited licenses, bank statements, university degrees. Product listings classified under the “Goods, currencies and precious metals category” presented around 7% of all listings and included luxury goods such as watches; clothes and accessories such as glasses, shirts, bags, etc.
Spatial analysis proved that English speaking countries, mainly the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, and Western European countries, namely the Netherlands and Germany, dominated the market, which is in accordance with the results of previous studies that examined cryptomarkets. Analysis of trafficking flows showed the national, or domestic, (e.g. Australia) as well as the international (e.g. Germany, China and the Netherlands) nature of trading in some countries, Moreover, spatial analysis revealed the specialization of some vendors along with the countries which represent the forefront of distribution of certain types of drugs and other products. For example, vendors from China and the Netherlands specialize in selling illicit and prescription drugs, while vendors residing in India specialize in prescription drugs and vendors from China usually specialize in selling NPS and luxury goods. On the other hand, vendors located in the United States distribute products that belong to a wide range of categories. Combining the results of this study along with information from other sources reveals that the geographical trends of trafficking of certain types of illicit drugs represent a reflection of the structure of the conventional drug market (e.g. data regarding prevalence and role in the manufacturing of novel synthetic drugs). This proves that vendors utilize cryptomarkets as novel distribution channels to sell all, or just a portion, of their products.
The below table shows the country of origin and shipping destination of various product listings on Evolution. During the period of analysis of data, 93 countries were found to be the origin of various products listed on Evolution including countries from all corners of the world. On the other hand, shipping destinations included 164 countries.
Due to the fact that analyzing cryptomarkets can aid in the determination of country specific trends, it could be considered as a novel data source that would enlighten us about the features and structure of the illicit market from the domestic perspective of some countries. The info obtained via this study could be utilized at a tactical as well as an operational level (e.g. to promote certain operations) or at a strategic level (e.g. to formulate a detailed understanding of various criminal activities).