21 May Online Drug Dealers Stay Under the Radar
The Internet, and in particular social media sites, has been a boon for drug dealers. They have been using sites like Instagram to market their products, find new customers, arrange buys and make the final deals. As law enforcement agencies catch up to the dealers, they just burrow further into the anonymous online world, coming up with new and creative ways to stay under the radar and continue selling their products.
Instagram Accounts Selling Drugs
One of the most widely used websites for selling drugs has been Instagram. This photo-sharing and social media site is owned by Facebook and is one of the most popular sites of its kind with young people. Thousands of the accounts on Instagram are thought to be used for selling drugs. Particularly troubling is the fact that teens are some of the biggest customers of these dealers.
The sales are not completed on Instagram, but the drugs are clearly marketed on the site. Dealers post clear images of the drugs they want to sell, everything from marijuana and prescription painkillers to Ecstasy and LSD. The dealers find customers and then complete the transactions elsewhere. Bitcoin, the online currency site, is a popular place to complete transactions. Dealers and buyers use anonymous messaging services to communicate. Once paid for, the drugs ship through the U.S. Postal Service. Drug dealers are able to make deals right out in the open. The huge marketplace of Instagram drug-dealing even includes accounts that identify scammers, to keep the business “honest.”
Drug Dealers Thwart Crackdown
Since several news agencies reported on the huge number of Instagram drug deals, both the site and law enforcement agencies have made moves to crack down on the dealers. Instagram’s response has been fairly weak. It has banned a number of hashtags that obviously lead to drug deals. Because dealers and buyers are creative with hashtags, the move has had little impact.
Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have also attempted to shut down the illegal marketplace by arresting the dealers that made mistakes. It isn’t difficult to remain anonymous online, so only the most brazen dealers have been targeted and arrested for selling drugs. The FBI seized tons of marijuana and arrested more than 350 dealers in one crackdown. They were able to find the dealers and their product because the locations had been geotagged.
The smarter dealers are finding easy ways to stay under the radar and keep selling product. In addition to using clever hashtags and marketing, they have successfully anonymized their accounts on Instagram. They use operating systems like Ubuntu, VirtualBox, Android emulators and virtual private networks, or VPNs, to create what is called a burner account on Instagram. Figuring out how to use these programs is not difficult, and many online dealers are now using burner accounts to sell and to avoid being arrested.
Clearly, the issue of drug dealers on Instagram is one that has hit a dead end for law enforcement. Officials need the cooperation of Instagram and Facebook to put better policies in place that will stop these dealers. The current policy on Instagram mostly relies on users to flag illegal posts. In the community guidelines, Instagram states that it expects users to follow the law. There are no consequences listed for marketing or selling drugs, firearms, pornography or anything else questionable. Only when tech companies step up and help crack down on these illicit deals will there be any kind of dent made in the problem of the online drug market.
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