The world of criminal marketplaces selling deadly drugs, counterfeit products, malware, and weapons just got a bit smaller: The Department of Justice says it’s shut down AlphaBay, what it calls the largest online “dark market.”
According to feds, AlphaBay had been running for more than two years on the dark web, with one staff member claiming that it serviced more than 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors. Transactions were made with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Monero, and Ethereum to avoid detection.
A Dangerous Business
At takedown time, AlphaBay was selling a panoply of illegal items ranging from heroin and fentanyl to fake IDs: It had more than 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals and over 100,000 listings for stolen and fraudulent identification documents and access devices, counterfeit goods, malware and other computer hacking tools, firearms, and fraudulent services.
Officials say that the investigation into AlphaBay found that multiple overdose deaths across the country were attributed to purchases of dangerous opioids on the site.
In February, prosecutors in South Carolina filed a complaint against two people accused of selling a synthetic opioid they’d allegedly purchased on AlphaBay — called U-47700 — that was linked to an overdose death in that state.
Another complaint filed in Florida that month claimed that a fentanyl overdose death in Orange County was linked to a drug purchased on AlphaBay.
Largest Dark Web Takedown Ever?
AlphaBay’s takedown was led by the U.S. and involved cooperation by law enforcement around the world : Thailand, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Canada, the United Kingdom, and France all pitched in, as well as the European law enforcement agency Europol.
On July 5, a Canadian citizen residing in Thailand was arrested by Thai authorities on behalf of the U.S. for his role as the alleged creator and administrator of AlphaBay. One week later, he reportedly took his own life while in custody. Shortly after, federal officials filed a civil forfeiture complaint against him and his wife’s assets scattered around the world, including luxury vehicles, residences, and a hotel in Thailand, as well as millions of dollars in cryptocurrency.
The DOJ says that although AlphaBay was only around for a few years, it was the largest online dark marketplace yet. For example, the previous title holder — Silk Road marketplace — had reportedly about 14,000 listings for illicit goods and services at the time it was shut down by law enforcement in Nov. 2013.
“This is likely one of the most important criminal investigations of the year – taking down the largest dark net marketplace in history,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Make no mistake, the forces of law and justice face a new challenge from the criminals and transnational criminal organizations who think they can commit their crimes with impunity using the dark net.”