Some time back a report, supposedly commissioned by Qld police, was leaked via the dark web. Of course, being the dark web, it was impossible to confirm its legitimacy but it was pretty convincing. The discussion paper ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ was an extensive critique and response to Silk Road, the online drugs marketplace, well researched and referenced.
The report contained a list of vulnerabilities of Silk Road that could be targeted and came up mostly empty-handed. This should come as no surprise given the brazenness with which the site continues to operate. The authors concluded that the most strategic tactic law enforcement could use would be ‘undermining user trust’. This would not involve identification and investigation of users of the site, but rather disruption of the marketplace by becoming ‘trusted’ participants of the site and later undermining confidence and trust in a particular area.
Over the past few months the forums have been full of disgruntled Aussie buyers and overseas sellers. Buyers have complained of being ‘selectively scammed’ by overseas sellers, who blame the mythically capable Australian Customs for goods not arriving. Other sellers claim that it is the buyers who are doing the scamming, making claims that goods never arrived and refusing to release money from escrow.
Thread titles in the forums such as ‘NO LONGER SELLING TO AUSTRALIANS’ are popping up with increasing regularity. Other sellers require Australian buyers to finalise early before they will send their products.
Of course, it’s possible that Customs has suddenly become super awesomely efficient and is identifying half the mail entering the country. But it is interesting that Customs continues to be ineffective when both seller and buyer are well-established members of the Silk Road site.
Many complaints aimed at sellers are from new forum members with few posts. It would be a simple matter for law enforcement to litter the forums with multiple claims of being scammed to cause unease and suspicion among the community, particularly new buyers. Actually placing small orders and then refusing to finalise the deal would also cause sellers to become frustrated in their dealings with Australians.
Assuming law enforcement has decided on the ‘undermining user trust’ method, it seems to be working.