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Police just took down a massive dark web marketplace in Germany

Police just took down a massive dark web marketplace in Germany

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A Europol-led police operation has arrested three people who allegedly ran the Wall Street Market, supposedly the world’s second-largest “dark web” marketplace. Authorities also seized the site’s servers and more than €550,000 (around $615,000) in cash, plus Bitcoin and Monero “in six-digit amounts,” which could add up to a huge sum. (A single bitcoin currently trades for $5,700 and Monero trade for around $65.)

The arrests were part of Europol’s “Dark Web Team” operations, and they only the latest in a string of dark web market crackdowns. As German police arrested the Wall Street Market suspects, Finnish law enforcement seized another marketplace known as Silkkitie or Valhalla, and American police arrested two alleged high-volume drug dealers.

According to Europol, the Wall Street Market had more than 1.15 million users and 5,400 sellers of drugs, malware, and other illegal materials. ZDNet notes that it was already in turmoil: the owners were apparently running an “exit scam” where they absconded with sellers’ money, some staff appeared to be blackmailing users by threatening to reveal their identities, and a moderator leaked high-level credentials online.

A Department of Justice release states that Wall Street Market’s owners had been trying to leave the business after receiving heightened scrutiny and an influx of new users — presumably because of the shutdown of Dream Market, which was previously the largest dark web market. But when vendors found their money gone on April 16th, it “prompted German authorities to execute a series of arrest and search warrants.”

Over the past several years, police have pursued dark web marketplaces — which promise untraceable, anonymous transactions through the Tor network — by taking down their creators and sowing paranoia about their operations. In some cases, they’ve even secretly hijacked platforms and kept them running, harvesting details about buyers and sellers for further arrests.