Australian drug dealers say they’ve moved to selling online because it’s both more lucrative and less risky

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  • New research about the habits of online drug dealers in Australia and abroad shows that technologies like cryptocurrencies and encrypted messaging apps have supercharged the industry.
  • Interviewees claim that the financial benefits combined with reduced risk of arrest or violence motivated their decision to sell drugs online.
  • Researchers also noticed that online selling has led to ‘gentrification’ of the industry, allowing sellers to avoid parts of the profession they deem unattractive.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Ecommerce has revolutionised nearly every industry on earth — including the sale of illegal drugs.

New research on the habits of drug dealers from Australia and the globe reveals that they’re embracing selling in online markets, particularly those using cryptocurrencies.

The Australian Institute of Criminology’s How and why vendors sell on cryptomarkets used anonymous interviews via with 13 drug dealers, ranging from those who sold less than $10,000 to large scale operations bringing in more than $100,000 in yearly revenue.

The paper’s co-authors Ramus Munskgaard and James Martin found was that drug dealers said that online selling was more lucrative, with a reduced risk of both being arrested by police and violence from their clients.

The primary reason cited for vendors selling online was financial motivation.

One factor was the scale made possible by selling online. Vendors said cryptomarkets offered an unprecedented pool of customers both domestically and internationally.

Additionally, sellers with access to low-cost supplies or niche drugs could find demand from around the world, rather than being limited to their geographical region.

These markets opened up arbitrage opportunities, according to the researchers. One interviewee said that they could buy prescription medication offline — such as MDMA from the Netherlands — and then re-sell it at large markups online.

Drug dealers also claimed that the remote aspect of the work reduced risks to themselves. Instead of having to meet with people in person, vendors are able to provide product and receive payment from customers completely anonymously.

And this is a major benefit for online drug dealers. Those interviewed perceived a lower risk of being caught by police or facing drug market-associated violence from customers or even other sellers.

“Yes, no more death threats lol… Let me tell you first hand, I have been beat and robbed just like the movies, drugs get crazy,” one small-scale seller wrote.

But it doesn’t completely eliminate the risk. One vendor claimed that had received threats that other users would hunt them down and kill them, or employ hackers to track them down. Another told researchers that he had been held at gun point while sourcing drugs to sell online.

Researchers also noticed a ‘gentrification’ happening through online sales. By allowing users to deal anonymously, individuals could avoid the stigma of being a drug dealer and avoid social aspects of dealing that they find unattractive.

And while it may sound like becoming an online seller is more attractive, it does come with additional demands as well.

Interviewees spoke of higher barriers to entry into the cryptomarket: both because of technological learning curve and the difficulty of developing a reputation online.

While one vendor claimed that a “business partner” spent hours speaking to him over the phone to explain how to set up an online store, most others said they develop their workflows and learned the skills through independent research.

The researchers noted that vendors tended to improve their ‘stealth’ methods as their business matured, claiming that “familiarisation with these technologies was a long-term endeavour.”

And the authors believe that all signs point to online drug markets being here to stay — particularly as COVID-19 affects the industry.

“Despite intense transnational law enforcement efforts, with seizures, prosecutions and arrests around the world, including in Australia, cryptomarkets have continued to grow, showing considerable resilience and potential for lasting growth,” they wrote.

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