Law enforcement has arrested 288 Darknet market vendors linked back to the once top-tier Monopoly Market. The sting operation occurred across nine countries and involved a global police operation called “SpecTor.” The sting was orchestrated by the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, and resulted in the seizure of almost 1,900 pounds of narcotics, 117 firearms, and around €50.8 million (roughly USD 53.4 million) in cash and crypto. At the center of all the arrests is a market that was thought to have exit scammed, the “Monopoly Market.” According to Europol, this site was the main target in Operation SpecTor.
Arrests Made Across Nine Countries
According to the Europol report, the international operation involved law enforcement agencies from Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. The darknet market vendor arrests were made in various countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, and the US.
The operation was supported by several agencies, including the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA). This marked one of the largest darknet market operations of all time and clearly one of the most successful too.
Europol worked closely with its partners to monitor the various illegal activities taking place in Monopoly Market and managed to identify and track down those involved. Many of the arrests came from bad OpSec from vendors, but some speculate that Europol found a fault in XMRs network and aren’t revealing their exploits.
This SpecTor sting operation resulted in one of the most significant drug seizures in recent years. Europol made it clear that this was only the beginning of the fight against the dark web’s illicit activities.
“The availability of dangerous substances like fentanyl on darknet marketplaces is helping to fuel the crisis that has claimed far too many American lives. That’s why we will continue to join forces with our law enforcement partners around the globe to attack this problem together. The FBI is proud to stand with our domestic and foreign partners as we continue to shine that light into the deepest corners of the dark net and hold those accountable who continue to peddle this poison around the world.”said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Monopoly Market LE Takeover?
If you haven’t heard of Monopoly Market, that’s because the website went offline back in January 2022. Monopoly was built in a way that the admin could not exit scam; making it one of the most trustable marketplaces at the time.
They use a unique “Userless feature”. The site doesn’t have a site wallet and does not require users to log into an account when making an order. Their only payment method is Direct XMR Payment to trusted Vendors. This means that the amount the funds that are available to the admin is very small. Their only source of income came from Vendor Bonds and commissions on sales.
Although some saw their disappearance as an exit scam, many were not so sure. As one Dread user claimed at the time of its disappearance, “I’m going to be honest, I am not 100% sure this was a planned exit scam. I mean, we all know the dude was… partial, to say the least, to hard stimulants, and I don’t mean caffeine.”
Until now, there was not much information on the disappearance. However, Europol has finally revealed that German law enforcement was behind the ‘Monopoly Market’ takedown. According to Europol, German authorities managed to seize Monopoly Market’s infrastructure more than two years ago. Usually, authorities would replace Monopoly Market’s darknet site with a takedown notice. However, the BKA took an alternative route. With full control over the website, they managed to gather intel on various vendors and capture personal information.
“There was no press release at the time the marketplace was shut down in December 2021, as (foreign) investigations were still pending, which should not be jeopardized by a statement. .”A spokesperson from the general prosecutor’s office in Frankfurt
Monopoly Market only accepted “reputable vendors” due to their Direct XMR Payment operation. This means that all vendors were already using alternative darknet markets and had an extensive list of customers.
Thousands of Dark Web Customers at Risk of Prosecution Following “SpecTor” Sting
Darknet markets remain a significant challenge for law enforcement agencies worldwide, as it provides a platform for illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and the sale of firearms. Despite this latest success, Europol and its partners have emphasized that the fight against dark web crime is ongoing and will require continued international cooperation.
In recent years, LE has managed to keep up with the ever-evolving technology. Still, the challenges of tackling the dark web’s illegal activities will only become more complex.
The impressive 288 arrests are not the end of this operation. According to Europol, investigations are ongoing to identify additional individuals who operated on the darknet, and authorities have “gained access to the vendors’ extensive buyer lists.”
“As a result, thousands of customers across the globe are now at risk of prosecution as well.” Europol has described this operation as one of the most significant drug seizures in recent years, and the evidence originally secured in December 2021 by Germany laid bare the marketplace’s “criminal infrastructure,” forming the basis for the investigations.
The arrests took place in the United States (153), the United Kingdom (55), Germany (52), the Netherlands (10), Austria (9), France (5), Switzerland (2), Poland (1), and Brazil (1). However, Europol has warned that a number of investigations are still ongoing to identify additional individuals behind dark web accounts.
Further cementing that you need to be careful when ordering anything on the darknet and need to keep your OpSec in check.
There is a bit of a Whac-a-Mole problem here, and we are whacking as hard as we can. We are getting more and more sophisticated and more and more capable of finding both the perpetrators and the victims and the customers. Beyond arrests and seizures of servers, it’s important for governments to warn people about the dangers of buying illegal drugs online
We’re really focused on reaching out to potential victims and better informing them and bringing awareness to the public so that people can put themselves in the best position to protect their own livesFBI Deputy Director Paul M. Abbate
Operation SpecTor was supported by various law enforcement agencies in Germany, including the national investigative police force (the BKA) and various police departments. The team behind Monopoly’s bust.
At the time of writing, federal investigations and prosecutions are being conducted in more than 30 federal districts directly linked to SpecTor (according to the DOJ)
Additionally, the 288 arrests have led to the confiscation of:
- 1,900 pounds in narcotics
- 117 firearms
- €50.8 million (USD 53.4 million) in cash and crypto.
“Operation SpecTor was a coordinated international law enforcement effort, spanning three continents, to disrupt drug trafficking on the dark web and represents the most funds seized and the highest number of arrests in any coordinated international action led by the Justice Department against drug traffickers on the dark web. Our message to criminals on the dark web is this: You can try to hide in the furthest reaches of the internet, but the Justice Department will find you and hold you accountable for your crimes.”Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle
It seems that law enforcement is willing to take on greater measures to attack darknet users. It once felt like a conspiracy that LE were in control of major markets, now it’s clear they’re willing to risk it. Remember that you are trusting the vendor to keep your personal information secure. Your safety is only as good as their OpSec, but plausible deniability is the best direction in this case.
Hey there, I’m a dark web geek who’s been around for the last 8 years. More precisely, I’m livedarknet’s senior content writer who’s been writing about darknet marketplaces, tutorials, and cybersecurity stuff for educational purposes.