In September 2015, London’s Metropolitan Police made claims that the dark web sites such as AlphaBay Market, Abraxas, and Outlaw, may have contributed to an increase in knife crimes in the UK by up to a staggering 18%. Considering the already astronomical knife crime rates in England, the Met Police found this worrying.
According to the Homicide and Major Crimes Division of the Scotland Yard, this dramatic increase may have come about because of the police’s new approach to reduce stop and search operations. Cultural shift among the country’s youth is also to blame. The police think that this shift fosters the use of knives. Despite this, the Yard speculates that the other contributor is the use of dark web bazaars like AlphaBay, to procure weapons.
These claims instigated an online survey to help determine the exact proportions of the online trade in knives. Motherboard, a tech blogging website conducted the survey that sampled Abraxas, Dream Market, Outlaw, Middle Earth Market, and AlphaBay. This study unearthed 27 listings that explicitly displayed knives or other manner of weaponry that come close in categorization especially the knuckle-dusters that have extra blades attached.
The prices of the said merchandise widely vary. A concealed knife fronted as a credit card goes for US$15 while “Pantera Claws,” a weapon similar to the large blades seen on Wolverine, the comic book character, costs almost US$120. Judging by the photos accompanying the listings, most of the knives offered for sale are however small.
The UK has grappled with knife crime for a long time now and with very little success. This is especially worse among young gang members who use sites like AlphaBay a lot more frequently. According to the Gang and organized Crime Division of the Metropolitan Police, ready availability of knives and especially on the internet needs to be dealt with because young people can now get these much easily and without the necessary checks that may help ascertain the buyers’ ages. Though this gives reference to the entire internet, the Metropolitan Police says it is right to mention the contributions of dark web sites like AlphaBay, in the whole knives trade.
While the Met Police admit to seeing “Rambo” as well as zombie knives in circulation and attribute this phenomenon to online sales, Motherboard did not see any of these among the listings sampled. While the said knives are large, hunting style weapons with a design for maximum damage, the closest listing on the survey identified and that comes any close to these, are the TV-motivated endorsements of jungle survival knives.
Regarding overall knife sales, only some dark web marketplaces offer useful data. AlphaBay for instance, lists the number of purchases concluded on a particular item. According to this list, AlphaBay sold five “credit card” knives between April and September 2015. During the said period, none of the three other knife items listed on the market attracted any sales.
Such surveys are however not very representative. Getting a good idea of sales made over a specific time frame on a particular market like AlphaBay may necessitate the use of collated feedback collected over several years. The listings available in darknet markets such as AlphaBay, only present displays from a few sellers. The listings the survey refers to on AlphaBay Market and other dark web sites for instance, are from a single vendor.
It also is important to note that despite covering AlphaBay, this survey left out Agora and Evolution: Two leading dark web sites to date. While this skews the study results and real picture. Unfortunately, Motherboard could not do anything about the management crisis in the two said sites. Agora temporarily closed in August 2015 in what its management calls a hiatus necessitated by security concerns it experienced with the dark web browser, Tor. Evolution on the other hand, went down some times in March 2015 when its administrators disappeared and costing customers several millions of dollars. These occurrences thus reduced the scope of the said survey to only the five earlier mentioned sites.
According to the Metropolitan Police, their conclusion that knives from the dark web sites such as AlphaBay Market contribute to the crime instances in London is based on intelligence, weapons seized from gang members, results from criminal investigation activities conducted by Trident teams in conjunction with gang members as well as from work carried out by the Home Office. This information notwithstanding, all accounts show that AlphaBay sales as well as other dark web trade in knives is still minimal and that further research conducted by law enforcement divisions may be necessary to prove otherwise. According to this particular survey, believing that sites like AlphaBay Market contribute significantly to the increase levels of knife crime is unfounded.