Drug dealers are working in the open on the internet then delivering their illicit parcels through users post boxes.
Instead of skulking on shady street corners, drug users can now order up their weekend supply of cocaine, ecstasy, MDMA and other Class A drugs from the click of a mouse.
Then sit back and wait for their neatly parcelled packages of pills and powders to drop through the letter box.
But for an increasing number of clubbers and drug users across Brighton and Hove, ordering class A drugs is as easy as buying a DVD.
Welcome to the online drugs marketplace of Silk Road.
Silk Road is an online marketplace like eBay, complete with buyers and sellers, dispute and resolution services, feedback ratings and a thriving online community. The only difference is instead of selling toys, books, games and CDs.
It sells illicit and illegal drugs – and Brighton and Hove drug users are clocking on to the idea.
Brighton clubber Sam, 24, not his real name, excitedly showed our reporter around the bizarre community of drug buyers and sellers who frequent the website.
He finds his most trusted drug dealer and brings up a list of all his available stock.
He says: “This guy is good for cocaine and MDMA. He has good feedback from other Silk Road users and is reliable with discreet deliveries.
"There’s a group of us from Brighton who always order stuff online, it’s safer than going out to a dodgy car park somewhere.”
Cocaine and MDMA
Sam selects his favourite recreational drugs and his virtual basket is stocked with a gram of cocaine and two grams of MDMA – the pure form of ecstasy. He hits the checkout button, enters his address and pays 65 Bitcoins – an untraceable digital currency worth about £200.
“All done,” he says. “It should arrive at my house within a week or so, meaning I‘ll be stocked up for a good night out next weekend. More and more people I know in Brighton are now coming onto Silk Road to order their stuff. It’s just so much easier and I know the quality of the stuff I order isn’t going to be compromised.”
Sam’s favourite Silk Road seller is just one of hundreds of drug dealers who are brazenly selling anything from cannabis and LSD to cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs and ecstasy.
The website is accessed via an easy-to-use programme called Tor which enables people to remain anonymous online. The software re-routes users through a worldwide volunteer network of servers to conceal their location, meaning whatever they do online is untraceable.
Michael, again not his real name, also uses Silk Road to purchase drugs. The 30-year-old DJ and music producer from Hove discovered the website seven months ago.
He says: “I was shocked at how easy it was at first. I was used to having to call friends of friends to try and sort stuff [drugs] out but now I just go online and wait. There’s quite a decent community on there with some intelligent people, it’s not full of druggies like some people would think.
“Why would I want to try and score from some dodgy dealer in a nightclub in Brighton when I can just get it delivered to my doorstep? It’s a no-brainer.
"There is an online community forum on Silk Road where you can discuss orders and deliveries with other users. I know of people on the forum who are from Sussex although I haven’t met them personally.”
In an investigation by a computer security professor in America earlier this year it was estimated that Silk Road boasts an annual sales figure of £14 million. The question asked then, is why haven’t the authorities done anything about it? The answer is they can’t.
Numerous computer experts and government figures have consistently admitted defeat when it comes to Silk Road and the Tor programme that supports it. One US government official last year is quoted as saying they have "no chance of beating existing encryption technology such as the Tor network".
When The Argus paid a second visit to Sam six days later. He opens the front door of his house with a Cheshire-cat like smile and drops a couple of unassuming packages on the table.
“Here it is. Just in time for a session on the town,” he says.
He unwraps the vacuum-packed parcels and makes his way through to his prize. The deliveries are cleverly packaged and it takes a minute or two to access the goods inside. When he finally opens it up, a bag of white powder inside a plastic ‘baggy’ is inside.
“This is the best cocaine seller on Silk Road at the moment I think. He’s always getting good feedback about the quality and the speed of delivery. It’s so much cleaner than coke I’ve bought in Brighton.
"You never know what it’s cut with down here. This stuff’s always good for a night out as it saves you money on drink as well,” he says.
Sam says he’s not concerned about his parcels being intercepted by the authorities.
“It’s not as if I’m buying tonnes of this stuff to flog on the street,” he says. “I’m not some big time gangster dealer, I only buy one or two things for personal use. I’m just a normal guy with a job, who pays my taxes, who wants to ensure I buy clean drugs.
"If I’m ordering one or two things in a package like this then it won’t get picked up by the postal guys. I reckon if I started ordering loads of stuff though in massive packages then yeah it would probably mean trouble.”
A spokesman from Brighton drug charity CRI has warned the users of Silk Road to be cautious.
He said: “Traditionally, the Class A drugs market in Brighton is based on face-to-face meetings and it’s fairly open, but this news just adds another worrying dimension to that. I would warn users of the website to really think about what you’re doing.
“You don’t know what it is you’re buying or what it’s been cut with. It exposes people to a high level of risk.
"We of course don’t advocate the purchase or use of drugs, but if you are going to then make sure it’s from a trusted source. We will do our best to work with our colleagues at Sussex Police and the health services to help raise awareness of this.”
They could be a source of ill health or fatal injury
A Royal Mail spokeswoman said the company does not knowingly carry any illegal items through their network, but where they do have suspicious that prohibited items are being sent through the system, they work closely with the police.
They added. “For obvious reasons, we are not able to give any further details about our security measures as this would compromise our operations.”
Sussex Police said they were unaware of the Silk Road operation and they had no reports or intelligence of drugs being delivered to people’s homes.
A force spokeswoman said: “Sussex Police welcomes any intelligence with regard to the supply of illicit drugs, which are a constant threat to our community, it’s a timely reminder that any drugs whether bought in person on the street or internet will come from dubious origin.
“No one knows what is in these substances and they could be a potential source of ill health or even fatal injury. Any information concerning the supply of illicit drugs can be given in confidence to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
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