Less than five years since AlphaBay dismantled, U.S. authorities have been catching up with former dark web operators and vendors linked to the now-defunct marketplace.
Just recently, U.S. law enforcement revealed their charges against Apostolos Trovias, a Greek national that is alleged to have used the dark web for illicit gains.
The latest case is a sharp contrast to the nature of criminal targets – drug dealers, weapon traffickers and cybercriminals – that have been associated with AlphaBay market. Trovias is reported to have employed dark web platforms to connect with persons willing to buy or sell insider trading information.
According to a legal complaint by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the 30-year-old defendant is accused of committing securities fraud and money laundering by selling insider trading information to persons hiding behind the dark web-facilitated anonymity tools, monikers and crypto payments.
The SEC reported that Trovias used the screen name “The Bull” to orchestrate the crimes by purporting to be an actual office employee working in a trading firm. He used false pretense to sell stock tips, and unpublished company earnings reports, to dark web users in form of both monthly and weekly subscriptions.
The stock tips could be bought individually, weekly, or on a monthly basis depending with the individual needs of intended users. Prices ranged from about $29.95 per tip to $329.95 for monthly subscriptions.
Investigators revealed that Trovias established his own website, apart from operating online accounts across various dark web platforms, to sell the insider trading information – he also tried creating his own dark web platform.
The man is reported to have effectively sold confidential information belonging to a number of securities insurers for about $5,000 worth of Bitcoin in 2017 alone.
Trovias’ criminal career came to an end following a well-coordinated law enforcement operation that was carried out by undercover agents from the IRS and FBI.
The undercover officers bought stock tips from the Greek national in 2017. Court documents intimate that the defendant sold pre-release earnings information for two US-based healthcare firms in exchange for cryptocurrency.
According to formal documents that were filed in the Southern District of New York, the DOJ is currently seeking the extradition of Trovias from Peru to face the court in the U.S. The authorities have already charged him with one count of securities fraud and another count of money laundering.
The judicial guidelines on sentencing places a maximum penalty for the securities fraud charge at 25 years in prison, and 20 years behind bars for money laundering.
The Post-AlphaBay Era
The indictment against the former dark web operator is a small tip of the iceberg that law enforcement action post-AlphaBay has become. It turns out that the authorities have been systematically targeting darknet operators following the seizure of AlphaBay – the once-notorious dark web platform that facilitated the sale of drugs, weapons, cybercriminal products and various other illicit wares.
The dark web marketplace was dismantled by a well-coordinated international operation by law enforcement agencies from the U.S., Canada, and Thailand. In its heydays, AlphaBay had grown to become the biggest and most preferred of the darknet markets following the closure of Silk Road.
The latest event surrounding the Trovias case is a new angle in the fight against dark web crime. For a long time, the authorities have focused their energies in arresting dark web drug dealers, human traffickers, and contract assassins – the indictment on insider trading information is a first.
Moving forward, we can expect to witness more law enforcement operations targeting unique dark web listings such as insider trading information that will soon take center stage amid advanced darknet sophistication