Internet Traces to Better Understand Online Illicit Markets

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This chapter discusses how forensic science and criminology can combine to apprehend online illicit markets. In line with Felson’s ecological theory and the work of Soudijn and Zegers, we first postulate that online illicit markets rely on ‘virtual convergence settings’ where offenders interact and leave traces. We therefore offer a classification of these settings in regard to three stages enabled by the Internet: promotion, selling and review processes. Dedicated websites and online communities are defined as two distinct types of virtual convergence settings that require specific investigation and monitoring processes to acquire relevant traces. We then define Internet traces as a subtype of digital traces and show how they may be used to reconstruct the illicit activities of online offenders. First we discuss the importance of trust in illicit markets and how it may lead to a new form of traceability of offenders based on the way they manage their only identities. We then address the question of the reconstruction of networks of offenders and networks of markets based on the detection of forensic links inferred from Internet traces. The specific case of human trafficking as an illicit market where the ‘products’ sold are not goods, but human beings’ services is then taken as an example. We conclude with a discussion about the integration of Internet and physical traces to reconstruct global illicit trafficking processes that encompass the online part of illicit markets.

This content has been updated on 10 December 2018 at 16 h 06 min.