Cryptocurrency Exchanges Fueled Six-Figure Child Sex Abuse Website on the Dark Web

Photo by Kaur Kristjan on Unsplash

A Dutch court recently sentenced a man to 10 years in prison for operating a lucrative dark web child sex abuse website, a criminal enterprise that was largely enabled by cryptocurrency exchanges that made it possible for users to pay for content with relative anonymity.

Reuters reports that Michael Mohammad told the court it was “purely business,” as some of the victims that he raped and forced into performing sex acts on camera were listening.

Mohammad’s website, Dark Scandals, sold thousands of videos of sick, heinous sex acts ranging from child sex abuse to sexual assault and bestiality.

“A new breed of company enabled his business: cryptocurrency exchanges,” Reuters explains. “Mohammad’s customers used these platforms to buy digital tokens with dollars and euros, and spend them with relative anonymity. These tokens were the currency of Mohammad’s abuse. In all, transaction data reviewed by Reuters show, Dark Scandals’ customers used almost 50 different exchanges, including industry leaders Coinbase and Binance.”

Coinbase told Reuters that it has a “zero tolerance policy for anyone engaging in illicit activity like child sexual abuse material” through its exchange and Binance said it had cooperated with law enforcement when it was working to shut down Dark Scandals.

Beginning in 2013, Mohammad used bitcoin to profit from his website after it was turned down by PayPal over the pornographic content.

Dark Scandals then grew to become one of the largest internet websites for illicit pornography as he raked in €115,000, the equivalent of roughly $121,000 USD.

Mohammad sold “packs” of hundreds of clips for as much as €205 to users who were able to remain anonymous through the bitcoin exchanges, something which an assistant U.S. attorney testified contributed to the success of the website.

“This anonymity promoted the success of the Dark Scandals sites,” wrote assistant U.S. attorney Zia Faruqui in a court submission.

Mohammad was arrested in 2020 following an investigation by Dutch and U.S. authorities.

While previously, child sex abuse material offenders typically exchanged content via small, closed groups, cryptocurrency is fueling a growth in websites like Dark Scandals.

The researcher Chainalysis estimates that revenue for child abuse websites jumped from $250,000 in 2017 to nearly $1 million by 2020, while a British child sexual abuse hotline and data collector, Internet Watch Foundation, has seen webpages containing the criminal content increase four-fold since 2016, hitting over 250,000 last year.

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