How Illegal Guns and Drugs Get Sold Online

Drug dealers don't hang out on street corners anymore, they're online. We'll assume you already know about the dark side of the web. Child pornography, sex trafficking and identity theft scams are all lurking just under the surface of your social media accounts, dating apps and friendly forums.

Beyond that, there is a frightening trafficking epidemic happening right now in the form of slangy classified ads and social media posts. It's illegal gun and drug sales, and it's right under our noses.

We're going to take a look at some examples specifically from Craigslist. We're also going to explain how other online platforms, like SnapChat, make peddling contraband simple and fast. 

It's Happening Right Now on Craigslist

In May, 2019 Fox News reported on the overdose and death of 19 year old Giancarlo Baldini. In interviews with his mother, Fox News exposed some of the common slang drug dealers are using right now to sell heroin, crystal meth and fentanyl. Meth, for instance, is sold as "clear sealant".

All a slang savvy teenager needs to do is hop Craigslist in their local city, do a search for "clear sealant" or construction supplies, and dealer ads spring up. 

Drug sales aren't just restricted to inner city urban problem areas anymore either. The LA Times reported on a Downey area attorney who was arrested for selling oxycodone, heroin and other drugs online. She was advertising her goods as "Authentic Chinese **WHITE** Rice".

Contact is easy and anonymous for anyone who is looking to score drugs. Just an email or text message to set up the sale. It makes tracking down drug dealers incredibly difficult for law enforcement. Ever changing email addresses cost nothing and any dealer could use hundreds. Cell phones too, are quickly dumped and replaced. What does it matter that a cheap phone costs $60 when you're selling thousands of dollars a day in illicit drugs?

Other online classified platforms include:

  • eBay


  • Oodle

  • Hoobly

The same idea goes for any classified advertising platform! Drug users and dealers use rapidly evolving slang that is localized to their particular market to move both drugs and weapons.

Social Media Platforms Make Drugs and Guns Easy To Sell

It's not a new problem, but it is a growing one. In August, 2019 The Guardian reported on arms traffickers using Snapchat to peddle guns in California. One trio of traffickers in particular, all young men, made a total of 9 illegal weapons transactions while they were being investigated by the FBI. They sold a total of 35 handguns, to one undercover agent, totaling about $35,000. They would buy the weapons legally in Nevada, then return to California and publish photos of the guns on Snapchat.

Beyond Snapchat and Instagram though, any online game or browser game can be used to traffic guns and drugs. 

Hard Data

Actual numbers are hard to validate. It's impossible to estimate how many individual contraband sales are happening in a year over so many platforms. We do know the numbers must be staggering. Take for instance a single week in 2018 when the FDA targeted 465 websites during Operation Pangea. During this online drug crackdown the FDA inspected 626 packages and refused 794 items entrance into the US during a period of only 4 days! 

Illegal drug and gun sales online are certainly worth billions of dollars every year. 

Holding The Platforms Accountable

Programmers, moderators and executives at social media and classified advertising platforms must certainly know that their platforms are being used for trafficking. Do they care? We think they do! They may not know the exact numbers or full extent of contraband being sold via their media, but we're confident that they're interested in solving the problem. They don't want their users harmed, and they don't want to face legal consequences!

How Spectrum Can Help 

Spectrum's real-time recognition and response capabilities help dating, gaming, and social brands identify and eliminate toxic behaviors across any language. The only way to stay ahead of illicit contraband sales is to stay ahead of these listings with our custom solution that will

  • have constantly evolving/learning models

  • look at a wide variety of data (user profile, history, other meta data)

  • evaluate multiple languages

  • provide real-time notification to your platform moderators and managers

We'd like to help your brand take a proactive stance against illicit behavior. Contact us if you'd like to discuss how we can help! 

Related Reading & Resources:

Modern Medicine Network: FDA Cracks Down on Websites Selling Illegal Drugs Gun Influencers on Instagram Users Can't Use Facebook, Instagram to Sell Guns Anymore