Crime displacement in digital drug markets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Crackdowns on urban sites with concentrated criminal activity are sometimes followed by geographical relocation of crime. Is this also the case in cyberspace, where illegal websites and online networks can be wiped clean, but also quickly rebuilt and replaced on new servers and URLs? Methods I address this question in three steps. First, I measure MDMA trade in a large digital market for drugs, before and after the arrest of a leading MDMA seller in the same market. Second, I count the number of available digital drug markets and vendor shops in the period February 2014–June 2018, to see if websites closed by police were replaced by new ones. Third, I track the digital movement and trading activities of individual drug sellers, before and after law enforcement shut down two large markets. Results After police arrested a leading MDMA seller, other MDMA sellers filled most – but not all – of the gap. A major law enforcement crackdown reduced the number of available markets, but new ones were created, and market counts eventually surpassed the previous peak. When law enforcement shut down two big markets, many of the sellers relocated to other e-commerce sites and continued high-earning operations there. Conclusion Arrests and market closures redirect digital drug trade to other sellers and markets. Hot spot policing in cyberspace might produce temporary results, but is arguably ineffective in the long run, as actors use information and communication technology's unique capacities to reorganize.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-121
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
StatePublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Crime control
  • Crime displacement
  • Crime prevention
  • Cryptomarkets
  • Cybercrime
  • Hot spot policing
  • Information and communication technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


Dive into the research topics of 'Crime displacement in digital drug markets'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this