Investigation shows how easy it is to find escorts, oxycodone on Eventbrite

This June, approximately 150 motorcycles will thunder down Route 9W in Saugerties, New York, for Ryan’s Ride for Recovery. Organized by Vince Kelder and his family, the barbecue and raffle will raise money to support their sober-living facility and honor their son who tragically died from a heroin overdose in 2015 after a yearslong drug addiction.

The Kelders established Raising Your Awareness about Narcotics (RYAN) to help others struggling with substance-use disorder. For years, the organization has relied on Eventbrite, an event management and ticketing website, to arrange its events. This year, however, alongside listings for Ryan’s Ride and other addiction recovery events, Eventbrite surfaced listings peddling illegal sales of prescription drugs like Xanax, Valium, and oxycodone.

“It’s criminal,” Vince Kelder says. “They’re preying on people trying to get their lives back together.”

Eventbrite prohibits listings dedicated to selling illegal substances on its platform. It’s one of the 16 categories of content the company’s policies restrict its users from posting. But a WIRED investigation found more than 7,400 events published on the platform that appeared to violate one or more of these terms.

Among these listings were pages claiming to sell fentanyl powder “without a prescription,” accounts pushing the sale of Social Security numbers, and pages offering a “wild night with independent escorts” in India. Some linked to sites offering such wares as Gmail accounts, Google reviews (positive and negative), and TikTok and Instagram likes and followers, among other services.

At least 64 of the event listings advertising drugs included links to online pharmacies that the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy have flagged as untrustworthy or unsafe. Amanda Hils, a spokesperson for the US Food and Drug Administration, says the agency does not comment on individual cases without a thorough review, but broadly some online pharmacies that appear to look legitimate may be “operating illegally and selling medicines that can be dangerous or even deadly.”

Eventbrite didn’t just publish these user-generated event listings; its algorithms appeared to actively recommend them to people through simple search queries or in “related events”—a section at the bottom of an event’s page showing users similar events they might be interested in. As well as posts selling illegal prescription drugs in search results appearing next to the RYAN event, a search for “opioid” in the United States showed Eventbrite’s recommendation algorithm suggesting a conference for opioid treatment practitioners between two listings for ordering oxycodone.

Robin Pugh, the executive director of nonprofit cybercrime-fighting organization Intelligence for Good, which first alerted WIRED to some of the listings, says it is quick and easy to identify the illicit posts on Eventbrite and that other websites that allow “user-generated content” are also plagued by scammers uploading posts in similar ways.

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