Disclaimer: This article is intended for educational purposes. Be aware that purchasing from the sites in this article is generally illegal. Also, visiting darknet sites is risky given widespread illicit content as well as malicious users.
The internet has changed the world, including the ways that people purchase and sell illegal goods and services. There are a wide range of highly secure marketplaces that offer consumers a range of drugs, weapons, explosives, and stolen identities, credit cards, and bank accounts. These markets have substantially changed the way that many people buy and sell illegal chemical substances, as buyers are able to purchase drugs from the safety and comfort of their own homes. Orders are shipped through international postal services. These marketplaces are particularly interesting, as they offer an unprecedented look into a world where people have unrestricted access to a wide range of chemical substances.
The Silk Road
The Silk Road was among the first websites that provided mail order access to a wide range of substances that have been criminalized. In 2013 Ross Ulbricht, known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested for operating the website, and it was shutdown. Within a month of Ulbricht's arrest a new site, Silk Road 2.0, was fully operational. One year later, the operator of Silk Road 2.0 was arrested during a series of raids carried out by international law enforcement agencies called Operation Onymous. This law enforcement sweep resulted in the arrests of several operators of other online drug marketplaces.
Mail Order Drugs
The Silk Road, along with several other marketplaces, continues to connect people who produce substances with people who consume substances. Purchasers can select from a range of substances including marijuana, LSD, psilocybin (mushrooms), heroin, cocaine, meth, and more. Sellers provide images, written descriptions, and product prices (in Bitcoins). Users are able to rate sellers, which allows people to purchase from "reputable" dealers.
A Silk Road 3.0 Listing for GHB, a drug that is used recreationally and for date rape
Photos, price information, vendor rating, and written description for methamphetamine listed on Silk Road 3.0
Weapons & Identity Theft
In addition to drugs, the Silk Road and other dark markets usually offer a range of weapons, stolen credit card and bank accounts, and personal identity packages containing names, social security numbers, home and work addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and a wide range of other personal information.
Hand grenades for sale at the AlphaBay Market. Note that the listing indicates that one has been sold.
A detailed Silk Road 3.0 listing for stolen identities including credit card information including price information and seller ratings
While some marketplaces allow access to any product or service you could imagine, including human trafficking, neurotoxic poisons, and murder for hire, administrators of other markets have chosen to disallow products that they deem extremely harmful or dangerous. Some marketplaces offer customers information that is aimed at reducing the harm that users experience in the course of acquiring or using substances. There are also darknet support forums for substance users who have decided to stop using. Many marketplaces and vendors offer buyer protections including escrow services. Escrow services ensure that the seller doesn't get payed until the buyer has received their purchase.
The Church, a darknet shop dedicated to selling LSD offers customers information to help them avoid harm
Customers can purchase medications that can supplement their recovery from substance use. This Apple Market vendor is offering Methadone, which blocks euphoric and withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin and other opioids.
There are numerous other online marketplaces that sell a wide range of illegal goods and services.
A quarter pound of marijuana for sale at the AlphaBay Market. Note the feedback from previous buyers.
Buyers can provide feedback regarding their experiences. Buyer feedback helps future customers evaluate the risk they are taking by purchasing from a given dealer.
Pure ecstasy, known as MDMA, for sale at the Apple market
LSD blotters available for sale at the Bloomfield darknet marketplace. Note that the seller provides a link to dosing information on Erowid.
Some darknet markets, including the Majestic Garden, are private. These sites are only available to people who have been invited by an existing member or administrator.
Drug listings on the Hansa marketplace. Note that Lab Supplies are also available, for people who manufacture chemical substances.
Customers can purchase a range of goods, including some, like these cigarettes, that are generally legal but heavily taxed. Note that this seller won't ship to some countries. It can be difficult to determine if products like this are genuine or counterfeit.
Darknet Search Engines
Search engines, such as Grams, allow darknet users to search for nearly any good or service including drugs, fake identities, forged documents, stolen PayPal accounts, and much, much more.
Introduction to Tor, Encryption and the Darknet
You might be wondering Why doesn't the FBI or some other law enforcement agency take these illegal marketplaces down? They probably would, if they could. While most of our online activities, like emailing and browsing the web, are easily traceable, there are ways to communicate more privately online. The darknet marketplaces as well as their customers and vendors use technology called Tor to obscure their physical locations. Tor is useful software that can be used for a variety of legal purposes. To learn how Tor works, check out this overview from the Tor Project.
In summary, these marketplaces are numerous, and it is very difficult to discover the physical locations of the marketplaces, dealers, and customers. As technology continues to advance, it is likely that people who deal in illegal goods will continue to invest in staying one step ahead of law enforcement.
Darknet Marketplaces Exploration Questions
- How might these online marketplaces increase or decrease the risks associated with substance use?
- How might you counsel a client who is purchasing substances through darknet marketplaces? Try to integrate the information from the Treating Substance Use Unit into your response.
- How do you think law enforcement should respond to these darknet markets?