The seizures and disappearances of numerous major dark web marketplaces, including Hansa, Dream Market, Wall Street, and Rapture have left Empire Market as the largest and most likely last major dark web market. In the past two months, Empire Market has dominated its niche on the dark web with posts and offers of drugs, fraud, malware and other illegal materials and activities.
Dark web markets are disappearing
There are two primary reasons dark web markets are disappearing. Most have come against increased targeting by law enforcement while others are being taken down deliberately via exit scams by their administrators.
Law enforcement agencies do all they can to infiltrate, gather intelligence and evidence, and ultimately identify and arrest the administrators and high-profile vendors on these markets. This places significant pressure on dark web markets overall, forcing other administrators to completely abandon their sites.
Other market administrators have been implementing exit scams. An exit scam is a deliberate action taken by the market’s administrators to steal money from users. These markets work on a type of escrow system, with buyers and sellers both depositing money in the market’s financial system. The administrators running the marketplaces claim there is a problem with the website or the back end of its financial system. They tell users that they are working on a fix but ultimately end up stealing all the money in the escrow system. Once there is no more benefit to having the market open, the administrators shut the market down and disappear with the escrow balance.
Why is this important now?
Our researchers have detected increased activity, along with a higher frequency of credible rumors indicating the administrators and moderators of Empire Market could be planning an exit scam.
Certain actors on a well-known dark web portal called “Dread” are blaming an Empire Market admin called “Se7en” for scamming users and also claiming they receive no further action from the support personnel. In the screenshots below, you will find two examples where Empire Market appears to be exhibiting exit scam behavior.
Figure 1- Inactivity from support
Figure 2- Exit scam chatter
There are additional indicators that lead us to believe this could be the beginning of an Empire Market exit scam. GroupSense will continue to monitor this situation, but the main subject we’re concerned about is the future of dark web markets if Empire Market disappears.
This post was contributed by Viktor Banov of the GroupSense research team.