Dark web scams spare no one — even cybercriminals are targets of dark web fraud, scams, and deceit. Veiled by mystery and heralded as a kingdom of possibility, people know the dark web as a melting pot of crime. Illicit drugs, fraud, weapons, hit men, hackers, and human trafficking all play a role in perpetuating the dark web sub-economy.
That’s not all — scammers also leverage the dark web’s reputation to exploit newbies or other criminals seeking illicit goods and services. Criminals are also losing millions of dollars to dark web scams on marketplaces and forums. Behind the irony and poetic justice of criminals getting a dose of their own medicine, insights into black market transactions are emerging.
The dark web is the wild West of the internet, it’s also a cesspit for ransomware and scams. If you choose to visit the dark web, you do so at your own risk.
The Center of Dark Web Crime: Black Markets
Dark web black markets first grabbed public attention when Ross Ulbricht’s Silk Road gained notoriety. Ulbricht ran the underground drug market under the username “Dread Pirate Roberts”. It operated via darknets between 2011 and 2013 until the FBI shut down the operation.
According to the FBI case report, Silk Road generated $1.2 billion and $80 million in commission during its time in operation. Ulbricht is now serving life in prison in Tucson. While the Silk Road market was the most well-known, dark web trade didn’t stop with Ulbricht’s sentencing.
Crime is still rampant on the dark web today and it remains an attraction for people seeking criminal opportunities. Today, you can find everything from real hitmen to fake hitmen seeking to scam those attempting to find genuine services. The thing is, you never know which you’ll get — the real deal or a scam.
The dark web is more than just a crime haven and you might find yourself needing to use it for legitimate privacy reasons. Don’t leave yourself exposed to cybercriminals and government surveillance, use a reliable VPN before connecting to Tor.
Nobody Is Immune to Dark Web Scams
On the dark web, you can’t just search keywords on a search engine to access illicit websites and marketplaces. Sites on the dark web aren’t indexed, so unless you already know the URL of the website you want to visit, you won’t just stumble across it. If you arrive on the forum you were looking for, you cannot know whether what you’re paying for is legit.
What’s appealing to scammers about this type of crime is the low risk of police involvement. If someone’s on the dark web and gets ripped off, what can they do? They can hardly go to the police saying “Excuse me, officer, I hired a hacker on the dark web to stalk my girlfriend, but he just took my money.” This means it’s also hard to get an accurate picture of how many people get scammed on the dark web.
Dark Web scammers are aware of the lack of recourse available and they use it to their advantage. Vice reported one iconic example of this type of scam back in 2017. A dark web user named “Dogdaygod” was looking for a hitman to murder his wife. He paid $6000 for services on Besa Mafia, a site that advertised itself as being run by Albanian mobsters.
The website’s slogan was “If you want to kill someone or to beat the shit out of him, we are the right guys” — sharp, short, and to the point. After paying the money for someone to take his wife’s life, the “Albanian gangsters” claimed the hitman was caught on the job and taken into police custody. They asked Dogdaygod for another $12.000 to finish the job, but they never delivered on the deal. A hacker later posted the site’s customer details online.
This type of dark web scam is called a “rip and run.” It’s just one of many dark web scamming methods that serve a quiet and paradoxical justice to other criminals. Let’s explore more common types of dark web scams to understand this category of dark web crime.
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Criminals Targeting Criminals: Common Dark Web Scamming Methods
Dark web scams against people seeking illegal goods and services are increasing. Ripping off people who can’t seek police help poses a unique attraction to cybercriminals who wish to stay out of the spotlight.
These lucrative and deceptive scams come in many shapes and sizes. Matt Wixey, Senior Threat Researcher at Sophos, highlighted several of them in a presentation he delivered at Black Hat EU about how cybercriminals scam each other — a sub-economy that generated over $2.5 million on 3 prominent dark web cybercrime forums in 2022.
Here are some of the most common dark web scams cybercriminals use to target their equally immoral victims.
Dark Web “Rip and Runs”
“Rip and runs” involve stealing from someone and disappearing without holding up your end of the bargain. On the dark web, this takes on many forms. Someone might try to hire a hacker or hitman, or buy malware, but when they pay, they’re met with echoing silence.
The scammer will often cut contact and since the “victim” was engaging in criminal activity, they can’t report it. Of course, using the word “victim” in this case is at odds with the context. It’s difficult to feel sorry for people who go to the Dark Web looking for ways to hurt others.
Referral Scams on the Dark Web
Referrals are a more sophisticated form of “rip and run.” Instead of the buyer dealing directly with a vendor, he’s referred to him by another dark web user. The referring person is in on the scam, and in many cases, it’s actually the same person. It comes across as more genuine when someone vouches for a vendor and helps bypass the buyer’s skepticism — a typical tactic in social engineering.
Given the culture of anonymity on the dark web, you could have 100 fake identities and nobody would know. The picture below shows two cybercriminals interacting; one scamming the other.
Dark Web Vendor Impersonations
Genuine dark web criminals can develop good reputations in their line of business. Other low-level cybercriminals leverage this by impersonating them on chat groups and forums. If they pose as a well-known vendor and people believe them, they make money ripping off buyers. Here’s a close-up of a disgruntled vendor whose identity was stolen — this guy’s clearly out for revenge.
Malicious hackers who get personal information about people who engage with black markets often blackmail them. They might threaten to turn them over to the police or doxx them unless they pay a fee. It’s not just hardened criminals who can get blackmailed, anyone visiting dark websites without a private connection can become a target.
You have no way of knowing whether a website is illicit until you visit it. You might click on an .onion link thinking it will take you to an anime fan club, only to find a black market. It’s always worth staying private when you visit the dark web.
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On the dark web, skilled hackers sell programs for launching high-level cyber attacks. Other threat actors are attracted to these programs because it saves them development time. The price they would pay for a program is a small percentage of what they can make from hacking.
Threat actors on the dark web exploit this to install malware on buyers’ computers. The program they receive is most likely fake and riddled with malicious code. Buying a program to hack innocent people? The predator becomes the prey.
Phishing on the Dark Web
According to Astra Security, phishing emails constitute about 1.2% of all emails sent — that’s 3.4 billion emails each day. Phishing is one of the most common ways of contracting malware infections, even on the dark web. Threat actors lurk on black marketplaces and forums, posting malicious links hoping someone will click on them.
Since there’s no way of knowing whether a link will have malicious payloads before you click, phishing catches many people.
Financial Dark Web Fraud
The dark web is rife with financial fraud and vendors sell stolen credit cards and bank details to anyone who will buy. According to a dark web price index by Privacy Affairs, you can buy hacked credit card details for as little as $15. It’s not only hardened fraudsters who indulge in this easy money. In the UK, a culture of teenage school kids engaging in dark web fraud is growing.
The practice is known as “deetsing” and it gives young people a way to pay for things they could never usually afford (without their parents knowing). Vice interviewed one such teenager who boasts of bringing dates to 5-star hotels, posing as extremely wealthy and using “deets” to pay for everything from Spotify subscriptions to weekends at the Hilton.
Your financial details can easily get into the wrong hands if you don’t practice good cyber hygiene. It’s important to always stay protected when making financial transactions, especially when connecting to public Wi-Fi.
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Police Lurk on the Dark Web
Given the amount of criminal activity taking place on .onion sites, police are always on the prowl, waiting to catch people out. You might only be visiting illegal sites out of curiosity, but that excuse won’t help you if you have a run-in with the FBI.
Be aware, anything you do or say on the dark web is subject to prosecution. Law enforcement agencies have very sophisticated tools for tracking down your identity. If they didn’t, the Silk Road’s Ross Ulbricht would still be living large today. You can also face prosecution for minor incursions, so be careful not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Bright Side of the Dark Web
The dark web isn’t just for diabolical crime and black market trade, it’s also a haven for free speech, activism, privacy, and free resources. The Tor Browser provides unrivaled anonymity, and sometimes, people need it just to stay safe or do what’s right. The dark web itself isn’t a bad thing and it might surprise you to know US military researchers created Tor to communicate privately with spies.
That’s not to say the US military is inherently innocent, but it shows how the dark web is useful for more than trading drugs and human trafficking. The privacy the dark web provides can also have good outcomes. For example, on-the-ground journalists reporting from dangerous countries use it to communicate with publishers. If they were caught, their life would be in danger, and using Tor offers much-needed privacy.
Platforms like SecureDrop offer a secure and private way to share files. Journalists often use SecureDrop to communicate privately with whistleblowers. Edward Snowden is the most famous example of this. He used the Tor Network to communicate with The Guardian and The Washington Post about the illegal surveillance activities of the PRISM program.
If the dark web didn’t exist, Edward Snowden might have never informed the public about illegal government surveillance. The dark web can also help bypass unfair restrictions in heavily censored countries. People living in countries like Iran and China can get in big trouble just for seeking out factual news. The dark web can also serve as a safe house for political activists wishing to communicate privately and avoid unfair prosecution.
If you’re looking for a place with freedom of press, privacy, and better access to academic resources, the dark web can provide all these things. Just make sure you don’t end up getting scammed!
How to Avoid Getting Scammed on the Dark Web
You might want to use the dark web for something privacy or anti-censorship-related. Given how pervasive scams are on the dark web, you should consider taking extra precautions and adhering to some basic rules. Here’s a list of simple rules to stick by when visiting the dark web.
Disclaimer: Even though all of this will help keep you safe on the dark web, it doesn’t guarantee your safety. You are accessing a place frequented by cybercriminals, after all..
- Don’t Engage with Criminals. Hopefully, you’re not on the dark web for criminal reasons. To avoid losing your money, being blackmailed, and getting in serious legal trouble — stay away from the likes of hitmen and hackers, even if you’re just curious.
- Don’t Click Random Links. It may feel limiting, but you can’t hop from link to link on the dark web with the same freedom as on the regular web. Be extra cautious when moving between web pages, and don’t click on links you’re unsure about. Stick to websites you know to be safe.
- Never Use Bank Details for Transactions. Only use cryptocurrency to transact on the dark web. If you use your bank details, they will most likely be stolen and sold on black markets. Make sure you protect all crypto payments with a VPN.
- Don’t Use Your Real Name. Always hide your true identity on the dark web. Create anonymous email accounts for everything you do. Private email services have a no-knowledge policy which means you don’t need to provide personal information to set one up.
- Use a VPN. Make sure you connect to a reliable and secure VPN before connecting to Tor. If you don’t, your IP address will be visible and your ISP will see all your activity. While Tor is already encrypted, the extra encryption VPNs provide only makes your security more watertight.
- Learn from the good guys. It might be worth your while to study strategies cybersecurity experts use to protect their connections and devices. The more technical background you know about how privacy (and tracking) operates, the less likely you are to be exposed to threats.
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Yes, you can. The dark web is full of scammers who are willing to do just about anything to rip you off or hack you. Even criminals get scammed on the dark web when they go looking for illicit goods and services.
Always be extra careful interacting on the dark web. Never use your real identity, never transact with anything but crypto, and always use a VPN before connecting to Tor. CyberGhost VPN secures your traffic with unbreakable encryption and helps keep your private information safe. Get CyberGhost VPN to enjoy the dark web securely.
If your social security number is on the dark web, it doesn’t necessarily mean people are using it for fraud, but it is possible. Criminals can use your SSN and personal details to commit identity theft and open new financial accounts in your name.
To prevent this, freeze all your credit reports and inform the relevant authorities about the issue. You can also sign up for a credit or identity theft monitoring service. Unfortunately, once your information is leaked on the dark web, it’s impossible to remove it completely.
The dark web is an encrypted part of the internet and most estimates agree it makes up about 5% of content on the internet. It offers ultimate privacy to people who use it and this comes with a bright side and a dark side. While journalists, whistleblowers, and activists can use it to communicate, the dark web’s privacy also attracts extreme crime.
Anything can be bought and sold on the dark web and it’s home to plenty of scammers. It’s best to only stick to websites you know are safe. Check out our list of safe dark web links to enjoy the dark web securely.
Yes, it is possible for your identity to be stolen on the dark web. The dark web is known for being a marketplace for stolen personal information, including usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, and social security numbers. Cybercriminals can sell your data to people who might use it for fraudulent activities. It’s crucial to practice good cybersecurity habits to minimize the risk of identity theft.